Every day, organizations worldwide are engaged in a collective two steps forward, one step back march toward improved immigration services and policies. What hard-earned lessons are these nonprofits, and the foundations that support them, learning from their persistent efforts? This collection of evaluations, case studies, and lessons learned exposes and explores the nuances of effective collaboration, the value of coordinated messaging, the bedrock of ongoing advocacy efforts, and the vital importance of long-term and flexible funding.

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Expanding Inclusion in the Social Safety Net: Impacts of New York’s Excluded Workers Fund

January 10, 2023

Response to the COVID-19 pandemic and recession spurred a wave of policy innovation around the country. Although federal efforts typically carved out undocumented immigrants, many states and localities around the country tried to bring immigrants and others who were excluded back in. New York's Excluded Worker Fund (EWF) was the largest of these efforts. The $2.1 billion program allowed 130,000 immigrants without work authorization, and some others who fell between the gaps of federal aid, to get unemployment compensation if they lost work during the pandemic recession.To better understand the successes and shortcomings of the program, the Urban Institute and Immigration Research Initiative surveyed individuals in the population targeted for aid by this fund.Findings from this survey are intended to help inform advocacy efforts and future legislation, as New York advocates urge inclusion in the 2023 budget and states and localities across the nation consider the implementation of permanent unemployment benefit programs for excluded workers.

Overview of Immigrant Eligibility for Federal Programs

June 1, 2022

The major federal public benefits programs have long excluded some non–U.S. citizens from eligibility for assistance. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), nonemergency Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and its precursor, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), were largely unavailable to undocumented immigrants and people in the United States on temporary visas.However, the 1996 federal welfare and immigration laws introduced an unprecedented era of restrictionism. Prior to the enactment of these laws, lawful permanent residents of the U.S. generally were eligible for assistance in a manner similar to U.S. citizens. Once the laws were implemented, most lawfully residing immigrants were barred from receiving assistance under the major federal benefits programs for five years or longer.Even where eligibility for immigrants was preserved by the 1996 laws or restored by subsequent legislation, many immigrant families hesitate to enroll in critical health care, job-training, nutrition, and cash assistance programs due to fear and confusion caused by the laws' complexity and other intimidating factors. As a result, the participation of immigrants in public benefits programs decreased sharply after passage of the 1996 laws, causing severe hardship for many low-income immigrant families who lacked the support available to other low-income families.Efforts to address the chilling effects and confusion have continued since that time. The Trump administration's exclusionary policies compounded the problem, making it even more difficult to ensure that eligible immigrants and their family members would secure services.This article focuses on eligibility and other rules governing immigrants' access to federal public benefits programs. Many states have attempted to fill some of the gaps in noncitizen coverage resulting from the 1996 laws, either by electing federal options to cover more eligible noncitizens or by spending state funds to cover at least some of the immigrants who are ineligible for federally funded services.In determining an immigrant's eligibility for benefits, it is necessary to understand the federal rules as well as the rules of the state in which an immigrant resides. Updates on federal and state rules are available on NILC's website.

Immigrant and Native Consumption of Means-Tested Welfare and Entitlement Benefits in 2019

March 30, 2022

Total government spending on the welfare state amounted to about $2.5 trillion in 2019. The federal government spent roughly $2.3 trillion in that year, an amount equal to approximately 51 percent of all federal outlays. About $1.7 trillion of federal expenditures went to Social Security and Medicare, and the other roughly $534 billion funded means‐tested welfare benefits. American states spent an additional $244 billion on means‐tested welfare programs in 2019. Based on data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, we find that immigrants consume 28 percent less welfare and entitlement benefits than native‐born Americans on a per capita basis. By comparison, immigrants consumed 21 percent less welfare and entitlement benefits in 2016 on a per capita basis. From 2016 to 2019, the underconsumption of welfare by immigrants relative to native‐born Americans widened by about 7 percentage points.

"Finally, We're Being Recognized": Stories and Perspectives from Applicants to the Excluded Workers Fund

March 17, 2022

Although expanded unemployment insurance played a large role in decreasing the number of people living in poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, millions—most notably undocumented workers—were excluded from these benefits. The New York State Excluded Workers Fund (EWF) is the most notable example of legislation to address this gap. Passed in April 2021, the EWF approved 130,000 excluded workers to receive financial support that roughly equaled the average total amount unemployed workers eligible for unemployment compensation received, approximately $15,600 per person. To understand the experiences of workers who applied for EWF and of those that did not receive the fund, we conducted 15 interviews with workers in English, Spanish, Bangla, and Korean and 9 interviews with staff from community-based organizations serving various populations in New York and providing crucial application assistance.We found that those who received the fund were able to use it to make ends meet during a period of severe job loss bypaying back rent and other bills;repaying debt incurred during the pandemic;stabilizing or improving their housing conditions;paying for basic needs like food;investing in their children and education;taking care of their health and paying for medical expenses;stabilizing and expanding employment opportunities; andcreating local economic stimulus.We also found that the EWF had a significant impact on excluded worker recognition and their sense of power and dignity that comes from being treated as a valued member of society. We found that workers who applied but did not receive the fund because of difficulties providing the required documentation faced continuing stress around unstable income, debt burden, and other dire circumstances.Overall, New York State Department of Labor quickly and effectively adopted the EWF, but ultimately the fund ran out of money more quickly than anticipated. Although the fund was a high-impact intervention for those who benefitted, it has not provided solutions to the ongoing instability that accompanies a lack of lawful permanent status in the US.

