Give me your tired, your poor, no more? Philanthropy must respond in the face of xenophobia.

4 Actions funders can take to ensure pro-immigrant and refugees organizations have the resources they need

Written by: Stephanie Peng

Date: February 06, 2020

Anti-immigrant rhetoric has become all too common in the Trump era – most recently in this week’s State of the Union address. But it’s not all talk.

Last week, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Supreme Court ruled to allow new “public charge” immigration rules to take effect – affirming the same kind of wealth test that condemned tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants to die during World War II.

By privileging wealth, education and English proficiency, this policy disproportionately impacts non-white immigrants and would deny them a future in the U.S. if they have ever used, or are judged as likely to use, public assistance for basic needs, like food, healthcare and housing. 

Even though it is unclear how this policy will be implemented, the damage has been already done to immigrant families and communities.

While the rule would apply only to people applying for a green card, the Urban Institute says that confusion and fear about what the policy means and who it affects has caused 1 in 7 immigrant adults to avoid public benefits and services. Even if the rule does not apply to them.

This fear and confusion causing immigrant families to withdraw from services providing critical needs would have devastating effects for all communities.

It’s time for all of philanthropy to act.

When the public charge was first introduced in 2018, Grantmakers Concerned for Immigrants and Refugees organized more than 60 funders, grantmakers and philanthropic support organizations (PSOs) submitted public comments against the rule.

However, philanthropy cannot merely maintain its status quo of funding and support – it must also ramp up its support of the communities fighting in the face of xenophobia.

A lack of a dedicated portfolio for immigrants is not an excuse for inaction. Immigrants are parents, neighbors, business owners, teachers, students and more. They are an integral part of all sectors of American life.

By risking the health, safety and prosperity of immigrants, we are risking the health, safety and prosperity of all of our communities.

The administration’s new policy especially harms the 1 in 4 children in the U.S. who have at least 1 immigrant parent. 

Grantmakers that care about health cannot have healthy communities if families that are scared to enroll in Medicaid do not have access to care for urgent health needs and chronic conditions.

Grantmakers working in education risk lowering education outcomes for the whole community if children cannot succeed in school because they don’t have regular health care or receive proper nutrition.

Grantmakers risk the economic well-being of the whole community if immigrant families that are scared to use housing assistance risk their economic security to pay for rent, in addition to worrying about medical bills or worrying about food.

Expanding the pot that funds the fight

Communities and organizations have been fighting this rule and will continue to fight. As we heard anecdotally during interviews with leaders in the pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement for the Movement Investment Project, many of the victories for immigrant communities come from the state and local level.

But funding for local grassroots organizations and national networks accountable to communities dedicated to advancing immigrant justice was an even smaller share of an already small pot of funding.

Data for NCRPs Movement Investment Project showed that barely 1% of funding from the top 1000 foundations benefits immigrants and refugees.

In fact, U.S. foundations in 2016 gave more to leisure sports than to empowering immigrant communities to change policies that threaten them.

To effectively channel our outrage, it is imperative that local and state organizations have the resources and support they need to protect our communities.

Here are a few ways philanthropy can take action:

1. Examine your grantmaking portfolio to see if you are already supporting the immigrant and refugee community. Increasing threats to immigrants and refugees means increasing threats to the health, education and economic security of all communities. You may already be funding immigrants through the communities you’re supporting, even if you don’t have a dedicated portfolio.

2. Fund the work necessary to protect communities and fight against harmful policies. Support organizations in your community that do outreach and build power within immigrant and refugee communities. Community education and legal assistance are critical components for communities to make empowered decisions that can change harmful systems and policies. 

3. Learn from and join pro-immigrant and refugee networks to move resources quickly and effectively. Four Freedoms Fund, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, Rise Together Fund, FIRM, Protecting Immigrant Families and We Are All America are resources, as are NCRP’s community of nonprofit member organizations working on immigrant and refugee rights and justice.

4. Stand in solidarity with your communities. This goes beyond funding and includes lifting up critical voices in the movement, including campaigns like #protectfamilies campaign on social media, making public statements against policies that harm immigrants, and using your political and reputational capital to influence peers.

While immigrant and refugee communities have been facing increasing threats over the past few years, the administration’s new policy stands contrary to the values of liberty, refuge and a chance for prosperity of our country.

This policy, in addition to the recent announcement of the expanded travel ban that disproportionately targets Black and Muslim immigrants, is a radical move in the administration’s anti-immigrant agenda, and it demands radical action from all grantmakers who care about the health, safety and prosperity of their communities.

We know the horrifying consequences that inaction has cost us in the past. Philanthropy must now take a stand or be held responsible for the harm that inaction can have on all communities in America.

Stephanie Peng is NCRP’s senior associate for movement research. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.

Photo by Paul Rollings. Used under Creative Commons license.