For Grantmakers, a Widening Battle to Defend Immigrant Communities

a protest in chicago. photo:  Marie Kanger Born/shutterstoc

a protest in chicago. photo:  Marie Kanger Born/shutterstoc

Six months into Donald Trump's presidency, foundation support for embattled immigrant and refugee populations continues to be strong nationwide—and is even growing.

Despite the risks of engaging an issue that's extremely polarizing right now, community foundations are playing a key leadership role, here, establishing new collaborative partnerships and developing new funds to defend immigrant communities. The latest effort to catch our attention comes out of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. Its new Resilience Fund was formed with the help of a private family funder to focus on challenges with international travel, immigration and deportation policies that are affecting families in the D.C. area. 

Elsewhere, we've highlighted smaller funders, like the Chicago Foundation for Women, that have responded to Trump policies through targeted grantmaking to support immigrants and other threatened communities. If you check out the "Joint Foundation Statement on Immigration" organized by Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees, you'll find that a long list of smaller funders has signed on to the statement. Many of these grantmakers operate locally and are coping firsthand with the fallout from the Trump administration's immigration policies. 

But some big-name funders are also making a priority of immigration issues—both nationally and close to home. The MacArthur Foundation recently stepped forward in this regard, announcing a batch of grants to Chicago organizations that are responding to Trump policies.

The undocumented immigrant population of Chicago isn’t as high as it was a decade ago, but the city is still a prime target for immigration roundup arrests. Sweeping changes to immigration law enforcement have caused lots of Chicago immigrant and legal aid organizations to organize workshops and educational sessions to help immigrants and refugees learn their rights at home, work, and everywhere else.

MacArthur is particularly concerned about the late-June executive order that temporarily prohibits people from six Muslim-majority nations and also fleeing refugees from entering the U.S. To show its support for the local immigrant rights and legal aid groups on the front lines, it awarded $1.2 million to a handful of organizations.

One thing that really stands out about MacArthur’s recent Chicago commitment is how much general operating support it’s been giving. By far, the largest grants to immigrant and refugee groups have gone toward general operations. This often signals a sense of trust in grantees who know the communities they serve far better than foundation executives. Such funding is also important when events on the ground are changing quickly. 

General operating support grants have largely been focused on legal aid and legal representation of immigrants and refugees who are facing discrimination. For example, MacArthur awarded three $150,000 grants for general operating support to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, and the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the ACLU of Illinois.

Although education and outreach grants in this focus area have been considerably smaller (more like $25,000), MacArthur has a lot of faith in these efforts. The funder recently awarded workshop grants for immigrant and refugee communities to the Chicago Cultural Alliance, Hana Center, Ethiopian Community Association, Latinos Progresando, and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. It also gave $50,000 to Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago for education sessions and $25,000 to Raise the Floor Alliance to develop workshops and training materials for low-wage and immigrant shift workers.

Another area of interest for MacArthur these days is helping local immigration groups in Chicago connect with like-minded organizations in other parts of the country. For example, MacArthur recently gave the Arab American Action Network $25,000 to bring local partners and national partners together to strategize and respond to changes in immigration policy and laws. It's not awarding as many grants for this purpose, but it’s still a significant effort.

To learn more about MacArthur’s local perspective on the immigration orders, read Chicago Commitment Director Tara Magner’s recent blog post. However, it should be noted that these immigration grants are not a reinstatement of MacArthur’s Migration program, which ended in 2016. Instead, they're part of MacArthur's local support to the Greater Chicago area. Lately, as we've been reporting, the foundation has emerged as a more visible and engaged donor on the local scene. 

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