When Crisis Response is the New Normal: The Latest on Our Immigrant Rights Fund
As we continue the work of our Immigrant Rights Fund—an emergency and long-term response fund launched in the weeks after the 2016 Presidential Election—our communities’ needs are evolving and deepening, creating a “new normal” amidst an almost constant onslaught of urgency and crises.
To date, we have deployed $490,000 to more than 30 organizations as part of our $2 million commitment. Many of our grantees are small nonprofits led by community members—and unlikely to attract the kind of resources that national nonprofits do. While we have made strategic investments in larger organizations through the Immigrant Rights Fund, especially those that can advocate for systems level change, it is our local giving approach that is often most effective.
Aligning Our Support Through New Grants
Since January of this year, we issued three new Sustained Response grants to support ongoing needs—from legal consultations and social services to coalition building and community organizing:
- Bangladeshi American Community Development & Youth Services (BACDYS) - $20,000 to support coalition building efforts to better serve the growing Bangladeshi immigrant community in the East New York and City Line neighborhoods bordering Queens;
- Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association - $20,000 to support outreach and immigrant service worker organizing efforts in Sunset Park and Bensonhurst;
- Chinese-American Planning Council - $20,000 to support civic engagement, Census 2020 outreach, policy/advocacy, and community mobilization efforts in predominantly Chinese immigrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
Our support for Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association and the Chinese-American Planning Council reflects an intentional effort to fund more groups working with Chinese immigrant communities in Brooklyn, the fastest growing immigrant community in Brooklyn.
In addition, we awarded a $2,500 grant from our Action Fund to Enlace to support the National Freedom Cities movement’s conference (read about it here). This grant alongside the above grant to BACDYS highlights the importance of building alliances between organizations and the infrastructure that’s needed to grow and sustain powerful movements across issue areas, racial, and ethnic lines.
Fostering Shared Resources
Last month, we hosted our largest convening to date of our Immigrant Rights Fund grantees, with 25 executive directors and program staff from 19 organizations. Each shared the overall challenges they face, specific emerging needs around legal services, and best practices and potential areas for collaboration and cross-organization partnerships.
The convening ended with a panel discussion around New York Immigration Coalition’s latest report, “No Safe Harbor: Challenges in Obtaining Legal Services in New York State,” with Murad Awawdeh, Vice President of Advocacy at New York Immigration Coalition, Andrea Saenz, Supervising Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, and Jason Yoon, Executive Director of Atlas: DIY to provide insights on narrowing forms of legal relief and the increasing complexity of immigration legal cases.
Challenges in This Moment
From the convening, key themes emerged:
- Operating in the “new normal” of rapid response. Many groups are experiencing significant burn out from the constant onslaught of urgency and crises. There is a desire to imagine balancing rapid response with pushing forward a proactive agenda while promoting self and collective care.
- The overlap between immigration detention and incarceration. Many of the groups are advocating against the City’s limitations on providing free immigration legal services to those with criminal convictions. The criminalization of immigrant communities reflects issues around over policing, criminalizing poverty, and bias against communities of color.
- Strained capacity of legal service providers. Many of the groups providing legal services have significantly increased their community outreach through Know Your Rights trainings and direct legal services, but are developing strategies to more effectively support community-based organizations, such as “train the trainer” models and better information on ICE raids and immigration court proceedings.
- Activating members for movement building. Groups discussed the opportunities and challenges of moving from primarily being direct service providers to engaging their clients in direct action and organizing for policy change—given that so many clients are experience trauma and stress in their daily lives.
- Building and expanding the idea of “sanctuary”. There was agreement that the idea of “sanctuary” needs to be expanded, and reconsidered around new strategies: including keeping each other safe by building the collective power of young people in communities and developing “Hate Free Zone” networks of local community institutions that create a grassroots defense in response to ICE raids.
We are immensely proud of the vast impact all of our Immigrant Rights Fund grantees have achieved in the face of unprecedented challenges and crisis since the 2016 election.
With over 900,000 immigrants calling Brooklyn home, it is more important than ever that we stand alongside these vital frontline organizations, as we pledge to continue providing critical financial support and fostering collaboration and partnerships to make our communities stronger and more resilient.