Have you seen the price of gas lately? My jaw almost dropped when I saw it climb past $6 and stay there.
Gas, food, housing — everything — is getting more expensive this year. Inflation is rising at its fastest rate in 40 years. Everyone is feeling the strain, but the people who are feeling the greatest pressure from inflation are the same people who always get left out, like the ones who were excluded from stimulus checks and the expanded Child Tax Credit.
Undocumented families are routinely excluded from social safety net programs, despite the crisis of the moment or personal hardships they may be living through.
Millions of immigrant families are simply left to fend for themselves. Without income, people spiraled into debt during the pandemic, and now inflation is threatening their precarious economic recovery.
“We really need the help,” Rosa, a mother and MAF client, told us. “My husband had a heart attack about 4 months ago. He is still recovering and I am the only one who works part time. I have a 3 year old son and he needs things: clothes, shoes, food.” Families like Rosa’s need a little help to weather these storms, especially if they may be rebuilding from prior ones, barely recovering from one crisis before the next hits.
At MAF, we launched the nation’s largest UBI+ program for immigrants to help families recover faster.
We’re partnering with 3,000 immigrant families across the country as they rebuild their financial lives in the wake of the pandemic. Together, we’re learning what it will take to help people recover faster and prepare for what comes next.
The Immigrant Families Recovery Program is providing $400 a month to immigrant families left out of federal COVID-19 relief for up to two years. This $30 million program is designed to deepen engagement with families we supported during the pandemic. To build back faster, we are providing participants with self-advocacy training to help them weather what may come next. And, we’re investing in research, engaging with a comparison group of 1,750 families to help us understand the true impact of cash aid and financial education. Follow along with us as we share research insights to pave the way for future change.
More than 1,600 families are enrolled and receiving their monthly payments. We are on track to complete enrollment by the end of summer. Families throughout the country in California, Texas, New York, and beyond have enrolled in the program, receiving monthly cash payments and relevant financial services. And we’re partnering with a coalition of San Mateo County groups, Daly City, and other localities to reach immigrant families in their communities.
“We have put off a lot of necessities for a very long time in order to just take care of the basics. We try hard to not have our kids feel burdened or that they’re missing out, but it’s a struggle,” Sergio says. “I would love to be able to buy them music lessons, pay for a personal therapist for myself, invest in a college fund and start an emergency savings account too.”
MAF’s UBI+ program for immigrant families is more than a check — it’s a recognition of their human dignity, a message that they matter and deserve security and opportunity to thrive in this world too.
I have been listening to a lot of music during the pandemic, trying to make sense of our world. A global pandemic, raging fires, voter suppression, a recall election, and refugee crises are but a few of what’s top of mind.
There’s one song called “Sueño con Serpientes”—by the Cuban musician and poet Silvio Rodríguez—that uses powerful metaphors that I think speak to what we are going through today.
Silvio wrote this song in 1975 from a nightmare where he battles translucent serpents with a hydra-like tendency. Every time he slays one snake, another larger one appears.
Sound familiar? I replay the song in the midst of yet another COVID-19 surge. Months ago, we were beating the virus until the Delta variant appeared. The light at the end of the tunnel was within sight! Now, we’re in the thick of the pandemic again. But all hope is not lost for, as the song goes, Silvio defeats the larger serpent when he proclaims un verso, una verdad.
I know. It’s soothing to think that proclaiming one’s truth alone can defeat the mightiest of serpents, or whatever monsters or pandemics we’re fighting against. Truth, it turns out, is necessary to strengthen our conviction but it takes a lot more to be a hero. Silvio hints at what that is by reciting this Bertolt Brecht poem at the beginning of the song:
“There are people who fight for a day, and they are good. There are others who fight for a year, and they are better. There are those who fight for many years, and they are better still. But there are those who fight all their lives: these are the indispensable ones.”
Victory is not assured by winning one battle alone. It takes real work over time to be a real hero—making those that fight day in and day out, over years, and throughout their lifetimes, as the poem states, indispensable.
In our world today, I think of essential workers as the indispensable ones, the real heroes.
Think about it. Even before the COVID-19 vaccines were widely available, essential workers showed up to work in agricultural fields, in food processing plants, and in restaurants when we most needed them. They showed up to work, risking their lives to keep our society going. Without immigrant labor, our food supply chain would have crumbled, causing untold panic and harm in society.
The same cannot be said of everyone. Our federal government did not show up for immigrant families, instead ignoring their struggles as families lost income, depleted savings, and amassed debts. They excluded immigrant families from receiving relief that could have helped them stay current with bills and pay rent to stay housed.
Seeing the injustice of excluding immigrant families from relief, our neighbors stepped up to lend a hand.
MAF raised $55M to provide 63,000+ grants to help undocumented families, workers, and students cover basic and immediate needs. But as we wind down our rapid response grants program, we know it was clearly not enough. The need was immense and intense. COVID-19 devastated the financial lives of families, and it will take them years to recover.
We are ready to do more. At MAF we are moving from rapid response grants to providing long term support to families with children who are now excluded from receiving the expanded Child Tax Credit. Over one million immigrant children without Social Security numbers are not getting support. We are launching MAF’s Immigrant Families Recovery Fundwith $25M seed funding to provide immigrant families a guaranteed income up to two years. Participants will receive direct cash, intensive financial coaching, self-advocacy training, and access to MAF’s suite of credit building and zero interest loans to help rebuild their financial lives faster.
At MAF, we’re bringing all that we have to bear in the fight against poverty, just as essential workers did in the midst of the global pandemic.
And we want to do better. We plan to evaluate, study, and share what we learn from their recovery journey to inform and inspire policy solutions for meaningful systems change.
