(photo: John McCarten/New York City Council)
The news that immigrants who legally access public benefits, such as food, housing, and medical assistance, could be denied green cards will make it increasingly difficult for many immigrants across our city and nation to meet their basic needs, placing a sizeable burden on the nonprofit sector.
Already, the sector is faced with an unyielding demand for support by families and communities as immigrants turn to nonprofits for support in steeper numbers.
What has become abundantly clear from our work with more than 400 organizations each year that focus on immigration and other social service and advocacy groups is that the current challenges are formidable: nonprofits are doing the best they can despite a national climate of bias and discrimination against immigrants and the groups that serve them.
This increased workload is experienced not only by organizations with an immigrant-serving mission. It is seen by hundreds of the nonprofits we work with each year, from hunger organizations to affordable housing organizations, to those with an educational mission, and countless others.
Amid this climate, Community Resource Exchange recently convened six nonprofit leaders to illustrate the obstacles their staffs and constituents are facing. Speakers, whose work focuses on grassroots organizing, legal support, immigrant youth, economic justice, and LGBTQIA immigrant rights, pointed to issues that are creating a double-bind for nonprofits: increased demand coupled with changes to the system that make delivering services harder.
This the result of multiple factors, including that immigrants already have a heightened fear of being viewed as a public charge when accessing necessary services such as public assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps, for which they are eligible. The proposed change only exacerbates this fear.
This fear is the result of persistent myths that are being exaggerated in the current environment, for instance, that immigrants don’t pay taxes, come to the United States purely dreaming of opportunity (as opposed to fleeing life-threatening conditions in their homelands), and do not contribute to the economy, which have been proved untrue.
Complicating factors have been revisions to information required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, amplifying fears of immediate deportation due to things like any accidental errors in completing applications.
Our panelists posed solutions to better serve immigrants: federal and international action to change the reality for immigrants in this country, including the need for a transnational conversation about the treatment of migrants and immigrants not just here in the U.S., but in Europe and other places. Local governments—city and state—and individuals must step in not only with financial help, but with common sense approaches.
Nonprofits need sufficient funding to support increased needs of immigrants coming through their doors, and elected officials who “get it” are those that are on the ground and in the neighborhoods, visibly witnessing the challenges being faced every day.
We must use our voices to seek change. This November 6, Election Day, is one opportunity, when people can support candidates who understand the needs and benefits of our multicultural society—and not just give lip service to secure votes.
Even simply starting a conversation with friends and family—albeit difficult ones—can springboard to broader awareness of the issues surrounding immigration, greater support for nonprofits on the frontlines of serving immigrants, and, most importantly, a better life for immigrants seeking a life in America free from discrimination and fear.
Katie Leonberger is the President and CEO of Community Resource Exchange. On Twitter @katieleonberger & @CREinNYC.