Scared and Alone: How California Funders Are Tackling the Youth Immigration Crisis

Sometimes funders are good at responding to breaking crises, more often they're not. So we've been keeping an eye on how foundations are dealing with the recent influx into the U.S. of unaccompanied minors from Central America and the massive shortfall of legal representation for these kids amid the threat of deportation. 

It took a while, but a number of funders have now mobilized on this issue. Last month, we wrote about how funders in New York were teaming up with City Hall to fund legal help for unaccompanied immigrant minors. More recently, several foundations in California pledged over $1 million to deal with this crisis. 

Related - Foundations Team Up With Government in NYC to Support Immigrant Children

The California Endowment has taken the lead in galvanizing funders to help the multitudes of Central American children who have made the dangerous journey alone from their countries of origin to the United States, only to find themselves in confinement and in urgent need of legal representation.

Grants of $500,000 from the California Endowment, $300,000 from the James Irvine Foundation and $50,000 from the Marguerite Casey Foundation will be used to expand Univision's "Estamos Con Los Niños" ("We Are With the Children") awareness-raising campaign across the network's media platforms and channels, with the aim of raising funds for organizations working to assist children who have fled extreme hardship and life-threatening violence in Central America.

So far, this unprecedented awareness and fundraising campaign has generated more than $1.5 million in donations to support these refugee children, as well as millions worth of in-kind media support.

Because of Congress’s failure to pass President Obama’s $45 million supplemental request to pay for legal help to deal with this crisis, it has been left up to local and state government and philanthropy to step in and fill the gap.

"These are children—innocent and vulnerable children—who need our help," said California Endowment president and CEO Robert K. Ross. "By providing a grant to catalyze this effort, the California Endowment wanted to do our part to make sure these refugee children, who have overcome so much trauma and hardship, are able to live whole and healthy lives."

The foundation's leadership here isn't exactly an example of it turning on a dime, since the crisis has been months in the making, but it is another reminder of how Ross brings an unusual combination of empathy, activism, and policy smarts to his position atop one of California's largest philanthropic organizations. Why can't more foundation presidents be like him?