Listening to Silvio’s music makes me appreciate the fact that, whether we’re slaying translucent serpents or battling fires or fighting poverty, it takes real conviction and hard work over a lifetime to ensure any victory.
This has never been a one-time fight for us, but the fight for our lives. That’s our truth.
Mexican immigrants in the U.S. are more likely to be unbanked or underbanked when compared to other immigrant groups. At the same time, research shows that immigrants have high levels of savings discipline, and a higher percentage of Mexican immigrants—regardless of whether or not they had bank accounts—accumulate savings when compared to other immigrant communities. With 36.6 million Hispanics of Mexican origin living in the U.S., including approximately 12 million who were born in Mexico, having targeted, tailored financial products helps the community move forward financially.
Creating products, services, and approaches that are culturally relevant and appropriate – and meeting people where they are and building on their strengths –maximizes their potential for financial success.
In order to expand financial access for Mexican immigrants, Citi, a long-time partner of MAF, seeded a unique initiative that provides in-language services in trusted locations, called Ventanillas de Asesoría Financiera (VAF), or “Financial Empowerment Windows,” at Mexican Consulates across the U.S. The partnership, which includes the Mexican government’s Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IME) and a nationwide network of nonprofit organizations, provides free, high-quality, culturally competent financial education to the Mexican community in the U.S.
The initiative was crucial because the products that the marketplace developed were never designed for, or even conceived of, with Mission Asset Fund’s (MAF) clients in mind. Immigrants—particularly low-income immigrants—become secondary users.
MAF administers the VAF initiative nationally as part its mission to create a fair financial marketplace for hardworking families and to create scalable solutions, like theMyMAF App.
Providing one-on-one coaching to clients in safe, trusted spaces allowed MAF to learn more deeply about the financial lives the Mexican community living in the U.S., including the real fears Mexicans living in the U.S. have regarding what would happen to their financial assets if they were faced with deportation proceedings or other financial crises.
“The physical space in the Consulates is perceived by the community as a very safe place, and a place where you can receive information that is fair, and also the information you need. It’s tailored for you,” said Mexican Ambassador Ivan Roberto Sierra-Medel.
In fact, by meeting clients in those trusted environments MAF was able to elicit more honest responses and questions from the community. The feedback led MAF to develop a whole new curriculum related to financial emergencies to help community members better prepare for moments of crisis, whether they’re deportation proceedings, earthquakes, or pandemics.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of immigrants pay federal, state, and local income taxes, they aren’t able to access unemployment insurance, health benefits, food stamps, and other safety-net programs that U.S. citizens count on in times of need.
MAF’s curriculum includes a “Financial Emergency Action Plan for Immigrants” with simple, tangible strategies to prepare for immigration-related emergencies including tips for protecting money, homes, and other assets, and advice about how to prepare in times of financial stress.
“We didn’t stop working.”
Emergency preparedness is more than a catchword in California, where the threat of wildfires, earthquakes, and other disasters looms large.
According to a March 2020 report by the Migration Policy Institute, there are six million immigrants working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis, risking their health to continue providing services during the pandemic, including providing medical and home-health services, cleaning hospital rooms, harvesting and producing food, and staffing grocery stores and other essential businesses. At the same time, the immigrant community, and Hispanic women in particular, have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19 job losses.
Fortunately, the tools and systems MAF developed to help people prepare for moments of crisis laid the foundation needed to respond immediately to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the shelter-in-place orders came through, MAF beganhearing from clients who were losing their sources of income. In response, MAF moved quickly to stand up a national Rapid Response Fund to get much-needed cash to the low wage workers, students, and immigrant families left out of federal relief.
Launched in March, the Rapid Response Fund provides $500 cash grants to low-wage workers, students, and immigrant families left out of the CARES Act relief, including tax-paying ITIN holders and their U.S. citizen partners and children. In mobilizing a national network, MAF raised over $33 million to provide cash grants and recovery loans to 46,000 grants people nationwide.
Jesús, a client ofCentral City Neighborhood Partners, the nonprofit partner that provides services at the VAF in the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, heard about the Rapid Response Fund and applied for a grant. Prior to the pandemic, he worked full time in the restaurant industry, sometimes holding two or even three jobs so he could support his family and reduce his debt.
“The pandemic has affected us, Latinos and immigrants, more,” said Jesús. “Latinos are exposed more, precisely because we didn’t stop working. That is why sometimes you ask for help.”
“In this case, I saw the (Rapid Response) grant, and I applied. It helped me a lot because the table had more food on it, at least for a few days, and I was able to buy a few extras and pay for some things. And really, this was a big help.”
Jesús’s experience underscores the importance of having relevant, culturally appropriate services for the immigrant community.
“Thanks to organizations like this who work with love, dedication, and professionalism. Thank you for telling people, ‘There are resources here. There is the possibility of help here.’”
“I can proudly say we are serving our community.”
While many organizations were forced to shutter operations due to shelter-in-place, the VAF quickly pivoted, creating a new approach to continue its vital work, including offering online financial coaching services and informational webinars about how to navigate the new reality.
“Covid has been a challenging period,” said Sierra-Medel. “We have the strategy in place that all consulates keep delivering services, some of them in person and some of them remotely, because the community right now faces the most serious challenges.”
“COVID was almost the worst-case scenario for the Mexican community in the U.S.,” said Consul Julio César Huerta-García, Department of Community Affairs, Mexican Consulate San Francisco. “We worked with MAF to use technology, launch informational videos and webinars, and to be very proactive about providing information and resources to help during the crisis.”
