Funding with Purpose to Meet the Moment

Wednesday, March 13, 2024
In recent months, the Biden Administration and congressional leaders have considered imposing new and harsher laws that would have made it harder for individuals and families fleeing persecution, war, and violence to find safety within the United States. What had been proposed - raising the fear standard, increasing detentions, accelerating deportations, and curtailing humanitarian parole -  would have eroded decades-long asylum protections.

While those proposals did not move forward, there was, unlike in years past, growing bipartisan support for many aspects of that agenda. As American Immigration Council’s Jorge Loweree observed when asked about the failed bipartisan immigration deal, “Advocating for stricter immigration policy, regardless of the actual results, is just plain easier than demanding a fairer and more just process for people who are not U.S. citizens . . . You’re preying on people’s fears and if you can do that successfully, there’s very little that can be done to bring somebody back from that." That these proposed restrictions got significant traction on both sides of the aisle signals a fundamental shift in how this country may - or may not - welcome and include newcomers in the future.

Escalating anti-immigrant rhetoric and sentiment have created the conditions in which those strident asylum restrictions could even be proposed. The prevailing narrative about immigrants has been designed to evoke a constant state of fear, failure, and chaos. Pundits, media outlets, and politicians have amplified and accelerated those narratives, creating an environment in which it has become impossible for common sense and humanity to prevail as guiding principles for reform. These dis/misinformation campaigns are a harbinger of what is to come not only during this election cycle, but also what new narratives or policy proposals might emerge post-election (see, for example, the Nikansen Center’s report, Project 2025: Unveiling the far right’s plan to demolish immigration in a second Trump term, which details Project 2025’s call to action for the federal government to embrace a new paradigm that eliminates current immigration pathways and bypasses Congressional intent and statutory authorities). These anti-immigrant narratives and policy proposals can, however, be countered and defeated.

In spite of this challenging political and cultural context, there is significant and critical work to support and invest in. Funders can: 

  • Move resources to build the narrative power necessary to change the long-term conditions for reform at the federal level. A 2021 poll from the Cato Institute shows that 72 percent of respondents consider immigration to be good for the nation. Yet many people continue to have complicated and conflicting opinions on the issue, often based on a lack of understanding of how the immigration system operates and exacerbated by disinformation campaigns. Research helps identify what inspires people to act, while cultural interventions and organizing affect perceptions and how we relate to one another. In our December 2023 webinar, movement leaders and narrative experts outlined the strategies and tactics organizations are deploying to move hearts and minds in support of immigration. 
  • Invest in local and state work where opportunities to advance welcoming, inclusive, and other pro-immigrant policies abound. GCIR’s 2024 Policy Agenda details some of those opportunities, including:
    • Supporting efforts to grant access to driver’s licenses to state residents who meet requirements regardless of immigration status, such as in Michigan.
    • Supporting campaigns throughout the country that restore municipal voting rights to immigrants of various statuses who would otherwise satisfy voting requirements, such as in Santa Ana, California.
    • Supporting state-level efforts to extend access to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to those without formal immigration status. 

Earlier this year, the National Immigration Law Center issued a report - “States Continue to Invest in the Health and Well-Being of Immigrants: Highlights from 2023” - that highlights progressive policy developments at the state and local levels. Cities, counties, and states can often create more welcoming conditions than what is possible at the federal level, so funders can continue to double down on long-term organizing efforts and advocacy campaigns happening at the local level. 

  • Invest in long-term, durable movement infrastructure. Investments need not be limited to election year campaigns and opportunities. We know that critical wins - whether at the local, state, or national levels -  are borne of long-term investment in community organizing, multi-racial coalitions, and movement infrastructure. The non-electoral organizing that happens day in and day out - based on durable relationships and shared commitments - yields meaningful progress. Investing in movement infrastructure is the central topic of GCIR’s webinar taking place this week, Funding Like You Want to Win: Philanthropy and Movement Investments. In this program, we will hear from leaders at the forefront of efforts to build a more inclusive, safe, and prosperous multi-racial democracy and learn from foundations that have embraced movement-centered strategies. 

At GCIR, we believe that - even in the face of increasing anti-immigrant hostility, narratives, and policies - we can work together to make a different future possible. We remain steadfast in working toward that future, one in which:

  • Immigrant and refugee communities will have the resources and capital to self-determine.
  • The leadership and influence of immigrant and refugee leaders will strengthen and grow.
  • There will be a strong, well-resourced immigrant and refugee justice ecosystem.

Loweree was right when he said our elected officials were taking the easy route by preying on peoples' fears instead of doing the hard work of demanding a fair and just process. But the fight for transformative change takes courage and dedication. At the root of our work is the belief that everyone should have the freedom to thrive, to stay, to move, to work, and to transform. Even in the face of challenges, we must remain clear-eyed and committed to the protection, well-being, and inclusion of immigrant communities.