Getting involved in immigrant rights can feel like both an emergency and a daunting task. As children of the diaspora, it feels especially pressing to honor the communities that reared us and created the ability for us to thrive. Getting involved may seem challenging if you don’t have the financial means to contribute or the privilege of time to spend away from work or family to volunteer. Or maybe elitist spaces have left you feeling like you don’t have the right vocabulary or understanding of immigration policies to talk about advocacy in a meaningful way.
People are always asking me how to get involved but often feel like they have to be where the “action” is to make an impact. If the newscycle is telling us about a “migrant caravan” heading to San Diego, we assume we have to be on the ground in San Diego to make a difference. As anxious as they make us feel, chasing news cycles is not effective. If we’re going to be in the fight for immigrant rights for the long haul (keeping in mind that human rights change is generally slow) our efforts have to be strategic, sustainable and local. Look to local immigrant organizations to guide the way, and lift up their ideas and calls to action as often as you can. Remember that organizations are operating in a moment of heightened stress right now, and don’t always have the time or capacity to respond to emails asking “how can I get involved?” If you’re going to reach out (and please do reach out!), it’s best to do so with specific ideas for how you can help and lend your skills. Do your research, and find out what communities are in need of.
There is space in this fight for all of us, and we all have to be involved to make tangible change. Our particular frontlines and the roles we play may look different, but it doesn’t make them any less valuable. Below are a list of ideas and guidance to help you get involved to create an impact that doesn’t solely involve spending money (sometimes it’s about where you don’t spend your money).
1. Report and document raids and arrests
ICE and Border Patrol’s success is contingent on secrecy. So the more we expose their abuse, the harder it becomes for them to hurt our communities. Documenting their actions, which often violate our constitutional rights, can help fight deportations in court and bring attention to a culture of racist and dehumanizing enforcement that has been separating families and inflicting trauma on immigrant communities for years. ICE and Border Patrol’s tactics aren’t new, but our ability to call attention to them, galvanize public support, and help directly affected communities fight back, is greater than ever.
See WITNESS’ Eyes on ICE Project for resources on how to film enforcement on your phone safely, ethically and effectively:
2. Don’t spread misinformation
We’ve seen how social media can be used as a powerful tool for immigrant communities to learn their rights and fight deportations. But unfortunately, we’ve also seen how misinformation spread online about raids can escalate fear and uncertainty within already vulnerable communities. Use the resource below created by WITNESS and United We Dream to help verify online posts of raids before resharing.
3. Educate yourself
One of the most powerful ways to fight for immigrant rights is to better understand the policies, practices, and history that led to this current moment. We can’t change the future if we don’t learn about the past. And the more we know about our history and our rights, the better we can take care of ourselves, our families, and our community.
- Watch these short animations from Brooklyn Defender Services and the ACLU: We Have Rights
- Know Your Power resources from United We Dream
- To better understand the root causes of migration and displacement in the Northern Triangle (Honduras, San Salvador, and Guatemala), check out this blueprint from Human Rights First.
- Seek out nonprofit news sources—meaning corporate interests don’t dictate their reporting—to get your immigration news (i.e. ProPublica, The Intercept and The Marshall Project). The Documented NY is a news site devoted to covering immigration in NYC specifically, and Neta is an independent platform based at the US-Mexico border and led by people of color.
- Advocacy organizations also hold a wealth of knowledge and are active on social media platforms, making information accessible and digestible. I follow and receive newsletters from United We Dream, RAICES, Make The Road NY, Mijente, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) and more.
4. Show up for community
There are so many ways to create an impact and show up for immigrant communities. It’s best to reach out to organizations with specific ideas for how you can help and lend your skills (i.e. legal, artistic, medical). Below are some ideas:
- Accompany an immigrant to court, their ICE check-in, or other necessary appointments. The power here is in bearing witness and standing in solidarity. Check out New Sanctuary Coalition’s accompaniment program in NYC.
- Join New Sanctuary Coalition’s Pro Se Clinic where non-attorney volunteers, supervised by immigration lawyers, help people get relief from deportation and detention.
- Host an asylum-seeker or refugee in your home with Room for Refugees.
- If you’re able to travel to Tijuana, San Diego or LA, volunteer with Al Otro Lado. They’re looking for everything from health care workers to cooks to translators in order to support asylum seekers and their families.
- Join a pen pal or visitation program for detained immigrants like the one run by First Friends of New Jersey and New York.
- If you work in education, create school curricula to help young people learn about immigrant rights in the classroom: Teaching Tolerance.
- Contrary to mainstream narratives, immigrants migrating to the US speak a variety of languages, not just Spanish. Lending language skills to translate documents and resources, accompany an immigrant, do court translation, etc. is a critical way to help immigrants access justice. Volunteer language opportunities: The Advocates for Human Rights, #StandwithImmigrants, Tarjimly.
5. Call your representatives
I know we’ve grown weary of this specific call to action, but calling your representatives is really important. We have to hold our leaders accountable and be the ones to set the agenda. Contact members of Congress and tell them that you want immigration raids to be called off in your community, and/or demand that detention conditions are improved. And remember that calls are better than snail mail or emails!
- This government website has links to finding your city, county and town officials.
- Call My Congress is a website and app that leads you to your representative, your two senators, along with their full contact details, party affiliations, and links to their voting records.
- If you’re having trouble finding contact information, you can call 202-224-3121 to be connected directly to the Capitol switchboard. Ask to be transferred to your senator or representative.
6. Defund hate
Be aware of how companies like Amazon are profiting from deportations. We often think the best way to utilize our money is to donate, but it can be just as effective to take our money out of systems of oppression. In addition to how we spend our own money, we also want our tax dollars used to strengthen our communities by investing in education, housing, and health care programs, not bankroll xenophobic policies. Learn more about the campaign to demand that congress defunds hate against immigrant communities.
- Who’s Behind ICE? The Tech Companies Fueling Deportations (Mijente)
- Immigration Detention: An American Business (Worth Rises)
- Public Pensions Pour Millions Into Private Prison Companies (Documented NY)
7. Support immigrant rights organizations
If you’re in a position to contribute monetarily, volunteer or offer material donations, do your research first. Verify an organization’s legitimacy and how they spend their donations by looking them up on a watchdog site like Great Nonprofits, researching their website, or finding their tax return on GuideStar. When donating to a campaign on a crowdfunding site, make sure the person running the campaign is directly involved with the organization or in communication with the person you’re raising funds for.
In addition to the organizations listed throughout this article, below are some more groups I’ve personally engaged with around the country and have seen first hand how far your time, money and support can go.
- Helping to pay an immigrant’s bail is one of the best ways to help. Here is a list of community bail funds.
- Immigrants are released with no money, housing, food or clothing, and often without legal or support services. You can donate to the “While They Wait” fund from Brooklyn Defender services and RAICES to help pay things like employment authorization.
- Donate household goods to organizations such as International Rescue Committee and US Committees for Refugees and Immigrants.