“The Ventanilla is a light in these very hard times, and I proudly can say that we are serving our community,” said Huerta-Garcia.
Unlikely partnerships are key to success
The unlikely partnership behind the VAF initiative—the Mexican government, a global financial institution, and a network of community-based nonprofit organizations—illustrates of the kinds of deep, cross-sector approaches that are required to tackle the complex, systemic challenges facing low-income communities.
This article was written in collaboration between José A. Quiñonez, MAF Founder and CEO, and Marco Chavarin, Vice President of Citi Community Investing and Development, Northern California.
If I had to distill the essence of MAF’s Rapid Response work into one word it would be: partnerships. Amidst the new social distancing, we’ve been able to come closer than ever to listen to one another and help each other during this unimaginable crisis.
Soon after the stay-at-home orders were given in March, we set out to help clients that we knew were going to be adversely impacted.
We heard from clients right away, anxious about losing income, not knowing how they were going to pay rent, buy food or even keep up with their monthly bills. We felt their concern and moved quickly to lift up a Rapid Response Fund on March 20th not really knowing the depth of the unfolding pandemic.
In the early moments of the crisis, the philanthropy field rallied to respond to this new challenge.
We partnered with foundations that stepped forward to support the communities they work with and care deeply about: college students, members of the creative economy, and immigrant families left out of the CARES Act. They worked to get money to us quickly, recognizing the urgency and helping us get money directly into the hands of those who needed it as fast as possible. I have never seen the grant process move so quickly, sprinting from our first conversation to commitment and disbursal within days. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re clear-eyed and committed to the end goal.
While the fundraising was ongoing, our team was repurposing our systems and technology to disburse cash grants at scale.
We built an entirely new application process for each of the communities we set out to support, spending time to consider how we could equitably address the tremendous need that was out there. We made sure that in each application we asked the right set of questions with care and respect and took time to understand each applicant’s financial reality, strategies, and resources. With this, we were able to prioritize need: we knew that first come, first served only exaggerated systemic inequities and barriers to access, privileging those with the fastest internet and best information. We created an alternative that focused the resources we have on those who needed it the most. And, underlying this whole process, we ensured our new system was set up with the same steadfast commitment to processing sensitive financial data efficiently and securely.
Seven weeks into the quarantine, we’re now in the middle of providing $500 grants to over 20,000 people who are in desperate financial need.
It is inspiring to take stock of what we have accomplished with our partners:
3 Rapid Response funds supporting college students, young creatives, and immigrant families
23 foundations pooling resources across all three funds
$12M in total to provide people with emergency financial relief
26 outreach partners who are connecting us with eligible immigrant families
With our partners beside us and our small but mighty staff of 29 MAFistas, we’ve been able to support:
75,000+ individuals who signed up looking for help
52,000+ completed pre-applications with insights about people’s financial situation
8,000+ completed full applications on our secure platform
5,500+ grants distributed and deposited into checking accounts
At every step, there has been a lot of careful and thoughtful work behind all of these numbers.
MAFistas stepped up to ensure that we built the right applications, used the right technology, and created the right process for each of the communities we’re helping – all done with care and urgency to help people in this moment of crisis. Why? Simply put: we have received over 7,000 emails, calls, tickets from people asking for help – we hear their stories, their cries for help – and that’s motivating staff to go above and beyond our normal work to show up for people in their time of need.
I can only say that it is truly humbling to witness such devotion.
With this kindness and compassion behind it, we are demonstrating the best of what technology and finance can be. And with our partners beside us, we are demonstrating what it means to show up for people – to help families in this moment of crisis not only with financial aid but, most importantly, a message of hope and solidarity that they are not alone.
We are in the midst of a generation-defining crisis. The coronavirus is laying bare the interconnectedness of modern life, rapidly spreading and jeopardizing the health and well-being of millions of people around the world. No one is immune.
This unprecedented and unfolding pandemic is hitting everyone, but those with the least and the last will be hurt the most.
The coronavirus is uncovering deep inequalities in our society. People with homes to shelter, assets to protect, and relief to obtain will be impacted. But people without homes, immigrants without protections, workers without relief are going to bear the brunt of the economic crisis. Already, clients are contacting us with stories of losing jobs, wages, and incomes. They don’t know how they are going to pay rent at the end of the month.
People are feeling deep financial pain right now.
Making it harder still is the fact that many of our clients can’t or won’t get support from government programs. Millions of part-time workers, students, contractors, immigrants and self-employed may not qualify for unemployment insurance, health benefits, or even nutritional assistance. This pandemic is showing the reality that there is no meaningful safety net for the people who need it most.
Immigrant families are terrified. The federal government recently implemented a “Public Charge Rule” that sent a chilling message to immigrant families against using public services. Now, they wonder if going to the hospital would hurt their chances of becoming legal permanent residents. They are worried, “If I’m undocumented, could seeking treatment make me vulnerable to deportation?”
At MAF, we are connecting clients to community services and providing them with direct financial assistance when possible.
There is a growing awareness that in moments like these, what is most helpful is actual cash to help people pay rent, buy food and keep them from falling further behind. For some, it may be a small intervention, a referral, a small grant or a bridge loan that can keep them going. But timing is critical.
We are moving quickly to lift up MAF’s Rapid Response Fund to help low income workers, immigrant families, and students likely to be left behind, without relief from government action. We have the tools, the technology and the reach into these vulnerable communities but we need your financial support to make this a reality.
In this moment of unprecedented national crisis, it is going to take all of us to come together, to support one another in a renewed spirit of mutuality and respect. We are in this together, and only together can we move forward as a nation.