Stand Together: Cash Assistance Funds for Undocumented Immigrants in a Time of Crisis

October 1, 2021

Open Society Foundations and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees commissioned this report as part of a larger effort to make resources, knowledge, and infrastructure developed during the pandemic known to grantmakers responding to future economic disruptions. Stand Together describes Covid-19 direct relief funds for undocumented immigrants and records promising practices for crisis grantmaking in immigrant communities.

Direct Cash Transfer as a Vehicle for Speed, Inclusivity, and Equity

August 24, 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic, philanthropic entities across the US embraced giving directly—transferring cash to people—as an effective and efficient means of providing relief to those hit hard by the sudden economic and health emergency. Since the onset of the pandemic and in partnership with donors, nonprofit organizations, and local government agencies, the Greater Washington Community Foundation has facilitated the administration of approximately $26 million in funds, distributed in increments of $50 to $2,500 to approximately 60,000 residents across the Greater Washington, DC, region. This report describes the goals, strategies, and short-term achievements of the foundation and its partners in developing and implementing cash transfer strategies at the height of the pandemic. Closer examination of the foundation's role provides insight for private donors, government agencies, and nonprofits into how partnership with local philanthropy can help them deliver a speedy and equitable response to populations hit hardest by a crisis.

Three in 10 Adults in California Immigrant Families with Low Incomes Avoided Safety Net Programs in 2020

July 29, 2021

Many immigrant families have avoided safety net and pandemic relief programs in recent years over concerns that their participation would have adverse immigration consequences. These chilling effects on program participation occurred in the context of a restrictive immigration policy environment under the Trump administration, including the expansion of the "public charge" rule. Though the Biden administration has reverted to prior guidance on the public charge rule and reversed many other immigration policy changes, chilling effects may continue to deter adults in immigrant families from seeking safety net supports for which they or their children are eligible.This study draws on Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey data collected in December 2020 and interviews conducted with adults in immigrant families and people who work at organizations that connect immigrant families to health, nutrition, and other support programs in California. The interviews were conducted between March and May 2021, in the early months of the Biden administration, offering unique insights as policy priorities were shifting.

Food Over Fear: Overcoming Barriers to Connect Latinx Immigrant Families to Federal Nutrition and Food Programs

December 1, 2020

This report sheds light on why many immigrant families are forgoing vital assistance from federal nutrition and food programs and lifts up recommendations aimed at ensuring that all families and individuals, regardless of immigration status, are nourished and healthy.While the findings of this report are informed by a series of focus groups conducted from November 2019 to January 2020 (prior to the onset of COVID-19), the need to connect immigrant families to nutrition programs is arguably of even greater importance given how COVID-19 is fueling unprecedented food insecurity and ravaging communities of color and immigrant communities at disproportionately high rates due to unique barriers faced by families that include noncitizens.

Immigration and the Welfare State: Immigrant and Native Use Rates and Benefit Levels for Means-Tested Welfare and Entitlement Programs

May 10, 2018

Overall, immigrants are less likely to consume welfare benefits and, when they do, they generally consume a lower dollar value of benefits than native-born Americans. This appears contrary to the study conducted by the CIS (Publication 3), but Cato claims its work is more accurate because it examines individuals with immigration status, while CIS measures welfare use by households headed by immigrants (which often contain multiple native-born Americans).

The Economic Impact of Naturalization on Immigrants and Cities

December 9, 2015

Using American Community Survey data for 21 cities, we find that if the immigrants who are eligible for naturalization became citizens, their earnings would increase 8.9 percent, and combined earnings for the 21 cities would increase $5.7 billion. Federal, state, and city tax revenue would increase $2.0 billion. Expenditures in government benefits would decline $34 million in New York City and increase $4 million in San Francisco. With an additional $789 million in taxes for New York City and $90 million for San Francisco, the net fiscal impact of naturalization on these two cities is overwhelmingly positive.

Economic Progress via Legalization: Lessons from the Last Legalization Program

November 5, 2009

The data analyzed in IPC's latest Special Report, Economic Progress via Legalization, indicates that unauthorized immigrants who gained legal status in the 1980s through the legalization provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) experienced clear improvement in their socioeconomic situation. Between 1990 and 2006, the educational attainment of IRCA immigrants increased substantially, their poverty rates fell dramatically, and their home ownership rates improved tremendously. Moreover, their real wages rose, many of them moved into managerial positions, and the vast majority did not depend upon public assistance. The findings presented in this report support the notion that legalization of unauthorized immigrants can play a role in promoting economic growth and lessening socioeconomic disparities. Reforming our immigration system is not an obstacle to getting our economy back on track.