Feel Helpless Amidst the Horrific Immigration News? You’re Not. Here’s What To Do.

a practical list of actions to take in support of immigrants and asylum-seekers and those working on their behalf

Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

We are all aware of the ongoing horror show that is the US government’s treatment of asylum-seeking immigrants, immigrant families, and immigrant children. People are asking with urgency: what can I do?

Together & Free has spent the last year working with families who were separated at the US border during the height of the “Zero Tolerance” policy, playing a support role in family reunifications and post-reunification stabilization efforts. We’ve learned firsthand about some of the things that can be helpful to families and vulnerable people.

We’ve put together a practical list of what people can actually do to support those who are at the frontlines of this immigration crisis, and the individuals affected themselves. This list is split into things you can do immediately, and things that you can do over time. Please help me by adding to this list based on your own experiences of what has been helpful and productive!

One caveat: You will not be able to do all these things. But you will be able to do one thing. And that ‘yes’ to one thing will create the possibility for ‘yes’ to something else. Start with one ‘yes’ and trust that a ‘yes’ from millions of people, together, will make the difference.

What you can do right now:

Call: Get on the phone to your federal, state & local representatives. Demand that they hold the government accountable for its actions. Demand the release of children and families who are detained. Demand that all facilities that house immigrants for any period of time be inspected immediately and made safe and sanitary immediately. If there are immigration detention centers in your city or state, ask your representative when they will visit and make a report as to how the people housed within them are being treated. There are lots of resources to help guide you as to what to say when you call. Start there.

Give to Bond Funds: The first step in helping reunite children with their parents and caregivers is to contribute to bail funds for detained adults. Bailing a person out can be an arduous administrative task, so it helps to share the load amongst a big network of organizations that can all act simultaneously. Relying on just one or two organizations can create a backlog of people waiting for assistance, even if the funds are there. That’s why we recommend contributing to the local Immigration Bond Funds you see listed here, who are part of the National Bail Funds Network.

Donate to Advocacy & Assistance Efforts: Once parents are released, they will need help advocating for the release their children to them. Sadly and outrageously, in our experience, this does not happen automatically, but can take weeks or months. So helping with legal efforts post-release is essential for reunification efforts.

Look for local, immigrant-led organizations that are serving their communities in holistic ways. Annunciation House, Al Otro Lado, La Raza Centro Legal, Make The Road, Refugee Transitions & Grassroots Leadership, are good starting places. There are also a number of groups that may not be as established as these non-profits, but they are often also the most unencumbered when it comes to providing immediate and direct assistance. Team Brownsville assists asylum-seekers at bus stations, immediately following their release, providing them with essentials to help them on their journey. Angry Tias & Abuelas of Rio Grande Valley also do direct work at points of entry and at bus stations. Our organization, Together & Free, works directly with separated families all across the country, to help them reunite, and stabilize and rebuild post-reunification.

Donate to Legal Efforts: Lawyers are critical. This is and will continue to be a long legal battle. Sustained funds are needed to hire and retain the very best for the fight. Donate to non-profit legal centers that are local to your community. In LA, there’s Public Counsel and Immigrant Defenders Law Center. In TX there’s Texas Civil Rights Project and RAICES. In NY there’s Terra Firma, Central American Legal Assistance, Central American Refugee Center, on Long Island, and the Cornell Farmworker Program, upstate. The UC Davis Immigration law clinic is doing important work on the ground, as is the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights project. Local universities often have legal clinics that can use funds to support and build their programs; they are training the next generation of advocates. Also consider supporting legal efforts in states that are under-funded, but where there are large immigration populations, like Louisiana, Alabama, Florida.

Give Money Directly: If you know someone who has a pending immigration case, consider asking if there’s a way you could support their legal efforts. It is a process filled with financial burden, including many filing fees. This is an easy and direct way to help practically carry the load.

What you can do in the immediate short-term:

First, Educate Yourself: Even if the intention is good, bad information can confuse, mislead, and in tragic cases, harm. So, take time to educate yourself so that you are sharing good sources and legitimate information. You don’t want to unwittingly contribute to the low-information fear cycle that can cause distress and contribute to chaos more than it provides knowledge and empowers. This doesn’t mean you need to be an expert, but spend time with a site like Informed Immigrant so you know how professionals in the field are guiding those affected by these policies.

Then, Help Spread Awareness: Consider who you know that may be at risk for interaction with immigration authorities. If you have a genuine relationship with them, and it’s appropriate within the context of your relationship, check to see if they are aware that regardless of their immigration status, they have legal rights in this country. If they would like more information, help them figure out where to find it, in the language they are most comfortable with. Here are some good resources, including what to do in a workplace raid and how families should prepare in the event of encounters with immigration authorities. And encourage people to share it within their communities. The goal is not to cause alarm, but to equip people with information to help them make decisions that are in their best interest, with full knowledge of their rights.

Volunteer Directly: Figure out how and where your volunteer skills can best be put to use. Here is a great starting point for a robust set of opportunities to work directly with and on behalf of families at the border and locally, as well as remotely.