Ever since that dreadful day Trump descended down the escalator to announce his candidacy, we all knew deep down that it was the start of open season on immigrants. We’d seen it before. Desperate politicians using hateful dog-whistle rhetoric to dehumanize and scapegoat people of color. Never did I think that open season this time would mean a shower of bullets – indiscriminately killing human beings just because they look Mexican, including Jordan and Andre Anchondo, both parents protecting their infant child in El Paso.
Like many others, news of El Paso shook my sense of safety and belonging in America.
I suppose that was exactly the intent of yet another act of terror in a campaign against immigrants. What is clear to me is that the El Paso shooter did not act alone. The White House is also driving their own campaign that is now clear: raiding work sites just for the spectacle of it; denying visas at record rates for people looking to reunite with their families; separating families seeking asylum just to send a message of spite and indifference to their claims; and now punishing legal residents with uncertainty over their immigration status if they seek public assistance. They are doing all of this to inflict cruelty in people’s lives, to make immigrants feel insecure, not wanted or welcomed in America. We feel it too.
At MAF, we’re turning our pain into action. We are committing a $1.5 million revolving loan fund to help eligible immigrants to apply for citizenship and DACA.
We’re doubling the number of zero-interest loans to help people that can’t cover the cost of applying to do so now. Over 8 million eligible immigrants can apply for US citizenship; we want to help those who can’t cover the $725 cost of applying. There is no time to waste.
Join us. Help us. Work with us. We can’t allow for America to descend any further.
On April 30, 2019, I testified before the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee’s hearing on “Expanding Opportunity by Strengthening Families, Communities, and Civil Society.” This bipartisan body was convened to make recommendations for improving economic mobility and strengthening social capital for underserved populations across the country. During the hearing, I presented insights on the barriers that low-income people face in achieving their economic potential and what Congress can do to elevate them from the financial shadows. I am grateful for the incredible opportunity to uplift the role of MAF and other community-based organizations as consistent, trusted resources for supporting lower-income families to improve their financial lives in the U.S.
Thank you, Chairman Lee, Senator Hassan, and members of the Joint Economic Committee for having this important hearing.
My name is José Quiñonez.
I’m an immigrant, came to this country in the dark of night as a nine-year old, adjust my status through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, became a U.S. citizen, and now I’m living my American Dream of helping low-income people become visible, active and successful in the financial marketplace.
As CEO of the Mission Asset Fund, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California, I have first hand experience addressing the daunting financial challenges our clients face everyday.
And what I’ve learned is this: being poor in America is expensive, particularly for people living outside of the financial mainstream.
Nationally, one-in-seven Latinos are unbanked, meaning they do not have checking or savings accounts. While researchers point to various reasons why people go without accounts, we know banks exclude people based on immigration status or by requiring narrow forms of IDs. Consequently, many of our clients are left unbanked and without a choice but to rely on alternative providers that charge more to cash checks or pay bills. The average underserved household that earns $25,500 annually pays about 10% of their income on fees and interest for financial services that those of us with bank accounts often get for free.
Lack of credit is challenge. Nationally, nearly one-in-three Latinos are credit invisible, meaning they do not have credit scores or credit reports. Given the nature of our economy, there is little anyone can do without credit—people cannot get loans to buy homes or start businesses, they cannot rent apartments, and in some states, they cannot even get jobs without employers checking their credit reports.
Without access to affordable credit, people turn to high cost lenders—some paying 100% APRs on small-dollar loans, and significantly more for short-term payday loans.
Barriers to economic mobility are not just financial. People are also burdened with uncertainty from the current anti-immigrant political environment, fearing losing their families and draining their savings. Many worry about being detained for lack of documentation—igniting a financial crisis. Bail alone could strip them of $5,000; obtaining legal representation, up to $20,000; and the costs mount from there.
So, how can we help people realize their economic potential when they are financially invisible and facing enormous challenges in their lives?
We found answers in how our clients leverage social capital—their relationships with family and friends to survive and thrive.
Our clients practice a time-honored tradition of lending and saving money together; it’s an activity known by hundreds of different names throughout the world but which is essentially the same. A group of people come together and agree to pool their money so that one member of the group can take the lump sum, and they do it again on a weekly or monthly basis until everyone in the group has had the chance of getting the lump sum. When people don’t have access to loans, this is how they create their own, using only their word and trust.
We built our Lending Circles Program on this tradition. We formalized loans by having participants sign promissory notes, which MAF then services and reports to credit bureaus.
Since launching the program in 2008, we have made 11,223 loans to help participants build credit—in fact, they see an average score increase of 168 points, opening a world of possibilities for them in the credit market.
And the repayment rate is 99.3 percent—an unheard-of rate in the microlending world.
Lending Circles is an example of what we could do with—and for—people if we design programs and policies for success, based on people’s strengths and social capital to create real lasting change.
Despite the promise from this approach, it is not enough to help the millions of people trapped by barriers that diminish their economic potential.
We need better data to understand people’s challenges. Research reports based on national datasets often ignore those who are financially invisible, thereby missing critical segments of our society.
Congress can remove asset limits to public benefit programs like SNAP that are a lifeline for families not earning enough to make ends meet.
Congress can provide clarity that US citizenship is not a prerequisite for accessing financial services, and allow for more government-issued IDs when opening accounts.
Congress can significantly reduce the number of credit invisible by allowing positive payment data from utilities, rent, and telecoms to be included in credit reports.
And Congress can require “ability to repay” underwriting standards and longer repayment terms for small-dollar and payday loans.
I believe these reforms can go a long way to unlock people’s economic potential, and help them realize their American Dreams too.
Thank you for holding this hearing and I look forward to continuing this important conversation.
