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California Foundations Move $40 Million for Immigration Response Fund

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Responding to President Trump’s policies on immigration, a group of California foundations has injected more than $40 million in emergency support to nonprofits in the state in recent months while developing a rapid-response ethos designed to counter fast-moving events in Washington.

The foundations have shortened the grant-making process from many months to just a few days in some cases. And with the legal status of "Dreamers" — people brought into the country illegally when they were children — in limbo, the 13 grant makers have issued a "call to action" for other foundations to pitch in, not only to help with immediate needs of swiftly changing immigration policies but to provide services to foreign-born residents on a long-term basis.

"We’re eager to see new, additional funders come to the table," says Don Howard, president of the James Irvine Foundation. "There is a backbone of work they can contribute to."

The effort began just a few days after the election, when Mr. Howard began calling fellow foundation leaders across the state. He sensed that immigrants would feel threatened by the "America First" policies of the incoming administration, and he wanted to know what other grant makers were planning to do about it.

With the help of Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees, a national network of foundations that has been working on immigrant and refugee issues since 1990, the California grant makers interviewed 60 nonprofit leaders across the state to determine their needs and created a spreadsheet to track their immigration-related grant making. On bimonthly conference calls, they shared how they were responding to policy changes, including the travel ban, an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment, and a rise in hate crimes.


Rapid Response

Central to the grant maker’s efforts was launching a volley against Mr. Trump’s revocation of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy, which allowed immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children to remain in the country.

Mr. Trump since September has been moving to end the policy, saying the administrative way that Mr. Obama created the program was unlawful. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump urged Congress to write the program into law.

Meanwhile, some federal courts have intervened to keep the DACA program operating, but the Justice Department has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn those efforts.

Even before the most recent legal battles, beginning shortly after the Obama administration crafted the DACA policy, many grant makers nationally began to focus their support on groups that conduct "know your rights" education for Dreamers, provide legal services, and engage in community organizing and policy advocacy.

For instance, more than 100 regional and national grant makers (including the Ford, JPB, and Open Society foundations) joined the "Delivering on the Dream" network and contributed more than $40 million to immigrants and their families over the past six years. And this week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced a $33 million scholarship fund for undocumented students.


Unifying Force

In California, where one in four residents is an immigrant and half the children in the state have a parent who immigrated to the United States, foundations also have been working on the issue for years. But they questioned whether they were putting their money to good use.

The arrival of Mr. Trump in the White House forced grant makers to work together, says Manuel Pastor, director of the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. Policy changes have come swiftly, he says, and foundations will provide a benefit only if they stay on top of the needs in the state.

To that end, the Irvine Foundation and the California Endowment each provided more than $1 million to the center to build a "data hub" on the contributions of immigrants to California’s economy.

Mr. Pastor sees the hub as a more than just a static website full of numbers. He and other researchers at the center generate policy white papers and data analysis to help inform the debate over the Dreamers. For instance, in December, the center published an interactive map that showed predicted economic gains by congressional district if Congress were to pass a law granting them legal status.

"The foundations decided they need to make sure this ecosystem is vibrant and able to respond to issues as they arise rather than pursuing funding project by project," he says. "That limits everyone’s ability to respond, because policy is changing so dynamically."


Neglected Areas

In their conversations since the election, the foundations also discovered areas of the state that had received scant attention. The central coast was once such an area, discovered Fred Ali, president of the Weingart Foundation. There, the Fund for Santa Barbara has established the Central Coast Immigrant Justice Fund, which plans to distribute grants beginning in March to support immigrants’ legal defense.

Weingart and two other potential donors are still deciding how much to contribute. In all, the fund hopes to draw $500,000 in support.

But whatever the size of Weingart’s gift, having a local grant maker in charge will ensure the money is well spent, Mr. Ali says. "This collaboration helps identify persistent funding gaps in the state," he says. "The immigrant population there is somewhat hidden but very needy."


Speeding Up the Cash Flow

By coordinating their efforts the foundations have been, in some cases, able to speed money to nonprofits faster and help them reach for bigger goals.

The Mission Asset Fund, for example, rushed to help Dreamers extend their temporary legal status. President Trump announced on September 5 that people’s whose DACA status expired on or before March 5 had one month to renew it for a period of two years. The price of an application is $495.

When the policy change was first announced, José Quiñonez, the fund’s president, figured he could arrange for 1,000 Dreamers to apply for no-interest loans to cover the application fee. After talking to Mr. Ali of the Weingart Foundation, who assured him other grant makers were interested, Mr. Quiñonez set his sights higher. Instead of a loan, he decided to cover the full application fee for any Dreamer who qualified.


Lighting a Fire

Foundations and individuals in California and throughout the country quickly jumped on board. One grant maker, whom Mr. Quiñonez declined to identify, simply sent an email that asked for some basic information and quickly wired $200,000. The California Endowment offered $500,000 and condensed its usual six months of pre-grant evaluation into eight days. Mr. Quiñonez says Mr. Ali helped make the case to other foundations that the Mission Asset Fund was up to the task.

"He was vouching for us, essentially, and that allowed the California Endowments of the world to speed up their process," he says. "When foundations trust their resources are going to be used correctly, they move quickly."

The California Endowment’s speed wasn’t limited to the Mission Asset Fund. Shortly after the election the grant maker had created a $25 million "Fight4All" fund earmarked to rush grants to the most vulnerable members of society in the state, including people covered by DACA.

"We were poised to act fast, and we acted even faster," says Marion Standish, the endowment’s vice president for enterprise programs. "The urgency of what happened with DACA really lit a fire under many California funders."

In total, the fund attracted $4.1 million and provided aid to 7,000 applicants — well beyond the reach Mr. Quiñonez first envisioned. Now, as Congress and the White House attempt to come to an agreement on DACA recipients, he says he’s ready for whatever challenge comes next.


‘Turning on a Dime’

Mr. Quiñonez founded his nonprofit a decade ago in San Francisco’s Mission District. Its focus is "to create a fair financial marketplace" for low-income communities. He says he was able to respond fast to the needs of Dreamers and attract grant-maker support because his nonprofit had worked for years creating a personal-finance technology platform marketed to immigrants that could "turn on a dime" and respond to a shifting policy landscape.

"Nonprofits don’t typically function at that level of scale, because we don’t have the systems or technology," he says. "We were able to do it because foundations saw this as a worthy vehicle to support."

The telephone consultations since the election helped foundation leaders see where money was most needed and, in some cases, opened up new funding streams. Mr. Quiñonez, for instance, says more than 20 of the foundations that made grants to help DACA applicants were first-time donors.

As a result of the calls and further research in the communities it serves, the California Wellness Foundation saw that there were a lot of state residents who were in the pipeline to become citizens who had not completed the process. As part of a broader $16 million "rapid response" effort to improve the health of Californians, the foundation for the first time began to support nonprofits — including Catholic Charities and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center — in their efforts to help Californians complete the naturalization process.

"We decided to push a lot of resources around citizenship to those who were really close to making it happen," says Judy Belk, the foundation’s president. "If you have your citizenship, you’re going to have a lot more access to health care."

Published byThe Chronicle of Philanthropy
Author: Alex Daniels
Date: January 18, 2018


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