A Foundation Takes a Grassroots Approach to the Growing Border Crisis

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Amid a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Seattle-based Marguerite Casey Foundation (MCF) recently made $4 million in grants to border-adjacent nonprofit organizations. This support comes from a foundation that has been paying attention to immigration issues at the border for years, starting long before the 2016 election. “Over these last 18 years, we have made over $100 million in grants through this work in immigration reform on the U.S./Mexico border,” CEO Luz Vega-Marquis recently told me.

I spoke with her about MCF’s support of grassroots groups, and the role philanthropy can play at the U.S.-Mexico border during this critical time.

Vega-Marquis was in the spotlight earlier this summer after a Chronicle of Philanthropy article criticized her management practices, reporting complaints from staff that she created a “culture of fear.” In a rebuttal, MCF’s board chair defended Vega-Marquis as one of the first Latinas to head a national foundation, and praised her pioneering approach.

That pushback wasn’t very convincing, and spurred other critics of Vega-Marquis to go public. But one point that nobody disagrees with is that MCF has been a vital philanthropic ally to marginalized communities under Vega-Marquis’ leadership. (She will step down from her position at the end of June 2020.) Tapping assets that now stand at more than $720 million, MCF has been a key player in the progressive foundation world—embracing ideas like inclusive grantmaking, intersectionality, general support and bottom-up movement-building. These themes have played out in its funding on immigration at the border and beyond, as well as its broader work to “help low-income families strengthen their voice and mobilize their communities in order to achieve a more just and equitable society for all.”