Ten years ago, we started a movement in San Francisco, leading thousands of low-income and immigrants families throughout the country to become financially visible, active, and successful in the financial system.
What started with our flagship Lending Circles program offering zero-interest loans, has evolved into a whole suite of products and services to help people improve their financial lives. We do everything with the steadfast determination to meet people where they are and build on what is good in their lives. We’re now providing financial coaching “windows” at Mexican Consulates in the Bay Area, financing to help cover expensive immigration fees, and innovating tools designed to help clients thrive even more. And all the while, we’re still working with nonprofits to deepen and expand our work throughout the country.
We have a lot to celebrate, but we’re even more energized by what we have coming in November: MAF Summit! We’re hosting this important gathering of partners, colleagues, funders, friends on November 15 and 16 in San Francisco!
This year’s theme is “Transcend. Evolve. Take Flight.” We envision ourselves and our communities as a rabble of butterflies, having evolved to withstand adversity, and able to overcome obstacles no matter how big or sudden they seem. We finish the journeys we start and we know the final destination is still ahead.
We’re thrilled to bring together an even larger network of change agents—leaders from across the nonprofit, tech, finance, and social sectors—all looking to learn, inspire and build new, long-lasting solutions. We’ll have thought leaders like Fred Wherry from Princeton University and long-time advocates like Daniel Lee from the Levi Strauss Foundation and Elena Chavez Quezada from the Walter & Elise Haas Fund to highlight the good work that’s been done and shift our focus and energy toward building solutions that will endure.
We have to be smart and industrious as we leap forward and build solutions to outlast whatever challenges await. By nurturing partnerships, learning from each other, using technology for good, and sharing sacred stories of resolve and resolutions, we’ll come together with purpose and leave prepared for the next 10 years.
My soul hurts to hear babies crying inconsolably for their parents, begging for help. I think about these little ones each time I look at my children, hoping that we will stop this madness and reunite them with their mothers and fathers who braved through that long and dangerous journey millions of immigrants have taken before, looking for safety in America.
But instead of refuge, they found a government that terrorized their innocence, ripping child away from parent and violating their human and legal rights in the process. Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy harkens back to slavery, Japanese internment camps, and even Nazi Germany. And for what? This administration callously calculated that taking babies hostage would ignite a crisis to further their political agenda.
They made a terrible mistake.
Trump’s new Executive Order did not end the crisis. The administration is still following “zero tolerance” policy, keeping asylum seekers in detention camps along the US/Mexico border. And they’re doing nothing to reunite the 2,300 children in US custody with their parents. Instead they’re following their game plan, using children as bargaining chips to pressure Congress to fund Trump’s wall, cut back on visas for legal immigrants, eliminate the diversity visa program, criminalize immigrants, and block any hope for a pathway to citizenship for millions of hardworking immigrants who drive our economy, but more importantly, who call the United States home.
We are not surprised by Trump’s actions, but we are outraged and activated. From the start, this administration has attacked immigrants in rhetoric calling them rapists, criminals, thugs or animals. His actions have been aligned with this rhetoric: terminating DACA and torpedoing bipartisan efforts to provide legislative solutions to Dreamers. Step by step, he’s dismantling any hope for immigrants and people of color to be full fledged members of our society.
Clearly, he is afraid of an emerging America that is rich and diverse, colorful and complex. He’s afraid of an America that does not look like him.
But no matter how much he may fear or hate us, he can’t get rid of us. His administration is working hard to make life miserable and impossible for immigrant families. They will criminalize, they will detain, they will deport, they will terrorize, they will confiscate whatever little we may have; but they can’t get rid of us.
We are resilient. We are survivors. And we are not alone. There are millions of people that are not afraid and who will fight with us for that emerging America that is just and expansive with plenty of room, hugs and resources for those children crying at the border right now.
Hear me say this: Trump will not have the last word. He will not dictate what America is, or what it will become.
At MAF, we are doubling down. We’re helping more legal permanent residents apply for citizenship. Over the years, we have financed over 8,000 U.S. citizenship and DACA applications and are ready to do thousands more in the months and years to come. There are 8.8 million legal permanent residents eligible for citizenship right now. We want to help them naturalize, to take that first step towards being able to vote in elections to come. And we’re more determined than ever to help immigrants improve their financial lives, to help them put down roots where they live, and feel confident that they belong.
They are part and parcel of who we are as a nation and we need their dreams, their energy to keep building that emerging America.
The cries heard around the world will not go unheeded. For the children ripped from their parents arms, and the millions of people at the margins of society, we will keep fighting for freedom and dignity and respect, ever bending that arc of the moral universe MLK once mentioned – until it breaks towards justice.
With love and gratitude,
Give to the legal and nonprofit organizations working to defend the rights of immigrants in the courts and provide direct support to families on the border.
ACLU Foundation is a nonprofit defending the civil rights of individuals. Their Immigrant Rights Project defends the rights of immigrants and is currently litigating family separation issues.
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is a national policy advocacy organization with offices in ten cities, including San Francisco and Washington D.C. KIND trains pro bono lawyers to represent unaccompanied immigrant children.
Border Angels is a San Diego-based nonprofit focused on migrant rights, immigration reform, and the prevention of immigrant deaths along the border.
Stand with Immigrant Families: #HeretoStay is MAF’s campaign to raise funds to support DACA, Citizenship, TPS and Green card applications to prevent families from getting torn apart by changing immigration status.
Call your member of Congress to support families staying together. Demand that Congress hear asylum claims and reunite the 2,300 children already separated from their parents.
