What We're Reading: Immigrant rights funding diversifying but still ‘vastly underfunded’

"Even after the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the plight of immigrants, many of whom were essential workers, laid off from service-industry jobs, and/or excluded from government relief programs, they continue to face heated anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobia," said Kyoko Uchida for Philanthropy News Digest. "While funders are collaborating to better support immigrants, the immigrant rights movement—including advocacy, civic engagement, and grassroots organizing—remains severely underfunded."

Based on available data collected by Candid, between 2016 and 2021, more than 3,000 U.S.-based foundations awarded cash grants totaling $1.5 billion in support of immigrants’ rights. Among the top recipients were the National Immigration Law Center, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, United We Dream Network, and the Immigrant Justice Corps. Funding for immigrants’ rights, however, accounted for only 19.2 percent of total grantmaking in support of immigrants and migrants between 2016 and 2021.

Global human rights funding in support of migrants and refugees increased from $277.4 million in 2015 to $474 million in 2019, according to analyses by Candid and the Human Rights Funders Network (HRFN) of grants data collected from members of HRFN, Ariadne–European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights, and Prospera–International Network of Women’s Funds, as well as 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations. Among a matched subset of funders who consistently provided data for each year, however, the study found that year-over-year growth in grant dollars slowed from 28 percent in 2017 to 16 percent in 2018 to 9 percent in 2019.

One essential but elusive element in advancing immigrant rights is federal immigration policy reform to secure the border, modernize the legal immigration system, expedite the processing of asylum applications, protect status of childhood arrivals and Temporary Protected Status recipients, and enable undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status.

Several funders noted that it is difficult to parse grantmaking data in support of immigrants, let alone immigrant rights, because many provide general operating support for organizations with multi-faceted, cross-cutting strategies that overlap with multiple issue areas. The Carnegie Corporation allocated $12 million for immigrant integration and $8 million for voting, voting rights, and civic learning last fiscal year, but grants to the Four Freedoms Fund, for example, support “state-based immigrant integration efforts in more than 30 states, which includes policy but also nonpartisan voter engagement and naturalization,” said Mannion.

While the Ford Foundation’s Immigrant Rights strategy specifically works with immigrant rights groups, explained Khashu, “the reason why we are consistently listed as a top funder of immigrant rights is because we fund immigrant rights organizations across our U.S. Programs....For example, Ford’s Civic Engagement and Government team funds several state-based immigrant rights organizations through a portfolio dedicated to building state power, because when you look at who is building grassroots power, strengthening democracy, and doing multi-issue organizing—some of the strongest groups doing that work are immigrant justice organizations."

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