In the fall of 1984, the Rosenberg Foundation’s Board of Directors traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to meet with scholars, foundation grantees and government officials. They observed activity along the border at night, visited detention facilities and met with agencies serving immigrants.
Reflecting on that journey, Hon. Cruz Reynoso, Herma Hill Kay, Peter F. Sloss and Norvel Smith later wrote that they “were reminded again of the urgent need for an immigration policy that is sensitive to the needs of current residents and restores dignity and ensures fair treatment to those who come seeking a ‘better life’ for themselves and their families.”
The Foundation soon after revised its program priorities to respond to the need for widespread immigration reform and, following the historic passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, allocated its grantmaking to projects that supported legalization, successful immigrant integration and full implementation of the new law.
Nearly 30 years later, we find ourselves once again at a pivotal moment. After inspiring advocacy by immigrant rights leaders and organizations, President Obama has taken decisive action on immigration, offering nearly five million undocumented people in the U.S. a chance to step out of the shadows. More than one million Californians now will be able to come forward without the ever-present fear of deportation and separation from their homes and families.
This is an important victory, and it also means that we have ahead of us the critical work of ensuring that as many people as possible can take advantage of this historic opportunity. Under the President’s plan, immigrants who are eligible will need to apply for relief. From philanthropy to local and state governments, we must invest adequate resources to provide the outreach, education and legal services needed to help eligible individuals navigate the process and benefit from the President’s executive action.
In California, in addition to the scope of anticipated need, additional challenges exist, including: unscrupulous providers (attorneys and notarios) plotting to take advantage and charge high fees for little, no or bad service; a lack of nonprofit legal service providers throughout the state, especially in rural and underserved areas such as the Central Valley, Northern Coast and Inland Empire; the large geographic scope of the state that leaves many impacted communities isolated from existing services, and; the diverse language and cultural needs among the immigrant communities.
To meet these challenges head on, those of us in philanthropy can support efforts like Ready California, a statewide table that will help coordinate and improve immigration services across the state. In particular, many in the Central Valley will need to be reached and served to effectively implement the new plan and ensure access for rural immigrants. That’s why seasoned leaders and organizations also have come together under a new umbrella, called the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Initiative (CVIIC), a much-needed immigrant integration collaborative in the region.
While the President’s actions are a big step forward for immigrants and for our country, we know that it falls short of reform that is truly comprehensive, one that includes a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants, allows for an expedited process for Dreamers and farmworkers, and protects immigrant workers from abuse and exploitation. Let’s stand with the leaders and organizations who will continue the fight for common sense and fair immigration policies that uphold our basic values, protect the rights we hold dear and strengthen our economy and communities.