White House public comment line: 202-456-1111
Department of Justice public comment line: 202-353-1555
The Trump Administration ended DACA on September 5, 2017, igniting a wave of anguish and fear in communities throughout the country. Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of young people came out of the shadows to register for the DACA program hoping that that would be the first step to becoming full participants in the U.S., the country many know as their only home. Despite the dark cloud of uncertainty in their lives, young immigrants are rising up, full of hope. They are organizing the social justice movement of our generation, advocating for a DREAM Act that would give young immigrants a path to citizenship, and pushing for comprehensive immigration reforms to help millions of undocumented immigrants as well.
I was boarding a flight at the crack of dawn to Los Angeles when the Trump Administration announced that it was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Since 2012, this program has provided young, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children – commonly referred to as “Dreamers” – with protection from deportation and work permits. Scrolling through the headlines, I knew it would be a rough day. Not only was the Administration ending DACA, but it was doing so in a ridiculously cruel way. The announcement ended DACA for new applicants – many of whom were high school students who dreamed of pursuing higher education using DACA – while giving those already with DACA just one month to submit applications to renew their status if their work authorization ended by March 5, 2018. Dreamers were left to learn about the announcement on their own and determine whether or not they qualified.
154,000 Dreamers could extend their protective status for two more years. But they didn’t get any letters or receive a phone call. There was no outreach to encourage them to renew.
Immigrant communities and advocates were outraged by the announcement. Protests erupted in cities across the country. People were angry, and rightly so. Our government was breaking a promise made by President Obama that had radically improved the lives of the 800,000 young immigrants enrolled in the program. For years Congress had both acknowledged the need to reform America’s broken immigration system, but failed to do so, leaving millions of immigrants unable to come out of the shadows. DACA was a small, temporary solution for young people as we waited for Congress to fix our broken system.
In 2012, President Obama gave the executive order to establish DACA, under which the federal government promised not to deport immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, were enrolled in school, had graduated from high school, or were honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the U.S. Instead, the government would grant them permission to work and provide them with Social Security numbers. In return, Dreamers would register with the Department of Homeland Security and provide them with all of their personal information. Like the 800,000 Dreamers who registered for DACA, at MAF, we too believed in that promise—that they could live openly in the light of day.
When President Obama first created DACA, we started providing zero-interest loans to finance the high application fee (now $495). We worked with over 1,000 Dreamers in the last 5 years. For MAF, this was personal.
We witnessed the benefits of DACA on a daily basis. With DACA, we saw first-hand that our clients were better supporting themselves and their families by accessing higher paying jobs. They opened bank accounts and began saving. By every metric, DACA propelled them forward, unleashing their creative energy and human potential. With DACA, some of our clients enrolled in school, became doctors or nurses. Others, like Gustavo, secured better-paying jobs. He stopped cleaning houses and was able to get work as a Wells Fargo bank teller serving the Latino community
I spent the next day in Los Angeles, fielding emails and trying to think through next steps. Thursday morning, I was back in the MAF’s office where we had our first post-announcement staff meeting. We talked about our options, trying to figure out how to proceed. Doing nothing was not an option. Without knowing exactly how, on that morning we resolved to help as many Dreamers as possible to renew their status.
Dreamers only had four weeks to renew before the October 5 deadline, so every minute mattered. With that in mind, we agreed to offer zero-interest loans, but on a much larger scale than ever before. We were going national with these loans. This would be a huge operational challenge for us for two reasons. First, up until this point, we’d only financed DACA application fees for Dreamers in California. Second, although MAF is a national organization, we work through a network of nonprofit partners to serve clients outside of California. For the sake of efficiency, we needed to outreach to and directly serve clients all over the U.S., regardless of geography- for the first time ever.
We set a goal to finance 1,000 applications in 30 days – the same number of loans we had provided in the last five years.
I began contacting funders to solicit support for our new loan fund. We needed $500,000, and fast. While I was working the phones for funding, MAF staff members were working furiously to operationalize the new loan fund. Our communications team built a new website specifically for the DACA renewal loans, complete with a clock that tracked the number of minutes left before the window to apply for renewal closed. Our tech team streamlined our existing loan application by stripping out any information that wasn’t absolutely essential to processing the loan requests, and built a system for rapidly reviewing and confirming an applicant’s eligibility to renew at this time.
By the end of that first week, we’d secured a million dollars in commitments from the Weingart Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Chavez Family Foundation, and Tipping Point Community. With their support, we doubled our original goal accordingly and aimed to help 2,000 DACA recipients to apply for renewal. It was an absurdly ambitious and risky goal, one that could put MAF’s finances in a potential cash-flow crisis. But we had to do it. If ever there was a time to put it all on the line, it was now.
One week after the announcement to end DACA, we were ready to launch the new loan fund. We had 21 days until the deadline.
On the morning of Tuesday, September 12, we sent a series of emails and press releases to media outlets, colleagues, funders, and immigrant rights activists. I was in New Jersey that day, preparing to deliver a keynote address later that evening, when I received a call from Fred Ali, the Chief Executive Officer of the Weingart Foundation, asking us to consider offering grants instead of loans. He argued that the urgency and gravity of the situation necessitated grants and that loans, even at zero interest, would pose a barrier to some Dreamers. I was reluctant to make the shift right after launching the campaign, but hearing his commitment to work with us made it easier to take the plunge. Thanks to Fred, a new path forward opened for us.
