When I lived in Washington, D.C., the talk of the town was, of course, politics. One day over coffee, my friend Erin was telling me about all of the heart-wrenching and horrible news she had been reading about immigration. She turned to me and asked what she could do to help.
At the time, I was working at a nonprofit that supports immigration attorneys. Even though every day I went to work to fight for more fair and just immigration policy, I felt that there was always more to do and more to give. For someone like Erin, it was even more of a daunting task — there was so much going on, she did not know where to start.
When it comes to an issue like immigration, there are a myriad of ways to contribute your gifts, your voice, and your time to the fight for sound policy and more humane treatment of those who come here looking for a better life. First and foremost, this is an issue that can feel insurmountable and complex, so don’t let inexperience deter you. Everyone can contribute in their own way, and as an American citizen, you have a rightful stake in the policies of this nation.
Here are some of the ways to support the immigrant community and work toward effective policy change — with plenty of opportunities to help remotely.
Increase your awareness
Immigrants are particularly vulnerable for many reasons. There are migrants fleeing violence and harm in their home countries who face long and treacherous journeys to the U.S; undocumented immigrants who are forced to live their lives in the shadows; asylum seekers who do not receive the humanitarian protection they are entitled to; and others who are held in overcrowded and sordid U.S. detention centers where they face health risks. The list goes on.
In order to effectively take action to fight unfair policy measures and conditions, it’s helpful to first establish a knowledge base of the issues. From there, you can decide where you want to focus your efforts — whether it be ensuring the immigrant community has access to proper medical care, calling on elected leaders to end harmful policies that ban asylum seekers, or fighting for more humane treatment for those in detention.
One great way to source this information is through social media. Below is a list of social media accounts I recommend following to help keep you abreast of what’s going on in the immigration world. These accounts also regularly share “take action” posts that anyone can participate in, like public comment campaigns and contacting Congress.
- Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) — Twitter / Instagram
- Human Rights First — Twitter / Facebook
- RAICES — Twitter / Instagram
- The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) — Twitter / Facebook
- FWD.us — Twitter / Instagram
- American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) — Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
- American Immigration Council — Twitter / Facebook
- National Immigration Law Center (NILC) Twitter / Facebook / Instagram
- Immigrant Justice Corps — Twitter / Instagram
- NETWORK — Twitter / Facebook
- United We Dream — Twitter / Instagram
- National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) — Twitter
- Franciscan Action Network — Twitter / Instagram
- Families Belong Together — Twitter / Instagram
- Hope Border Institute — Twitter / Instagram
- CLASP — Twitter / Facebook
You can also take the more traditional route and follow the immigration news beat through digital outlets or print publications. Some of my favorite go-to outlets for immigration news and op-eds include The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Buzzfeed News. This American Life, the podcast, also features poignant segments on immigration from time to time.
Engage in advocacy efforts
Due to health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus, many are wary of going to marches or public demonstrations. But fear not: there are other forms of advocacy that you can take part in from home.
One simple form of advocacy is to call or email your member of Congress. Many organizations make it easy for you by creating templates that you can use when calling or sending a message to your representative.
When you reach out to your representative, it’s helpful to tell them how this issue is impacting your local community. Maybe you live in an area where there has been an uptick in ICE raids or you want to communicate how the coronavirus pandemic is having a deleterious impact on members of the immigrant community in your area. Bring in stories of community members and if you do not know anyone directly impacted, look for stories in your local paper. When you call or email your Congressperson, keep in mind that you want to have a firm ask: demand action on a certain piece of legislation or oversight measure.
As examples, here are a few easy actions that you can do from home today:
- ACLU: Call Congress: Cut DHS Funds that Support Abusive Immigration Policies
- KIND: Tell Congress to Protect Children and Families
- United We Dream: Call Congress to Demand a Clean Dream Act
- American Immigration Lawyers Association: Take Action Page (includes actions calling for Congress to protect Dreamers and to increase immigrant visas for foreign doctors to help enhance the healthcare workforce during the coronavirus pandemic)
- FWD.us: Take Action Page
Write an opinion piece
Never written an op-ed or a letter to the editor before? Don’t be discouraged. I promise it’s not as intimidating as you think! A letter to the editor (LTE) is usually around 200 words and is written in response to a particular article. LTEs serve as a way for the reader to expand the scope of a news item by reinforcing a point that has been made or pointing to a gap in information. If you see an immigration article and think, “Hey, they didn’t quite get this right,” or want to add your personal perspective, write an LTE. Most outlets allow easy submission through their website with clear instructions as to guidelines and requirements.
Another option is to write an op-ed. These are longer pieces — typically in the range of 600-1000 words, depending on the outlet. Op-eds that tend to get published incorporate a personal experience related to the issue or advanced knowledge of the issue. Op-eds can be used to call for legislation, point to administrative shortcomings, demand action, and more. In the immigration world, op-eds are particularly powerful tools for showcasing the obstacles facing immigrants and demanding change. Be sure to include a “human story” if you can — describe a situation you encountered, or the case of a friend or relative (don’t share identifying details without permission).
If you are interested in writing an op-ed related to immigration, here of some ideas of places to pitch it:
- USA Today
- Teen Vogue
- El Paso Times
- Houston Chronicle
- Waco Tribune-Herald
- San Antonio Express-News
- San Diego Tribune
- Los Angeles Times
Look for volunteer opportunities (remote or in-person)
While many immigration organizations have scaled back their in-person volunteer opportunities due to the coronavirus, there are still opportunities to pitch in remotely. One service that immigration nonprofits often need help with is translating official documents like birth certificates. They also occasionally enlist volunteers to translate during intake interviews with their clients. So if you are fluent in a second language, keep an eye out for these types of opportunities.
Alternatively, if you have a background in law, you may be able to volunteer with nonprofits like the Immigration Justice Campaign — a joint initiative of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Immigration Council — that trains private lawyers to defend immigrants in detention facing removal.
Here are some other volunteer opportunities:
- Human Rights First is looking for bi-lingual volunteers to help with screening phone calls and intake interviews and translating documents; they also need attorney volunteers, law student interns, and more.
- RAICES has opportunities to translate documents remotely.
- Catholic Charities is looking for remote refugee resettlement interns and law student and attorney volunteers.
Throughout this work, it is important to hold fast to the principle of human dignity. In the debate over immigration, the human dignity of immigrants often gets lost when we look at them as hazards or burdens rather than people. Our faith can help us reorient our gaze and recognize the human dignity of others by reminding us to love our neighbors, to meet the needs of those at the peripheries, and embrace them with open arms.
To take on the work of immigration also means practicing compassion by opening ourselves up to the suffering of others. Pope Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, reminded us of this exact duty in his Address at the Diocesan Caritas of Rabat on March 30, 2019: “It is also about the face we want to give to our society and about the value of each human life… The progress of our peoples… depends above all on our openness to being touched and moved by those who knock at our door.”