What funders can learn from “2020’s Most Important Show” (Part II)

Written by: Ben Barge

Date: September 09, 2020

Part 2 of our discussion with Comunidad Colectiva’s Stefania Arteaga. Read part 1 here.

When it premiered in August, Time Magazine called Netflix’s “Immigrant Nation” one of the year’s most important documentaries.

NCRP Field Director Ben Barge continues his conversation with Stefania Arteaga about what philanthropy can learn from the film, especially in this crucial moment in our history.

I think a lot of people in philanthropy may watch this show and say, “This is horrible, but I don’t fund immigrant justice.” What would you say to that?

SA It’s extremely important to see immigration as a fundamental justice issue because it is. We have large, privately run detention centers and a federal mandate that requires a body minimum in a detention center per night.

And our taxpayers pay for that! This is a subset of our mass incarceration system, and a key part of the criminalization of Black and brown bodies. Black immigrants are deported at much quicker rates.

This whole system has no accountability or due process for those detained. So I really encourage funders to see that we can’t live in a world where we have separate systems of punishment for people and a total absence of justice.

We also need to do away with the bad immigrant, good immigrant narrative, because then you just don’t talk about the over-criminalization of folks.

Pict. of Stephania Arteaga is co-director/strategist of Comunidad Colectiva and the Carolina Migrant Network

BB: That parallel system exists in philanthropy, too. Senior foundation leadership is notoriously whiter than the rest of the country, and white-led groups typically get more money, with less vetting, because they feel more familiar and comprehensible to these decision-makers.

As part of our Movement Investment Project, we’ve found that less than 1% of foundation funding in the U.S. goes to benefit immigrants and refugees, and far less than that goes to the pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement.

Our interactive dashboard about local foundation funding for the movement shows a similar disparity. So if philanthropy is serious about tackling anti-racism and inclusion, then these unjust standards have to be dismantled too, right?

SA Absolutely. As someone new to this process of foundations and fundraising, it’s been a learning curve for me.

The treatment has been eye-opening, realizing who embodies the ideals of a funder versus who doesn’t. As I defend my community, I’m also working my full-time job, which makes all of this 10 times harder.

This is primarily volunteer work. We’ve organized 9,000 people here in Charlotte. We have over 30,000 Facebook followers who simply follow us because we provide consistent information about immigration operations.

Unrestricted, consistent funding is important because we have to be flexible for our community, from the services we provide to the power we build every day.

BB: When they do invest, funders often look for a state law or ballot initiative to justify their money. But that can leave organizers in places like Charlotte, where a win may look different, at a disadvantage.

The South is crucial for national progress, which NCRP has argued frequently through our As the South Grows reports and with partners like Grantmakers for Southern Progress. How would you encourage funders to understand success?

SA: Often when I go to conferences there’s an automatic comparison to places like New York or Boston or L.A. A Southern win may seem like what L.A. was in the 1980s, but it’s extremely relevant and important to people in the South.

For example, when we recently elected historically progressive sheriffs North Carolina, only 1,000 Latinos went out to vote, but that was a 110% increase from the previous primary.

We can have a big impact with small numbers, and, more importantly, it allows people to feel hope, to keep going.

Ben Barge is NCRP’s field director. Stephania Arteaga is co-director/strategist of Comunidad Colectiva and the Carolina Migrant Network. Read Part I of their interview here. Q&A: Leadership, lights, camera y Comunidad! (Part I)