Grantmakers Gather for Immigration Justice: A Conversation with Roxana Shirkhoda

Each pair represents the story of an immigrant or refugee. Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) conference.

Each pair represents the story of an immigrant or refugee. Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) conference.

While millions are affected real-time by rapid changes in local, state, and federal immigration policy, the Tides team has been engaging stakeholders across the immigrant community. Roxana Shirkhoda, Tides director of strategic initiatives, attended the Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) convening in Los Angeles to connect with other funders, philanthropists, and changemakers working right now in this critical issue area. Here Roxana shares her impressions and experience about the event and the growing movement.

Our 2018 convening was an opportunity to gather with local, state, and national foundations with diverse interests to discuss emerging challenges and opportunities for newcomers and receiving communities. Running from February 27 through March 1, 2018, the conference explored a wide range of issues facing immigrants and refugees at this critical juncture—and how diverse grant-makers across the country are responding. Participants considered the promising practices, strategies, and approaches being pursued in the field and in philanthropy. -GCIR

What is Tides’ role in immigration justice and further, why did you decide to attend the GCIR conference?

While this was Tides’ first year participating in the GCIR convening, we are proud of our longstanding support of immigrant communities, including our current partnerships with Detention Watch Network, Lacuna Giving Circle, Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC), Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, Pro Bono Net/Immigration Advocates Network, and many more. It was important that we be at the table with like-minded leaders in the community to discuss ways we can collectively be more informed on the issue area, as well as ways we can together lift up the work of movement builders on the ground. We value forming collaborations that meaningfully leverage the resources of our donor community.

In the coming year, we are deepening our commitment in the immigration space by bridging the gap between unlikely partners across sectors, with a focus on the talented technological community. We intend to utilize Tides’ expansive network of funders, corporate partners, nonprofit organizations, and issue area experts to facilitate partnerships among diverse collaborators. We know that we can be smarter and achieve more by working together than we can alone.

What stood out to you about the GCIR gathering? Was it unique compared to other events you have been to previously?

Spoken word artist Vanessa Tahay. Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) conference.

Spoken word artist Vanessa Tahay. Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) conference.

This convening was incredibly unique because GCIR brought together both funders and grassroots leaders to address the state of emergency facing immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in the U.S. Event participants who work day and night in the trenches were intentional and deliberate in their clear calls to action – particularly encouraging the funder community to act with a fierce sense of urgency to help the millions of families, communities, and businesses impacted by changes in immigration policy.

Worth noting, this gathering was by far the most welcoming group of practitioners in any field I have experienced. With no ego in the room as to funder reputation or assets under management, folks were keen to build on one another’s expertise and past experiences to establish partnerships to support the immigrant community in tandem.

Can you share context for the current landscape of immigrant rights? What is happening in communities across the country right now?

While there are many moving parts amid the immigrant landscape, these are some of the most critical within the U.S:

  • Detention & Deportation: Many immigrants are living in a perpetual state of peril due to surprise immigration & customs enforcement (ICE) raids, and the continuous threat of detention and deportation without appropriate legal representation available. Currently the U.S. is home to the world’s largest immigration detention infrastructure, holding 350,000-450,000+ individuals in detention a year, including legal permanent residents with longstanding family and community ties, asylum-seekers, and victims of human trafficking.
  • Fear & Trauma: The ever-changing and confusing landscape is leaving hundreds of thousands of youth and family members steeped in uncertainty and fear, from trauma-inducing family separation, lack of educational security for elementary, high school, and college students, and more. Immigrant communities are struggling to find their voice as current climate calls into question their very existence.

Philanthropy has a critical role to play in this highly volatile environment with access to resources that can address increasingly complex issues.

Each pair represents the story of an immigrant or refugee. Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) conference.

Each pair represents the story of an immigrant or refugee. (GCIR)

What would you like to share with those currently engaged or interested in supporting vulnerable immigrant communities?

Two themes that emerged at GCIR were around urgency and trust:

  • Urgency: Immigrant communities of color live in a state of emergency in all facets of life, from work, to school, to home. Constant changes on the ground and shifts in policy require rapid, targeted responses, and funders that want to make a difference must move with urgency to respond with timely and critical resources.
  • Trust: The movement is being led by migrant men and women of color who have lived the experience of intergenerational, interracial immigrant duplicity. Allow these leaders to come to the forefront, lift them up, and trust they know how best to steward your resources into their communities.

Three additional takeaways for everyone to keep in mind when engaging within the immigrant movement:

  • Take risks: Consider drawing your personal comfort boundaries – and then step outside of them.
  • Think multi-year: This critical work has a long road ahead with resources needed to stay afloat.
  • Consider scale: One full-time attorney can take 25 detention cases a year. While funders should absolutely seek ideas that can scale, the truth is this work also happens person by person, case by case, life by life. Don’t force scale, or overlook efforts whose numbers seem modest.
Timeline, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) conference.

Timeline, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) conference.

Any closing thoughts you would like to share?

This incredibly challenging work can only move forward if funders, movement builders, law enforcement, corporations, policy makers, and others unite around a common goal of promoting humanity, dignity, and equal protection for vulnerable immigrant lives currently under threat.

Tides Director of Special Inititatives Roxana Shirkhoda

Roxana Shirkhoda is the Director of Special Initiatives at Tides, where she helps our partners come together to create daring change.

For more on Tides work with immigration justice, see our Q & A with Tides Senior Advisor Alex Rojas: Abriendo Puertas with Our Values and Voice or Daring Change in Action: A Conversation with Andrea Granda.

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