How Concerned Americans Can Help Counter Immigration Crises: An Evergreen Primer
(This is the googolplexth installment of a series of articles unpacking the many horrifying immigration implications created by the Trump administration. Though I am not an immigration specialist, I am a legal generalist working with indigent populations professionally full-time. This article is not intended to form an attorney-client relationship or constitute legal advice, though it is my hope that it will help people feel equipped to take action.)
As all of us living in America watch the immigration enforcement machine churn, it can be hard to know how to best help — if you’re not an immigration lawyer and not personally involved, direct action can feel elusive. But there are definitely things that help slow this hydra down, and most of us can take many of these actions in our day-to-day!
Before we start, some disclaimers: This primer is intended for folks who want to help non-professionally and are not themselves a primary target for detention or deportation— it assumes no cultural or professional ties to immigrant populations, which impacts the nature of the suggestions. Some suggestions may be difficult for government workers, but I tried to include a broad range so that even folks who can’t lobby or donate have things they can do. Okay, onward to the suggestions!
1. Know and Support the Major Players
Immigration law is quite a rabbit hole, and sub-specialization is very common — folks who do asylum work full-time may look at changes to public charge and think, “Whoa, that’s not my burrow.” But for each common issue, some credible orgs will come up over and over again. It’s a good idea to get to know these organization names, because this first step will make every other suggestion easier to do long-term.
- Learn The National Rockstar Orgs. Between the zero tolerance crisis that happened last year and current reports of detention conditions, there are a lot of great compilation articles on folks doing good work down at the border. Many entities on these lists (e.g. the ACLU, KIND, ASAP) have a national presence, and do excellent work everywhere. Others (e.g. RAICES, the Florence Project, No More Deaths) do localized work with a national infrastructure, and can use our support.
- Learn Your Local Policy Actors. Though immigration is a national issue, many states have more localized coalition or coordinated grassroots efforts. It’s worth learning who does this in your area! Many places have groups that will come up if you Google terms like “immigration,” “network,” and/or “coalition” with a state name. And if all else fails, the Immigration Advocates Network has a database of state legal resources that includes many local actors. (That said, if you live here in Massachusetts, I can just tell you to check out the Mass Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy coalition; they do great work.)
- Where to Go to Learn More. When in doubt, Google is your friend here, but many entities take pains to make this information easy to find. Some groups in particular (e.g. National Immigrant Law Center, Informed Immigrant, #StandWithImmigrants) issue a lot of updates and news bulletins to keep people informed. That makes them a great place to start if you’re looking to learn what’s going on! As I’ll talk about below, credible information sources are really, really valuable — and likely to remain so as we move forward.
2. Talk to Your Government
This is the veggie consumption everybody is told will help grow strong civics but nobody feels does anything. The good news is, much like eating vegetables, efforts do result in healthy growth over time!
- Federal Calls. Reps who support immigrants respond to calls thanking them for action because it helps them gauge their constituents. Reps who don’t will still sometimes respond to pressures, and if nothing else it can help you feel better to vent your spleen. You can learn who your House rep is here, and search for Senator contact info here. I also really strongly recommend connecting to Celeste P’s newsletter — she’s a former Congressional staffer who keeps close track of government movement on this issue and will email you info and scripts.
- State Calls. Your state reps may be considering legislation that impacts immigrants locally — here in Massachusetts, there are currently multiple bills kicking around the Statehouse. Your local organizations and research entities like CLINIC and NCSL can help you learn more about what’s going on where you are!
- Public Comments. This administration likes to do stuff that requires a public comment period by law. Groups like Protect Immigrant Families often organize comment drives, and there are three still happening as I type this. Leaving a public comment is a great way to help create real change, and it’s not as scary as it sounds — you don’t need to be an expert, your comment likely won’t take more than an hour or two to draft tops. And because the administration has to review and respond to every single unique comment they receive, it can be really effective at slowing down hateful policy.
3. Donate Your (Culturally Competent) Time
It may not feel like it, but there are things that even a person with no professional or cultural ties can do to donate time to immigration issues. This can be a great way to feel more involved and make a concrete difference with results you can see. Just remember to center your work around the people you’re trying to help — they’re the experts on their lived experience, and this is a really rough time for immigrant populations. Folks deserve empathy and understanding if you work with them directly!