I quickly called MAF’s leadership team and we agreed to revise our strategy. We re-launched the campaign later that day offering $495 scholarships to DACA recipients who needed to renew. By Thursday, September 14, just two days after launching the campaign, we received more than 2,000 applications. The campaign’s website briefly crashed due to the heavy traffic. We were ecstatic at the response, but the overwhelming interest created a number of new operational challenges. First, there was a very real possibility that we would run out of money. Part of the problem was timing. While we had secured commitments from funders, we had not received the money in our bank account. We had to front MAF’s general operating money while funders worked through their approval and disbursement processes.
Just 48 hours into the campaign, the first 2,000 applicants had already claimed all of the $1,000,000 in DACA grant funds.
I remember the conversations with my leadership team about how to proceed as some of the most nerve-racking of the entire campaign. We were literally watching the clock, counting down the hours until we would run out of money. That night, we considered shutting down the program. Very quickly, we’d met our goal of helping 2,000 Dreamers, which was already double what we’d originally planned for. But the truth was that we could not stop. Ending DACA was a national emergency, and we refused to abandon our community in the midst of it.
We considered reverting back to zero-interest loans. But we didn’t want to do that either. It would have been extremely complicated and confusing. Instead, we changed our messaging to alleviate some pressure. We started encouraging applicants to first consider asking for support from friends or family members before requesting funds from MAF. We trusted that those who could self-select out of the process would do so, in turn reducing demand and increasing the likelihood that we would assist those most in need. We agreed that I’d work the phones to push for more funding.
Ultimately, through the course of the campaign we raised $4 million dollars, eight times more than our initial goal. While I’d like to say that the money was a response to my exceptional fundraising skills, that wasn’t the case.
Funders understood the urgency of the situation, and many of them were able to expedite their approval processes – which usually takes months – into just hours or days. Fred Ali was working the phones too; he contacted his colleagues at other foundations, vouching for us and asking that they consider supporting the campaign. And like Fred, we had so many other funders working behind the scenes, calling colleagues and allies they knew would care and could commit quickly. Many of them contributed to the renewal fund, increasing our goal to helping 6,000 Dreamers renew their DACA status. Aside from the funding and cash flow challenges, we were now faced with a slew of major operational ones.
In theory, the process to deliver funds to applicants was simple. MAF would write a check to the Department of Homeland Security for $495, and mail it to the applicant, who would include it in their application package. But in practice, we hit wall after wall. For starters, there was the question of how to cut so many checks so quickly. During the earliest days of the campaign, when we were receiving upwards of 800 applications a day, I was traveling for work and our Chief Operating Officer was in Chile. Because we are the only two people authorized to sign MAF checks, this created an immediate bottleneck.
Our first workaround was a signature stamp. Aparna Ananthasubramaniam, Research and Technology Director, confirmed with our bank would recognize a stamp, got me onboard with the idea with a few days, but even that was too slow.
With applications coming in by the hundreds each day; and seeing our target go from 3,000 to 4,000, and then finally to 6,000 renewals, we needed to find a better alternative.
Within a few days, we outsourced the task to a third-party processor to manage the bulk of the work, allowing us to focus on the approval process and applications that needed individual attention. This was a huge weight off of our shoulders. Just like with cutting checks, mailing them sounded straightforward but proved enormously difficult. Prior to this campaign, MAF had never primarily communicated with clients via snail mail. Consequently, we didn’t have much experience sending large volumes of mail, and didn’t realize that it is both an art and a science, until it was almost too late.
Our original plan had been to send the checks via priority mail. To do this we needed the appropriate “priority mail” envelopes, which are available for purchase at every post office. So, on that first day, Mohan Kanungo, Director of Programs & Engagement, drove to the nearest post office to buy supplies. However, there weren’t enough envelopes for the hundreds of checks we needed to mail. So, he drove to another one. And then another.
Soon, MAF staff and their loved ones were driving all over the Bay Area to raid post office supplies. At one point, Mohan charged $2,400 worth of mailing supplies to his personal credit card.
He couldn’t use a company card because he’d given it to a fellow MAF staffer who was using it to purchase supplies at other post offices. Because we were new to bulk mailings, we also didn’t know that there is a specific way you are supposed to do them. MAF staff showed up with huge boxes of envelopes, figuring we would mail them the way we would any other letter. Turns out that our method was extremely inefficient because the post office had no way to processes the envelopes in bulk. Rather, each one had to be processed individually, which took approximately 1 – 2 minutes, meaning mailing hundreds of envelopes could take hours.
No one was happy about this. The postal workers were frustrated by the massive inconvenience it caused them because they were understaffed, too. We were upset with ourselves, as well. MAF staff had to remain at the post office for hours at a time while each letter was processed. It was time we didn’t have. Soon postal workers simply began refusing to process our mailings. Staff would get rejected at one post office and drive to another in the hopes they could mail it from there. Or they’d split a large mailing into a couple of smaller ones that would be less onerous to process, and get them out that way
Tara Robinson, Chief Development Officer, called the local office of the regional representative of the United States Postal Service, where she spoke with a woman in the business service network department. Tara asked her, “Do you know about the Dreamers?” She said, “Yes!” After explaining what MAF was doing and why there was such a time crunch, the postal worker worker jumped into action. We found our advocate. That same day, she organized a conference call with supervisors from numerous area post offices during which she instructed them to accept all of MAF’s mailings. Our postal shero explained how to create a manifest for our mail so that the postal workers could scan all of our envelopes in bulk instead of individually. She also provided the direct name and number of the Postmaster General if we ran into more problems.
Fueling our anxiety was the fact that we had promised applicants a response within 48 hours of submitting the initial application.
Initially, we thought that 48 hours was a relatively fast turnaround time. But in a time of crisis, 48 hours can feel like forever. Our office was constantly flooded with calls, emails, Facebook messages, and in-person visits, from applicants wanting to confirm that we had received their request and wanting to know when to expect the check.
