There are around 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US right now, millions of whom came to the US as children decades ago.
Roughly 800,000 of these people applied for an Obama-era program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that allowed them to receive immunity from deportation, start businesses, work formally, and go to school, but did not make them eligible for other benefits such as Medicare, Social Security, welfare, food stamps, public housing, or the American Health Care Act.
It was meant to be a temporary measure on the way to building a path to citizenship.
But the program was just scrapped by the Trump administration, which announced DACA will be allowed to expire in six months and called upon Congress to come up with legislation to address the issue.
If no legislation is passed, then DACA recipients, sometimes known as Dreamers, could be deported. Since all of their personal information was provided to Homeland Security to receive DACA protections, advocates fear they will be especially vulnerable to crackdowns.
By definition, Dreamers are law-abiding citizens — their protections would be stripped if they weren’t. They raise families, pursue higher education, and support local and state economies. Roughly 91% of them hold jobs, a rate that is higher than the general population. They came here as children before they could make meaningful life decisions, and their identities are rooted in America, their aspirations shaped by a desire to see the country thrive.
But all of their efforts to be citizens could be lost if DACA isn’t replaced. Their futures are now uncertain and their dreams could be dashed.
Here are seven ways that you can help undocumented immigrants in the US.
Donate to Legal Services
Oftentimes, undocumented immigrants are unaware of their full rights while in the US and are unable to receive proper legal support when facing deportation. That’s partly because existing legal services are severely overwhelmed. Currently, the country’s 58 immigration courts face a backlog of more than half a million cases, and immigrants are represented by a small number of often pro-bono groups. Undocumented immigrants often spend months and even years in private prisons that routinely fail human rights inspections while awaiting their court dates.
In the months and years ahead, Dreamers may be plunged into an uncertain legal environment and will need support.
Here are a few groups fighting to protect undocumented citizens that you can support:
NIJC fights all the forms of justice that undocumented immigrants face — from employment discrimination and abuse to overly punitive enforcement measures that break up families. You can donate to them here.
NILC wages legal battles to protect and improve immigrant rights. Their lawyers have won lawsuits to stop workplace discrimination, provide due process rights for detained migrants, and end state-backed racial profiling. You can donate to them here.
IAN provides legal services and also works to build a more robust legal community for undocumented legal services by supporting local groups and facilitating regional collaborations. You can donate to them here.
FFF fights to protect families from deportation. The group is made up of people deeply familiar with the plight of the undocumented. “We are immigrant prisoners (detainees), former immigrant prisoners, their loved ones, or individuals at risk of deportation.” You can donate here.
Donate to on-the-Ground Organizations
The number of organizations providing aid to immigrants — both documented and undocumented — is immense. These range from global human rights organizations like Amnesty International to smaller, localized groups working in specific state, city, and county contexts like Make the Road New York.
These groups are mobilizing protests, sheltering undocumented immigrants, and lobbying politicians for policy change. Even a small donation of $5 or $10 can go a long way in helping these organizations do the very real and very necessary on-the-ground work of protecting vulnerable populations.
Here are some organizations to start with:
Mariposas Sin Fronteras works with LGBTQ immigrants, many of whom face discrimination and potential violence in their home countries.
Based out of San Diego, but operating along the Texas-Mexico border, Border Angels leaves water bottles along trafficking routes, provides immigration consultations, and organizes community events, among other .
The Young Center focuses on providing services to the children of immigrants, and has advocated for the creation of a dedicated juvenile immigrant justice system.
Based in Los Angeles, where about 1 million undocumented immigrants are located, CHIRLA does it all: it organizes protests, provides legal services, and informs undocumented immigrants of their rights.
Speak Spanish? Speak ‘legalese’? Have teaching experience? Know how to make a photocopy? Have a spare room?
You might be a perfect candidate to volunteer with immigrant populations — both documented and undocumented.
Volunteering is a great way for concerned citizens to help undocumented immigrants. It also gives immigrants an opportunity to interact with someone outside of their immediate family, and even their neighborhood.
Volunteer translators and interpreters help translate birth certificates, sit in on oath ceremonies, and facilitate community events. Lawyers are needed for pro-bono representation and legal advising.
In Chicago, there’s the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
In Los Angeles, try the Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation.
Across the country, Catholic Charities provides social services to immigrant populations.
Healthcare was saved for millions of Americans earlier in the year, partly because millions of Americans protested the Trump administration’s quest to repeal and replace Obamacare.
It was an example of the power of community organizing. Protest puts pressure on leaders and can bring an issue to the forefront of national dialogue. Since Trump hinted that he was going to rescind DACA, scores of protests erupted throughout the country and many more are on the horizon. In the weeks and months ahead, join protests in your communities to make sure Dreamers are not forgotten.
Protesters are sitting in the intersection at 56th and 5th, chanting "No papers, no fear," outside Trump Tower. pic.twitter.com/Ea8MxGkJDz— Cora Lewis (@cora) September 5, 2017
Call Your Local and State Politicians
Go beyond protesting by calling on your local and state representatives to defend DACA and immigrant rights more broadly, speaking up for people who often do not have a political voice. You can find your representative here.
Here’s a baseline script that you can use:
My name is _____ and I am calling to say that I disapprove of the president’s decision to rescind DACA. I strongly urge [name of representative] to support legal action to defend immigrant rights and begin work on legislation to provide protections and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. Roughly 800,000 people are unfairly affected by this decision and the time for action is now.
Protect Sanctuary Cities
Many cities and towns throughout the country have vowed to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants, recognizing that they are valuable members of the US. These safe havens give immigrants peace of mind as they go about their lives — working, raising families, contributing to communities —and are known as sanctuary cities.
They’ve been targeted by both the Trump administration and state houses throughout the country for refusing to fully cooperate with heightened deportation initiatives. You can protect sanctuary cities by supporting candidates who enable their existence and working to make the city or town you live a sanctuary location.
Educate Yourself on Immigrants’ Rights
In May of this year, a bystander on a Minneapolis light rail train may have prevented a deportation after filming an interaction between a police officer and a transit rider.
Knowing what to do when an undocumented immigrant is approached by law enforcement can seem daunting, but luckily organizations like the ACLU and the National Immigrant Justice Center have put together detailed explainers that go into how to react in these circumstances.