Channeling Anguish into Action

Over the weekend, Americans watched in horror as yet another gunman expressing hatred toward immigrants targeted Latinx people in Texas, killing 22 people and wounding dozens more. Attacks by men touting white supremacist ideology have surged in recent years, and many believe racist rhetoric from the very highest echelons of our government is fueling them. Changes in immigration policies and increasingly aggressive ICE actions are compounding the devastating effects on communities across the country. 

A recent Urban Institute survey found about one in six immigrant adults avoids activities that risk interaction with police or other authorities, such as driving a car, renewing or applying for a driver’s license, and reporting crimes. Families are also increasingly avoiding routine activities, like interacting with teachers and health care providers, even in households where each member has legal status or citizenship. This disruption has far-reaching consequences for community health, well-being and safety, and the people who reported avoiding activities were more likely to report serious psychological distress. 

The South bears far more than its share of this trauma. So far this year, the five states with the highest deportation rates are North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee, according to data tracked by Syracuse University.

Despite the startling numbers, Southern pro-immigrant organizations receive paltry philanthropic funding. This year, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy conducted an analysis of Foundation Center data and found between 2011 and 2015, barely one percent of all money granted by the 1,000 largest foundations was intended to benefit immigrants and refugees. The lion’s share of that went to national organizations, not state and local groups that are accountable to grassroots organizations and immigrant communities. Of the money that went to state and local groups, California, New York and Illinois received about six dollars per immigrant. The South received less than half of that, despite a five-fold deportation rate. The report states: “Pro-immigrant advocates have won critical victories in countering the narratives of hate and the powerful people and institutions that propagate them through community and electoral organizing. But given the magnitude of the opposition, movement groups need resources and support beyond current amounts to do so consistently and to turn the tide of our country toward a more inclusive and equitable society.”

Many of the immigrant-serving organizations we partner with across the South are doing more and more immediate protection work, stretching themselves thin and working long hours to keep families together, even when it means putting themselves at risk. We frequently ask them and ourselves what more we could be doing to help. 

The Babcock Foundation's board has approved a pool of money to allow staff members the discretion to make small grants to be responsive to partners’ needs without going before the board. We are using this fund to make rapid response grants to organizations engaged in protection work. Because network officers forge deep, mutually trusting relationships with partners, we simplified and streamlined the process so these leaders aren’t spending precious time and energy completing full grant proposals when the communities they serve are in crisis. We are simply asking our partners about their protection activities and correlating budgets. 

Our partners responded. (We are not identifying the organizations to protect their safety and their work.) One told us the administration’s crackdowns and collateral arrests “urged us to find different ways to bring attention to the aggressive ICE interior enforcement on families and individuals.” Collateral arrests are when agents round up everyone in a given area, not just individual targets. People are being arrested at work, while accompanying family to immigration check-ins, or just sleeping in the same home as a person who’s been targeted. Immigrant rights advocates say collateral arrests amount to racial profiling and violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Unlike criminal court, immigrants facing deportation are not afforded public defenders. 

Georgia is a notoriously difficult environment for immigrants. According to research by Syracuse University, only about one in 20 people who applied for asylum in Georgia was granted it over the past five years. (The national rate of approval was about 12 times that.) In 2016, Emory University law students observed five Atlanta Immigration Court judges over a seven-week period. They shared their findings in a letter to Executive Office for Immigration Review, saying the judges “made prejudicial statements and expressed significant disinterest or even hostility toward respondents in their courts.” The students reported the judges bullied children and survivors of domestic violence, canceled hearings without notice, failed to provide interpretation, and almost always denied bond or set the amount prohibitively high for detainees, who are required to wear colored jumpsuits, handcuffs, leg shackles and chains around their waists during their hearings. (In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled criminal defendants cannot be forced to appear at trial in prison uniforms because it can influence jurors and undermine the presumption of innocence.)

Our partners in Georgia are rising to the challenge. One has trained 82 volunteers who’ve reached thousands of people through face-to-face know-your-rights canvassing. This organization is working to amplify the culture of resistance, keep the public informed, and document ICE operations and potential violations of constitutional rights. While these activities are focused primarily on metro Atlanta, the group is facilitating teams in other parts of the state. 

Another organization has trained 50 more volunteers in similar monthly trainings about rights and ICE watch protocol. It also has produced know-your-rights stickers in 11 languages, as well as business cards in 24 languages stating a person’s rights in the event of a raid. This organization has a secure group chat platform and a 24/7 hotline to report an ICE raid or checkpoint. With additional funding, it plans to produce multilingual materials specifically for workplaces, and expand its work to other counties and cities. 

An immigrant rights network that serves the South is hosting convenings and trainings for members, making resources available, and sharing ICE tactics and effective strategies for fighting back. In February, as ICE raided communities across North Carolina, this group helped communities create a rapid response structure, strengthened members’ community alert lines, trained community members to verify ICE presence and connected affected families with badly needed resources. This network is coordinating responses at transit centers, where thousands of Central American asylum seekers “are traveling across the South on their way to meet their loved ones or sponsors, traumatized, disoriented, and often with no money and nothing but the clothes on their backs.” In all its work the organization incorporates wellness activities, including massage and acupuncture, to address the burnout pervasive among organizers and immigrant families. For example, one leader spent 192 hours over two months serving as dispatcher for a community alert line, in addition to her regular full-time work for the organization. 

Like most of our grants, these rapid response grants are general support so our partners can remain responsive to the ever-changing context or pay for things like wellness programs, food and gas for volunteers, interpretation services or unforeseen needs. In addition to our grantmaking, the Foundation has updated our investment policy to ensure we have no money in private prisons or for-profit detention facilities. We also seek to use our voice when we can, speaking up about policies in support of our partners, who are putting themselves on the line every day. We continue to look for ways to support our partners as they defend their communities in the present while building power for the future. 




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