Every single person on staff was answering phones and fielding inquiries – including me. We were woefully understaffed to field the volume of inquiries we were receiving, and decided we needed a more transparent and robust set of communications with our applicants. Aparna drafted a series of emails that would be automatically sent to applicants as their application worked its way through our process. One email was sent to confirm receipt of the application; another was sent to confirm that we had all of the necessary materials to review it; a third went out to confirm that it was approved; and a final email was sent confirming when to expect the check. We even created another automated email to tell applicants to expect another email soon with tracking information. It seems over the top, but these email communications considerably lowered the call volume.
While the automated communications helped to significantly reduce the volumes of calls and emails we received, we remained severely understaffed relative to the workload. We hired temporary staff but quickly realized that wasn’t going to work due to the nature of the highly sensitive information we were processing. So, we turned to our friends and colleagues, including La Cocina, and other key allies at Salesforce and Tipping Point, all of whom excused staff from work and sent them to our office to volunteer.
Then the office of the Governor of Washington contacted us and said “We heard you were the nationwide provider of DACA scholarships. We have an anonymous donor in the state of Washington. Can you process $125,000 of scholarships for our residents?”
Hundreds of organizations – both small and big – helped us to spread the word. There were videos, memes, vloggers and even a social media sweepstake sponsored by the Clever Girls Collaborative. The President of the University of California sent several press releases and social media messages to inform students about the scholarships, as did the President of the California Community Colleges. Without solicitation from our team, some funders approached us asking how they could support the initiative. Across the country, immigrant rights groups and legal aid organizations we’d never worked with before were advertising our renewal fund to their clients.
Spreading the word beyond the Bay Area was important because many of those organizations were operating in communities that lacked support for Dreamers, either because of the local political climate or because they were in rural, isolated areas, like Mississippi and Utah. We attribute a lot of our ability to reach these communities to incredible responses from both the media and social media. The campaign received more than 1,000,000 social media hits, and more than 100 media mentions, including coverage in New York Times, NPR, and Washington Post, among other prominent outlets.
We were humbled to give $3.8M to 7,678 Dreamers – making this the largest DACA renewal fund in the nation.
In the fall of 2017, MAF provided $2,513,610 to fund 5,078 DACA renewal applications in 46 states – that’s 6.7 percent of all renewal applications submitted. That means we funded one out of every ten Dreamers in the state of California who applied for a renewal, including 16 percent of all applicants in the Bay Area. And in January 2018, days after U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s injunction, MAF issued an additional 2,600 grants to Dreamers.
As one Bay Area legal aid attorney told me, “Again and again and again, Dreamers walked into our offices to apply for a renewal with a MAF check in hand.”
Over the past several months, all of us at MAF have spent a lot of time reflecting on the campaign, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, and how the experience should shape our work moving forward. The campaign is a bittersweet victory. In terms of impact, we exceeded our wildest ambitions. We stood as a beacon of love and support for immigrants at a time when so many of our friends, families, and clients felt under attack. Nonetheless, as an organization we have struggled to celebrate the campaign because it represents the end of DACA. We believe in an America that is so much better than this, and remain stunned and absolutely livid that the Trump Administration ended DACA without offering a permanent legislative solution, leaving millions of young immigrants and their families in anguish. Living with that sort of pain is difficult. For all the sadness and disgust that we have felt in response to the Trump Administration’s actions, we have also discovered a deeper and more powerful resolve. While I know each MAFista took away something personal from the experience, we share these overarching lessons:
1. Timing is everything.
Proven solutions – no matter how great – are not always the *right* solution for every situation.We launched our fund with loans because making loans is what we do, and we do it well. But given the urgency of the DACA crisis – when we didn’t have time to deal with even the most modest of underwriting processes – loans simply weren’t the right product. At the beginning, we were so steeped in our history that we couldn’t see beyond loans. It took an outsider to open the door to the possibility of scholarships. However, once that door opened, we were flexible, ready to embrace the alternative approach, and operationalize it quickly.
2. Technology is critical to scale.
Time and time again throughout our campaign, we resolved bottlenecks and scaled services with technology. We engaged applicants throughout the country by creating a secure online application through our Salesforce CRM that people could complete and submit to us within minutes. We created automated emails to keep Dreamers informed and engaged throughout the application process. We outsourced the process of cutting checks to clients by building an electronic applicant database that we emailed to our third-party processor. Without question, absent technology, we could not troubleshoot obstacles in real time, and we would have been much more constrained in our ability to reach communities outside the Bay Area.
3. Trust is imperative to success.
Dreamers were willing to share their personal information with MAF – despite the climate of fear in which they were operating – because they knew that we were – and are – on their side. Similarly, funders, including ones that had previously never worked with us, were willing to bet big on us because they trusted their colleagues who vouched for us. Likewise, nonprofits referred their clients to us knowing that we were going to do right by them. All of this happened fast and trust was the key to making the campaign successful.
4. Uncertainty can be your friend.
As nonprofits, we plan our work over the course of years. We create theories of change, strategic plans, and budgets to demonstrate our good stewardship and fiscal management. In normal times, these tried and true practices help mark our progress towards achieving goals. I get it. But we’re not in normal times. In moments like these, no matter how perfect our plans are, the fact is that the fate of millions of families hang in the balance with the next incendiary tweet from Trump. We really don’t know the nature, or extent, of the next Trump-created crisis. This type of uncertainty necessitates a willingness and ability to take the ever-changing political climate into account, and change programmatic strategies accordingly.
The fight for social justice is long. We now have at least 7,600 more people ready to join the battle.