Supporting immigrant and refugee-led advocacy is crucial for health equity
In 2018, Tennessee experienced one of the largest workplace ICE raids in more than a decade. It was not just an attack on immigrants, but an attack on whole communities in Tennessee, where immigrants play integral roles in the social and economic fabric.
The fear of ICE raids prevents immigrants from accessing critical health care services – from doctor’s visits for children to mental health care to healing and recovery from abuse and violence – services that immigrants are already less likely to use.
Language and cultural barriers make the already complex health care system difficult to navigate, and the looming fear of ICE raids and deportations cause further anxiety and trauma that prevents immigrants and communities from being healthy and successful.
The pro-immigrant movement should be important to health funders
Any funder who cares about the vibrancy and health of their communities should make sure that all members of the community thrive.
Pro-immigrant organizations work at the intersection of many issues, including health, and funders can find an entry point to supporting immigrant communities within their own work to help support the whole ecosystem of immigrant communities.
The Healing Trust, a Tennessee-based health legacy foundation, is dedicated to increasing health care access and fostering healthy communities – including immigrants and refugees – in the 40 counties they serve.
“The Healing Trust’s mission is to foster healing and wholeness for vulnerable populations in Middle Tennessee,” said CEO Kristen Keely-Dinger of The Healing Trust.
To achieve their mission, The Healing Trust uses a multi-pronged approach to ensure that immigrants and refugees are able to access health care and thrive in safe and nurturing environments:
Providing direct program support
Medical screenings for new immigrants and refugees, bilingual, bicultural mental health services for those experiencing trauma, legal services and unrestricted operating support to nonprofits are essential to making sure that immigrants and refugees can heal from the trauma they experience while maintaining mental and physical health.
- Providing multi-year advocacy support
This is critical for immigrant-serving organizations to change the injustices that exist in the health care system, to increase access to services that help immigrants and refugees meet their health needs, including advocating for nurturing environments for children to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences, and to increase access to culturally competent health care.
- Participating in donor collaboratives to leverage more funding, especially from national foundations.
For example, The Healing Trust participated in a collaborative to seize a funding opportunity to test messaging to change attitudes towards immigrants and refugees in rural communities.
- Offering support beyond funding to amplify the experiences of the community and needed structural changes
In 2018, The Healing Trust released a statement opposing family separation and submitted a comment against the proposed public charge rule.
Risks to foundations pale in comparison to the risks immigrants and refugees face
Health is a pro-immigrant issue. When immigrants can access the resources and services to be healthy, they improve the health outcomes of the whole community, which have long lasting effects for the health and success of all communities.
“We are a healthier community when we are connected to our neighbors, regardless of our citizenship status and country of origin,” said Keely-Dinger.
The Healing Trust has advice for foundations that are not yet intentionally including immigrant and refugee rights in their work: “While the topic can be politically divisive, there is limited political risk to foundations.”
The stakes are much higher for the immigrants and refugees that are the targets of the harmful rhetoric and policies.
“We have the opportunity to be neutral conveners and to use our voices to raise awareness about the plight of vulnerable members of our community without the potential risk of losing funding,” said Keely-Dinger.
Any grantmaker or donor who cares about the health and vibrancy of their communities, no matter which issues they focus on, should also include immigrants and refugees, and make sure they have the resources and support they need to access critical resources.
“We believe that our communities thrive when our residents thrive.”