Never Again Is Now: On immigrant justice, the question for funders is not what to do, but will you do it

Written by: Timi Gerson

Date: July 10, 2019

Grantmakers and donors need to support frontline immigrant and refugee justice efforts now because lives are at stake.

As a Jewish American, one of the most haunting experiences I’ve ever had was looking at the display of hundreds of children’s shoes at the U.S. Holocaust museum. They represent the 1.5 million children who were detained and murdered by the Nazis. Some died in the gas chambers, some from infectious disease born of camp conditions, some of starvation.

A poster saying "Never Again Means Now. Jews Say Close the Camps."

Jews and allies at the Cannon House Office Building’s Rotunda on July 9, 2019, to say #NeverAgainIsNow. Photo by Timi Gerson.

I don’t know the names of the first 7 Jewish children who died in Hitler’s Germany. I do know the names of the first 7 migrant children who died in Trump’s American concentration camps: 1-year old Mariee Juarez, 2-year-old Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquín, 8-year old Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 10-year old Darrlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, 15-year old Carlos Gregorio Hernández Vasquez and 16-year old Juan de León Gutiérrez.

Philanthropy: What are we doing today to stop another child from dying tomorrow?

It’s not a new story.

Black and Native American communities have faced family separation, state-sponsored violence and genocidal policies since this country’s founding. The Obama Administration deported between 3-5 million immigrants and helped create the infrastructure that the Trump administration has weaponized.

Black immigrants are 7-9% of the migrant population, but make up 25% of those in detention who face deportation. A large percentage of the migrants and refugees from Central America are non-Spanish speaking indigenous peoples.

Excuses are not acceptable.

In our interviews for the Movement Investment Project, movement leaders told us that funders often tell grantseekers that they “don’t have an immigration portfolio.”

This excuse rings hollow in the face of a national armed enforcement infrastructure that detains and imprisons our immigrant neighbors and asylum seekers fleeing violence. In the words of rabbi and civil rights activist Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Some local funders may feel that this is a “federal issue” for Congress to fix, and that, while terrible and sad, immigration “doesn’t fit” with their local grantmaking goals and priorities.

But there are detention centers in every state, including yours. The Trump administration continues to push for a citizenship questions to the 2020 U.S. census. Republican efforts to undercount marginalized people (embodied by, but not limited to the citizenship question) will have an impact on your community from health care to education to transportation and beyond.

You have resources and power now is the time to use them.

My grandmother Sophie was 11 years old when she arrived in the United States, after a year spent walking across Europe as a refugee. She, her mother Esther and little brother Moishe arrived in a migrant caravan by sea, part of an exodus of Jews fleeing brutal pogroms in Eastern Europe. Her journey was possible because of financial support from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

Years later, during the McCarthy era, the U.S. government tried to strip her of her naturalized citizenship and deport her. She fought back through organizing and with the solidarity of neighbors and allies. She won.

I named my daughter after my grandmother because I want her to grow up knowing that our immigrant neighbors those that arrived here 30 years ago and those that arrived here yesterday deserve our support and solidarity just as her namesake did. That families belong together. That our own family exists because people with power used it to support my grandmother as a child migrant and as a mother fighting to stay with her children.

U.S. foundations spend more than $60 billion in annual grantmaking. Historically, barely 1% of it has gone to support immigrants and refugees. Philanthropic support for immigrant and refugee justice is lowest in the regions of our country – the Southeast and the Southwest – where ICE detentions and deportations are highest.

While more funding is flowing in light of current crises, it is not enough especially when Congress recently gave billions more to border enforcement and detention agencies. Frontline grassroots organizations need flexible, long-term support to meet immediate challenges and to build power not only for today’s fight, but also to build tomorrow’s future.

Funders have more than dollars to give. There are at least 3 concrete additional ways we can support immigrant and refugee communities under attack:

1. Connect nonprofits working for immigrant and refugee justice to new sources of funding and decision-makers in your city, state or region.

2. Amplify movement advocacy demands including the demand to #closethecamps on social media, in your newsletters and publications and in the press.

3. Divest from corporations that run detention centers and prisons, following the example of funder peers such as the Edward W. Hazen Foundation.

If you are still wondering what can you do, the answers are simple: Hundreds of immigrant justice movement leaders have told us exactly what they need from us. NCRP has many additional resources that can help grantmakers and donors effectively support the immigrant and refugee justice efforts across the country.

The question is not what to do, but if we will do it.

Timi Gerson is vice president and chief content officer of NCRP. Follow @NCRP and @timigerson on Twitter.

Header image: On July 9, 2019, Jews and allies at the Cannon House Office Building say #NeverAgainIsNow. Photo by Timi Gerson.