Leverage your professional expertise: If you have professional skills that would be useful, consider short-term volunteer engagements on-site or regular volunteering with a local organization supporting asylum-seekers.

For lawyers: CARA Pro Bono Project, Project Corazon

For social workers, psychologists, researchers, medical professionals: CARA Pro Bono Project, Physicians for Human Rights, Health Right.

Leverage your Spanish language skills: bilingual translators and interpreters are critical (and not just for Spanish, though that’s the primary need). Here’s one way to help remotely.

Participate in the Lights for Liberty vigil on July 12: This is taking place at many locations all across the nation. Watch here to learn more.

Coordinate small group protests: You don’t have to wait for a mass mobilization in order to protest. Arrange for small rotating groups of ~8-10 people to visit your local elected officials on a daily basis. Bring your children. Stand on their doorsteps. Demand action. Leave baby items: shoes, blankets, small clothes, pacifiers. Invite local media to cover it (the more local the better!). It doesn’t matter if the elected is there or not; staff will take note. The goal is to put pressure on them to move to swift action; there is tremendous power in presence.

What you can do in the short-to-medium term:

Sponsor Know Your Rights workshops or legal clinics: Work with local organizations to host and sponsor Know Your Rights workshops or/and legal clinics in churches, schools, and centers that are proximate to immigrant communities. Figure out what days and times tend to work for families who often have heavy work responsibilities that they cannot miss, as it can jeopardize a fragile financial situation. Provide translators, childcare, a food bank, and clothing and household items for people to take home with them.

Consider acting as a sponsor for asylum seekers: Contact organizations that are working with asylum-seekers at the border and in detention centers and inquire about how you might act as a sponsor. There are many people in detention who would be closer to release with a US Citizen sponsor. Sponsorship does not always require actual financial nor even housing support. It’s not something to go into blindly, and it’s more appropriate for some than for others, but it is less onerous than it sounds. And it makes a tangible difference.

Create a giving circle: There is power in numbers. Consider creating and/or contributing to a giving circle within your own community, for the express purpose of making no-strings-attached microgrants to people in need. There are working models out there that can be easily employed toward this end. If you are curious, here’s a great example of one.

For the long-term, as a way of life:

The basic idea here is that you should aim to become a safe and trusted person known to the vulnerable people in your community. Build authentic relationships so vulnerable people know they can seek you out if they or someone they know needs helps. The goal is not to replace or usurp the social and emotional networks that people already have, but to find ways to authentically use your own social, cultural, and financial capital to help alleviate burden for those who are in harm’s way.

If you can afford it, give money when need is expressed: Once you know people sufficiently well, check in and ask if they are ok for groceries, rent money, prescriptions, childcare, etc.

We often feel squeamish about giving money to people in need — how will we ensure it will be spent wisely? Many people are socialized to be skeptical of the decision-making of those who have less financial capital and those perceived as “other.” We prefer to make “safe” (and tax-deductible) donations to established organizations. But usually these organizations come with external costs and are typically slower to move than individuals can be. Consider that many well-respected organizations are shifting aid to no-strings attached cash assistance models, which are proving to be the most effective and efficient way of delivering desired outcomes. So, where there is a need you can directly meet with money, try to give generously.

Put your social capital and middle-class know-how to work: Imagine what you would do if your child was rejected from their program of choice at whatever school as the result of a clerical error. What kind of effort would you put into righting that wrong? Who would you call, what string would you pull, what favor would you call-in? Use that energy to advocate for people (with their consent and full knowledge) who don’t have that same bandwidth.

Some examples:

  • Ask if people need help finding legitimate and no-fee legal counsel. If so, get on the phone and make 1000 calls. Track down an organization or lawyer who will answer the phones and answer your questions. Endure dozens of nos for every yes. Persist.
  • Make noise and advocate for individuals who are being exploited by bosses, landlords and lawyers, or who can’t seem to get the attention of the organizations that are meant to be helping them. Make a call or a dozen on their behalf because it will flag that someone is paying attention.
  • Help people who’ve interacted with the US medical system and have the bills to show for it request charity care and debt relief. Call the hospital on their behalf until the debt is forgiven.

Share the load: Work with and alongside others in your community and your social groups. This type of work requires sustained effort, and it’s most discouraging when you feel completely alone in it. Find the community that is going to support you, the person you can call when you feel overwhelmed. What feels like burden as an individual can feel like joy when partnered with others.

What have we missed? Please share so we can add to this list!

Together & Free is a 100% volunteer organization supporting more than 250 of the families who were separated last summer. We are 1200+ volunteers over 30 states. We advocate for release and reunification: finding lawyers and translators, writing affidavits, serving as flight chaperones, picking released families up from detention centers and arranging for their immediate aftercare and travel, and more. In our local capacity, we support stabilization efforts post-release: provide logistical and financial support for families as they recover and rebuild: gathering donations, accompanying or providing transportation to ICE check-ins and court dates, helping register kids for school, coordinating access to local resources, and more. Much gratitude to the families and the volunteers and the organizers who’ve been our teachers and our guides.

a 100% volunteer led organization supporting immigrant families