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How Education Funders Can Support Immigrant Children and Families

A few months ago, we attended the Grantmakers for Education Annual Conference in Washington DC. Under the theme, Equity in Education: Empowering Community Voice, the conference included a number of sessions related to immigrant children and children of immigrants. These sessions presented unique learning opportunities for funders working at the intersection of immigration status, language, culture, and education for children and youth and their families.

Below, we’ve shared our key reflections from those conversations and put forward recommendations for education funders—not only for those that explicitly support immigrant families, immigrant children, or children of immigrants, but for all education funders. 

There were powerful messages shared across sessions and from a number of funders leading in different areas of the education continuum (e.g., K-12, higher education). One message that came over loud and clear was that even if education funders don’t see themselves as immigrant rights funders, most of them serve children of immigrants and immigrant students. These students are in almost every early childhood center, school district, and university in the country.

Another important message relates to the diversity of immigrant families. Panelists talked about the importance of understanding the complexity of immigration and immigrant families in their communities in order to support them effectively. Immigrant families are not monolithic. They include mixed-status families (some family members have documents and some do not), children of immigrants (most of them U.S. citizens), refugee children and families, unaccompanied children, and DREAMers/DACAmented students. Students coming from these different situations also have diverse backgrounds and language skills.

One final reflection is the importance of keeping a balance between long-term goals for immigrant families while supporting short-term rapid-response grants to address the current policy environment. Panelists recognized the need to balance long-term equity strategies—including support for English Language Learning students and access to early childhood and higher education—with short-term responses to the current levels of fear and anxiety under new federal regulations and policies.

Below, we’ve highlighted 3 recommendations for education funders wanting to better serve children of immigrants and immigrant students.

1. Prepare your foundation to support immigrant children and children of immigrants

  • The conference highlighted the following strategies for better equipping foundations to serve immigrant children and the children of immigrants:
  • Understand the diversity within the immigrant community you serve. Talk to immigrant rights leaders in your community and make sure you understand the background, culture, language, and experiences of the immigrant and refugee communities you serve. This will allow you to fund organizations and movements addressing the specific needs of different segments of your immigrant community.
  • Train and inform your staff. Think about what training might be needed at your foundation to ensure that everyone has a basic understanding of and common language for immigrant rights. National organizations such as United We Dream or regional organizations such as OneAmerica conduct training and provide resources to prepare immigrant families—these materials can be adapted to train foundation staff. FSG invited OneAmerica to conduct a short training that was extremely helpful for staff, particularly those unfamiliar with the main concepts related to immigration and the resources immigrant families have available.
  • Partner with other foundations doing this work. Talk to other funders engaged in grantmaking in this space to identify opportunities to leverage new resources and research. Also, consider tapping into the support of philanthropy-serving organizations, like Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), to facilitate learning roundtables and align grantmaking with other funders.

2. In the short term, support education institutions as they respond to the current challenges facing immigrant families.

Funders can use one or more of the following short-term strategies to support early childhood providers, teachers, K-12 school and university administrators, and others trying to protect the rights of immigrant families.

  • Fund training for teachers and school administrators. Ensuring that early childhood providers, teachers, and school staff have information and tools to support immigrant students and families is critical. One useful resource highlighted during the conference, developed with support from education funders, is the Immigrant and Refugee Children Guide. This practical tool helps teachers and school administrators understand the rights of their students and find resources and strategies to support them.
  • Facilitate partnerships and collaboration with immigrant and refugee rights organizations in your community. It is important to address the broader needs of students who have immigrant or refugee families. One funder supports a partnership between a local nonprofit and their local school district to provide trauma-informed programs for immigrant students and students with immigrant families. The program helps students cope with anxiety related to their own potential deportation or that of their families. Other funders partner with refugee-serving organizations. For example, Undocublack helps translate school documents and provides information in different languages for refugee parents with different levels of education and understanding of the U.S. system.
  • Create a rapid response fund and be ready to deploy resources. Funders in the panels talked about how their rapid-response funds helped them quickly support lawyers and observers witnessing detentions in schools. This is important given that ICE is not respecting the sensitive- locations regulation that directed agents not to detain people in locations such as schools, churches, and hospitals.

3. In the long term, continue to advance the wellness and education outcomes of children of immigrants and immigrant children.

  • Support 2-generation models. These incorporate the voices and active participation of immigrant parents in advancing opportunity for their children. For example, RISE in Colorado utilizes a holistic model geared toward low-income families, families of color, and refugee and immigrant communities to put them at the forefront of the movement for educational equity. Through this model, parents acquire tools for community organizing, improving the public school systems, and taking on leadership roles at decision-making tables.
  • Support grantees that treat bilingualism as an asset. One of the panels introduced the “pobrecito complex.” This refers to teachers and other school staff assuming ELL immigrant students cannot perform at grade level and automatically treating them as low achievers. Crystal Gonzales, from the English Learner Success Forum, encouraged the audience to see being bilingual and multicultural as an asset that should be recognized and leveraged in the classroom.
  • Identify tolerance and anti-bullying programs. Support teachers in creating safe and inclusive classrooms in K-12 to ensure children remain in school and can focus on learning. Additionally, support equity leadership and tolerance training for teachers, administrators, and other school system leaders.

Many students are struggling due to anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric and it is important for philanthropy to step up.  At Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees upcoming biennial convening in Los Angeles, United We Rise, we will host key conversations on the long- and short-term strategies education funders use in creating safe and inclusive learning environments for all children. We hope to see you there.

Efraín Gutiérrez

Associate Director, Equity Partnerships

Aryah Somers Landsberger

Director of Programs Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees