June’s Supreme Court decision to uphold Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a huge win for the pro-immigrant and refugee movement. Thanks to years of tireless organizing by undocumented people at great personal risk, 700,000 DACA recipients can finally take their lives off hold in the only country they call home. Millions of families can dare to dream of their futures.
This ruling and the Bostock ruling finally prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ workers leave me beyond excited about what this means for so many people I love. For the overall movement, however, the excitement was short-lived.
Just one week after we celebrated the DACA win, the Supreme Court made it easier to speed up the deportation of people seeking asylum and deny their appeals. That was an important validation of an administration that is still busy banning religious minorities, prohibiting refugee entry, denying visas, imposing a wealth test to access basic social safety net programs, and so much more. Immigration restrictionists still hold top posts, and white supremacist messaging has spread in newsrooms, social media and alongside our favorite YouTube channels.
It’s clear that the fight for migrant justice, like the fights for LGBTQ equality, Black liberation and an end to state violence—all inextricably linked—is far from over. Even under a Biden presidency, the organizing necessary for basic immigrant protection, let alone healing and progress, would be immense.
That’s why every organizer I know and a growing chorus of academics has a clear message for philanthropy: Now is the time to put your foot on the gas and keep it there. Philanthropy can build true solidarity with immigrant and refugee communities by going beyond a rapid-response round or emergency board commitment. Every foundation should have a consistent, sustained migrant justice lens. It’s right, it’s appropriate and it’s strategically necessary.
Support Needs to Be Reliable, Not Just Rapid
Our view is clear: Immigrants are people, which means every funder is an “immigration funder.” Yet NCRP’s recent 50-state interactive dashboard shows that local foundations give about 1% of their grants to benefit local immigrant and refugee communities, and 0.4% to the local pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement. The aggregate numbers are astronomically small compared to the proportion of immigrants and refugees in each state. Black, LGBTQ, Indigenous, Muslim and undocumented immigrants of color receive even less, despite their leadership and disproportionate targeting by law enforcement.
Where it exists, philanthropy’s support has cycled wildly over the last decade. Immigrant and refugee leaders remember the ways that money for movement building and services dried up in 2010 after the exhaustive fight for comprehensive immigration reform stalled in Congress. Still, the movement organized, winning local fights on everything from driver’s licenses to worker dignity, creating a national groundswell that enabled the implementation of DACA in 2012. At that moment, philanthropy jumped in again, providing a much-needed balloon of investment to help with DACA implementation. Yet soon after, even as deportations increased during the Obama administration, the rate of investments stalled.
The Trump campaign and subsequent presidency have renewed philanthropic attention, and funding for the pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement has doubled since 2016. Yet even at this peak, funding for the movement only just surpassed funding for leisure sports in 2017, as my colleague Stephanie Peng has reported. Today, estimates still suggest that immigrants and refugees represent 14% of the nation’s population and still receive far, far less than that in overall giving.
The impact of this chronic underfunding has been made even more clear during the current COVID-19 health crisis. Despite moves to reopen businesses in many states, we are still living in the midst of a global pandemic in a land where immigrants comprise nearly a third of a number of frontline professions, including physicians, and are much more likely to contract the deadly disease without the aid of accessible healthcare or economic safety nets. And rather than recognizing that the emergency is ongoing, some foundations are considering winding down their rapid-response commitments for immigrant and refugee justice.
Proportionate, reliable funding matters. It saves lives. It allows groups to build power, enabling not just one policy win or one delayed deportation, but a tidal shift in what is possible. It also takes funders out of the role of fortune tellers, which they are bad at (everyone is), and into the role of supportive partner.
What Fearlessness Looks Like
In 2020, far too many of our immigrant and refugee-led nonprofit members still tell me that they can’t put the word “immigrant” in an application to their own community foundations, let alone find funding for their bold, necessary organizing, advocacy and culture change work.
It’s fairly easy to see why this dynamic happens. As racial equity becomes trendy, foundations swim against a tidal wave of assumptions inherited from slave-owning families, robber barons and tech conglomerates about who this money belongs to, who’s worthy of funding, and what’s too disruptive or transformative “at this time”—all while the world burns. People who look like me still dominate philanthropy’s highest levels of leadership: straight, cis, white people, usually white men, often with ties to corporations that exacerbate inequity in the first place. Like most of them, I can walk down the street and never fear an encounter by police, an ICE agent or a stranger who questions whether I pass in my sex or gender identity.
This culture helps explain why a recent demand from the Movement for Black Lives for $50 million per year feels bold, even when police agencies get $66 million, even after Peter Buffett decided to abandon his commitment to women and girls of color. It’s no accident that Black women, immigrant women of color, and LGBT folks in philanthropic leadership right now, often former organizers themselves, are expressing the most urgency and following up their statements with actual changes in policy, grants and long-term commitments.
Imagine what we could have won by now if philanthropy had invested deeply and consistently in immigrant-led movement building for a decade. Imagine if funding for these groups was seen as linked with other movements, and part of the overall support of Black liberation and trans justice. Maybe that would lead to more community foundations not only participating in these fights, but also rejecting donations from those who support some of the nation’s most influential hate groups.
Immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers have enabled many wins already. It will take all of us to honor their sacrifice, but it is imperative for more white people in philanthropy to leverage and, when necessary, cede their power to make space for these conversations. If you’re one of these white people and you don’t know where to begin, you can ask us, as well as our friends at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees and in the CHANGE Philanthropy coalition. As another white guy constantly learning how to be accountable, I have plenty of my own lessons to share.
Yes, the DACA ruling is an incredible win. But true victory won’t be won until we all are free. The best way funders can honor DREAMers and their loved ones is with action. Donors and funders should set themselves up to do these things consistently:
- If you’re a local grantmaker, meet with movement leaders and the fellow funders in your state to make your collective giving match the demographics of your immigrant and refugee community, and invest in movement building as your core strategy.
- Join or start a Delivering on the Dream fund.
- Donate to bail funds, contest ongoing raids, and speak out against conditions in detention centers.
- Use your lobbying power and screen your investments for companies that collaborate with ICE and police violence.
- Hire Black, trans, indigenous people, women and immigrants of color active in the movement as your CEOs and trustees.
So let’s double down on funding for the pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement again. It’s not just because of what’s happening in the courts. It’s a matter of justice.
Ben Barge is field director at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.