All In for All of Us: A Public-Private Fund for Undocumented Immigrants

Friday, May 1, 2020

As Californians we know that our own well-being is tied to everyone else’s. California’s Immigrant Resilience Fund is making headlines demonstrating that we are standing together to make sure each and every one of us—native and newcomer—has resources to prevail through the outbreak. No one stands alone. We are one beloved community. Kathleen Kelly Janus, Senior Advisor to the Governor, and Daranee Petsod of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees joined NCG’s Emily Katz to explain how the fund came to be, some surprising new supporters, and what it means to have a ‘Si Se Puede’ moment (Yes, We Can!)


Emily Katz: How did this fund come into being?

Daranee Petsod: This fund came into being because funders saw inequities and joined forces to respond to them. Don Howard at the James Irvine Foundation has been convening an informal group of foundation CEOs on immigration issues over the past 3.5 years, and at a meeting in late March, I introduced the idea of a statewide fund to raise large-scale support for cash assistance to immigrants excluded from relief under the CARES Act. Community groups that had set up relief funds told us that their waiting lists far surpassed the money they’d raised: a wait list of 4,000 and $60,000 raised, that kind of thing. So we thought, these small grassroots groups are not going to be able to tap statewide funders and larger philanthropies, much less major donors, and if they do, they're going to be competing for the same resources. Could we bring this to scale and have a statewide fundraising effort?

At the same time, we organized a joint letter to Governor Newsom, expressing the desire for philanthropy to leverage public resources to provide immediate support to undocumented Californians, among other requests to shore up the social safety net for them. About 40 philanthropic institutions, including NCG and Philanthropy California, signed onto that letter. And the Governor’s Office has been very responsive.

Kathleen Kelly Janus: We know that that one in 10 Californians is undocumented. It’s important to Governor Newsom that all Californians have access to the relief that they need during this economic downturn. And we acknowledge that the federal relief act does not provide cash assistance for undocumented immigrants. Even though most have been in this country for 10 years or more and are playing a really important role in society.

For us, it was not a matter of ‘if’; it was a matter of ‘what and when’ we could do as a state.

We have been working in partnership with GCIR, especially on the census. Philanthropy can act quickly and nimbly to get cash out the door. We're already seeing it's going to be early May before we're going to deploy some of the state funds, but philanthropy’s already putting cash to work. It's getting the philanthropic dollars into the smaller, more nimble community-based organizations that wouldn't be able to apply for seed money, but have tight and close, trusted relationships with the communities on the ground, who need this cash assistance.

Daranee Petsod: You asked us about values. As Kathleen has talked about, undocumented immigrants were intentionally excluded from the CARES Act, and they are ineligible for unemployment insurance as well as most state safety net programs. This fund is one step towards addressing structural inequities. For GCIR and for the funding partners, this is about justice, belonging, and humanity. It is about affirming our interconnectedness and a recognition that undocumented immigrants are Californians no matter their immigration status. Especially in a pandemic, it’s unconscionable and unwise to leave anyone behind because we are all in this together. How we show up for this community will not only impact this moment, but will define how resilient California is, and will be, when it comes to rebuilding, recovery, and moving forward after this pandemic.

Emily Katz: Help us understand what it took to make this happen.

Kathleen Kelly Janus: Public-private partnership is critical for demonstrating that philanthropy is putting skin in the game and also deeply cares about this issue. When philanthropy hears its dollars will be leveraged as a result of state investment, it gives assurances that they're going to magnify their impact. So the public-private partnership was critical on both sides to bring people to the table.

Daranee Petsod: I don't think we could have launched, especially with this goal of $50 million, without the public part of the public-private partnership. Structuring the private side to be broader than traditional philanthropy has been key to involving major donors, business leaders, and the general public. Even at a combined $125 million, we're not going to reach all two million undocumented immigrants and their families, but we're going to make a significant impact.

Our funding partners are thinking big in a moment when some in this sector remain focused on protecting assets and perpetuity. This fund was created with the mindset of, ‘We need to show up for undocumented immigrants because, like all of us, they are a part of our communities.’ We're going to have a retrenchment of funding, but we need to operate in a way that is led by our values and by hope rather than by fear. Si Se Puede is our motto!

Emily Katz: Where are you seeing some pickup and what kinds of questions are you getting?

Kathleen Kelly Janus: What's exciting about this opportunity, is that it's not just immigration funders supporting this effort. Quite the contrary; it's people who wouldn't ordinarily fund immigration work, but see this a reflection of who we are as a society. How we treat our most vulnerable in these moments is a reflection of our capacity to be better. We're seeing this broad coalition through individual donor support, hopefully, leveraging a grassroots campaign, and it's important to the governor to also have supportive companies involved in this matter.

Daranee Petsod: I am so proud to be a Californian! Our state, once again, is the first in the nation—this time as the first state government to invest specifically in cash assistance for undocumented immigrants, and to do so with private philanthropy. The GCIR team has been fielding inquiries from other states about how to replicate this model—from advocates, philanthropic leaders, major donors, and city and state officials. Oregon moved quickly to set up a similar program, and we have heard from a wide range of states, from Colorado to Connecticut.

Emily Katz: What’s giving you inspiration?

Daranee Petsod: Our team has been motivated and heartened by the vision and commitment of immigrant leaders who have set up local relief funds, including those who are undocumented immigrants themselves. They see the power in this moment to organize on behalf of their community—and to give voice to issues that may have not been broadly understood. For example, farmworker communities have long contended with overcrowded housing, lack of water, lack of handwashing stations in the fields, lack of protective equipment from pesticides, etc. While this effort focuses on immediate humanitarian relief, the immigrant justice movement, GCIR included, recognizes the need for longer-term solutions that will make our state stronger, and that will uplift the well-being of communities who have experienced harsh conditions for a very long time.

Kathleen Kelly Janus: I'm inspired by the work of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the ways in which they are fighting so hard for minimum wage, health benefits, and paid sick leave. All of those things that make us better as a state, will also help us through this pandemic—when everyone who’s feeling sick needs to be supported to stay home.

Yet, instead of doubling down for the most vulnerable workers who don't have those protections, they're completely out of work in many cases.

I am fueled by the caretakers, the caretakers of our society. It seems like this is the least we can do to support them during this time of need.

Daranee Petsod: Perhaps a quarter of our online donations have come of Californians donating a portion of their stimulus checks. And we have also seen donations from DACA beneficiaries and undocumented immigrants who still have work. Seeing people standing up for one another has been very heartening.

Emily Katz: Our families and neighborhoods are stronger, safer and healthier when we show up and represent for one another in moments of joy and celebration, and in moments of illness and crisis.

We pull through by pulling together, like we have done in the past.

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