- Interior Efforts. Many locations have accompaniment networks or bail efforts that help make sure people held by ICE are able to make it to immigration court properly, get bail granted, and receive access to appropriate conditions while held. (Here in Massachusetts, Beyond Bond runs the main accompaniment network I know of.)
- Asylum Efforts. Many asylum networks take volunteers of all stripes, for everything from medical evaluation to ESL classes to translation services. It’s a bit easier to do direct work if you have specialized training, but many places provide general or specialized training as an initial step.
- General Efforts. Finally, general organizations like #StandWithImmigrants have more general volunteer programs, covering everything from court observation to ESL classes to legal services intake. This can be a great way to give a more general hand as people get situated.
4. Donate Your Dollars
Everyone in this field is spread very thin right now, because the immigration crisis manages to be everywhere at once. Providing monetary support can help increase resources in a variety of different ways.
- Sections 1, 3, and 5 Make a Great List! Unfortunately, such a multi-pronged crisis leaves a lack of universal, centralized lists to direct efforts. But most of the groups referenced above and below have links to accept donations. All my recommendations can be considered reasonable places to send money.
- Some General Suggestions: For widespread support, national legal organizations are often a safe bet; a lot of the traction we’ve gained has come from a combination of publicity and legal work. (For localized issues such as the border crisis, obviously, a local organization may be better.) If all else fails, or you just need a quick one-stop suggestion, Charity Navigator lists reputable organizations doing good work.
5. Support Information Dissemination
This administration does a truly unprecedented amount to obfuscate information and limit the range of our free press, especially around immigration issues. The good news is, there is a lot that the average citizen can be doing to counter this, on social media and otherwise:
- Uphold a Free Press through Sharing Links and Resources. One major way we learn about atrocities is responsible journalism — in particular, outlets like the Associated Press, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Reuters, and the Washington Post all have broken major stories on the subject since 2017. I know a lot of the major players run obnoxious op eds, and their reporting isn’t always optimal. But these news outlets spotlight 45’s worst practices; we need them to stay functional and working with advocacy organizations. Please consider disseminating links and providing financial support for their efforts!
- Myth-Bust. MAGA minds tend to use the same false talking points about immigration over and over and over again. This garbage Groundhog Day practice does have an upside, because predictable myths have predictable counters — and many of them are relatively straightforward and simple. I compiled a list of greatest hits about six months ago, during the Obnoxious “Immigrants are Criminals” Campaign of ’18, but Snopes, PolitiFact, and other fact-checking institutions definitely have your back on new issues as they occur. Engaging with fascists on the Internet in 2019 is its own art, but it can do a lot to spread accurate information to bystanders. You really are doing something helpful by correcting common misconceptions!
6. …but Don’t Spread Panic.
I cannot overstate what a time of fear this is — the administration terrorizes people repeatedly, trying to create a chilling effect on access to rights and services. Unfortunately, studies show that’s been pretty successful, at least on some issues, and we don’t want to do DHS’s work for them. So Section 5 has a couple of important caveats:
- Check Your Sources. News outlets in Section 5 are generally reputable sources of information, and the organizations listed in Section 1 definitely are. Whenever possible, please check information against sources, because misinformation spreads like wildfire during times of high stress and crisis. The good news is, this is another issue where Snopes, PolitiFact, and other fact-checking institutions have your back, and they’re worth taking a few minutes to review. Try to double-check social media news especially, for obvious reason!
- Account for Vicarious Trauma. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that the atrocities going on are impacting you too — even with no direct ties, it’s really hard to stomach kids in camps. People experiencing secondary or vicarious trauma are more likely to share information in ways that panic others, so it’s important to learn what you need to recenter and stay on your game. (And, obviously, it’s also helpful to you and other activists — we’ve got to look out for each other!) I’ve written a resilience roadmap on this topic which compiles suggestions much like this piece does, but there are a lot of great resources out there in general. I promise it’s worth the time — a lot of folks can run on empty for a time, but why do it when you don’t need to and it may hurt the folks you’re trying to help?
So there you have it! Six concrete suggestions for ways you can help with the current immigration horrorscape. Please feel free to link to this essay, take links from it, or otherwise use it to keep fighting the good fight — it’s rough out there, and I’m happy to help if I can.