Yesterday President Obama announced a new immigration plan—and there is no doubt that the Republican House and Senate will test and contest it next year.

We’ve witnessed an immigration imbroglio in the United States this year. Urgency struck when vast numbers of unaccompanied children crossed international boundaries seeking safety in a foreign land. Between October 2013 and July 2014, the Border Patrol took into custody 62,998 unaccompanied children. Growing numbers of children are in border detention facilities, enmeshed in a legal system that expedites deportations. Most children come from Honduras (one of the most dangerous countries), Guatemala, and El Salvador—the Northern Triangle—a poor and volatile region of the Americas.

There is a relationship between violence and children’s out-migration: With funding from the McArthur Foundation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees studied unaccompanied migrant children and found that nearly 60 percent faced harm in their native countries and could therefore qualify for asylum in the United States.

What the federal government is doing about it

Earlier this year, President Obama called for action regarding these child migrants.  Swift deportations accelerated and have dominated the landscape since then. And as the child migrant situation intensified, “rocket dockets” ballooned as tools to fast-track children through courts and expedite deportations. Unrealistic requirements dictate that children must appear in court with legal representation within 30-45 days of filing their cases. The reality is that nine out of 10 children are deported when not represented by an attorney. That number declines by half when they have legal representation.

To curtail migration influx, US Customs and Border Protection put forth a multinational, multimedia “Danger Awareness Campaign,” which emphasizes that:

  • The journey to the United States is too dangerous.
  • Children will not get legal papers if they make it to the United States.

When this fear-based campaign fails and children inevitably make it into the United States, the Department of Justice sends additional immigration attorneys to the border “to expedite removal proceedings.”

Some children are released from detention facilities and travel to different destinations in the United States to be with family while awaiting court dates. But in the end—at the border and elsewhere—it’s legal representation that safeguards children.

President Obama’s announcement to overhaul immigration policy will positively impact four to five million undocumented immigrants who have been residing in the United States for some time. By following the appropriate legal procedures, these immigrants will be spared from the imminent threat of deportation through deferred action. However, this new move won’t benefit recent border crossers, and it will not, in and of itself, alleviate the pressures and uncertainties that child migrants are currently experiencing at the border—we’ll need Congressional action for that, which remains to be seen.

What grantmakers are doing about it

Meanwhile, the child migrant situation has served as a catalyst for collective action among philanthropists. Individual donors, community leaders, and foundations are joining forces to raise funds, build awareness, and create calls to action. These groups believe that coalescing to address large-scale issues is a more powerful strategy than tackling them alone. Some examples:

This past July, Diana Campoamor, president of Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), wrote about the need to ensure that migrant children have access to attorneys, and about funding human and legal service agencies. In September, HIP launched a Protect the Children crowdfunding campaign. By November, targeted nonprofits had raised $115,000 for fourteen human needs and legal service agencies across the United States and Mexico from individual donations and matching funds. They made money flow.

In June, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) issued a call to fund and expand legal services, and build a pool of pro-bono attorneys. GCIR also recommended making interpreters readily available, supporting human rights monitoring, and funding basic needs. Now, GCIR and HIP are working together to provide philanthropic and informational resources to stakeholders.

In August, The San Francisco Foundation and the Latino Community Foundation of San Francisco issued a joint Call to Action for Central American Children. They announced their funding commitment, expediting grants to legal and other agencies working on family reunification and social services. They also held a joint briefing that convened a panel of experts representing the National Immigration Law Center, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, and the Central American Resource Center. Attendees included local nonprofits, attorneys, philanthropists, and community advocates. The Latino Community Foundation launched a fund to raise money for this cause, partnering with two service agencies, and has disbursed funds to these two agencies already.

There are many more examples of collective philanthropic action on this issue. The California Endowment, California Healthcare Foundation, California Wellness Foundation, and Weingart Foundation, for example, came together to create the Our Children Relief Fund. Similarly, Univision, The James Irvine Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation, and The California Endowment created Estamos con los Niños (“We Are with the Children”), a campaign to raise funds for agencies providing legal and other support services to unaccompanied children. Hispanics in Philanthropy and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrant Refugees are part of the effort, and together with significant donations from individuals like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and wife, and funding designated by California Governor Jerry Brown to support nonprofits providing legal aid to unaccompanied migrant children, more than four million dollars are going toward mitigating the deleterious effects of the rocket docket system. Other states like New York have also embraced similar collaborations.

The future

All of these efforts are heartening, but we have more to do—not only on the child migrant issue, but also on other Latino issues. I’ve written before about the insignificant amount of money philanthropic institutions have dedicated to Latino causes in the United States. It constitutes 1.3 percent of total annual giving—a number that has remained stagnant for more than a decade. This is underfunding.

Collaborations like the one I’ve described amplify messages and mobilize people. The child migration issue is a great example: It has been broadcast widely and deeply, and has engaged multiple actors. With increased numbers of funders joining in, we could propel the cause further and fill funding gaps that current collaborations may experience, holding even larger numbers of social actors accountable for impact. With an anchor organization in place, a larger campaign could reduce operational costs and enhance giving strategies. The expansion of collective impact activities could further galvanize sustainability. Over time, collaborations can help turn the Latino cause underfunding cycle on its head.

Collective impact partnerships can have two additional goals:

  • To expand educational opportunities and pathways for leadership development for Latinos (for example, propelling Latino youth into law school)
  • To engage Latinos as philanthropists. The Latino Community Foundation is doing that through its Latina Giving Circle. We must garner Latino economic power.

Drive, passion, and a sense of justice can raise millions of dollars and awareness to support organizations that shed light on these social justice issues—including the one at hand: dismantling the rocket docket and giving children a chance.

Tracker Pixel for Entry