15: Defending Immigrants’ Rights

Another crucial piece of the immigration grant-making strategy was developing leadership in immigrant communities, which went hand-in-hand with a focus on community organizing and policy advocacy. If immigrants were to advocate more effectively for their rights and for local and national policies to be more inclusive, respectful, and just, they needed opportunities to develop their leadership potential and learn more about the political landscape.

Organizations such as Haitian American Family of Long Island (HAFALI) and SEPA Mujer, for example, though small, were trusted and well respected in the communities where they worked, making them the natural vehicles for leadership training programs and community organizing initiatives. Organizations such as Make the Road New York and Parent Leadership Initiative (PLI) also provided leadership training and organizing opportunities for immigrants. In the case of PLI, Hagedorn funding allowed for the creation of a new track and curriculum in Spanish for Latino immigrants who were not comfortable participating in the course in English. Long Island Jobs with Justice educated immigrant students, their families, and school staff about options for undocumented students after high school graduation and also organized US-born allies, especially in faith communities, to support immigrants’ rights.

Organizing efforts over the years grew stronger through coalitions formed by Hagedorn grantee organizations to advocate for policy changes and the protection of immigrant rights. These organizations worked together to monitor Suffolk County Police Department compliance with the 2014 agreement with the US Department of Justice, Nassau and Suffolk counties’ compliance with executive orders mandating language access. More broadly, they combined to fight for justice for all immigrants on many different fronts.

A critical part of this fight has been impact litigation undertaken by Empire Justice Center, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, all Hagedorn grantees. Their lawsuits against county governments and town governments on Long Island have held these local municipalities’ feet to the fire and sent a strong message to other municipalities that immigrants’ rights must not be violated. Thanks to their successful litigation, day laborers can now exercise their First Amendment right to stand along roadsides to seek a day’s work, and both county governments now process in a more timely way the public benefits that US-born children of immigrants are entitled to receive.

In an impressive and groundbreaking instance of Long Island-based litigation having a direct impact on national policy, LatinoJustice reached a successful settlement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2013 that forced the agency to completely revamp its policies and practices on conducting home raids. Hagedorn provided key funding year after year to help ensure that this lawsuit, which took almost six years from start to finish, would be able to continue.

As with community organizing, litigation requires sustained, unflagging commitment over many years from nonprofit organizations and funders alike.

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