7 Effective Ways to Help Fight for Immigrant Rights

Getting involved in immigrant rights can feel like both an emergency and a daunting task. As children of the diaspora, it feels especially pressing to honor the communities that reared us and created the ability for us to thrive. Getting involved may seem challenging if you don’t have the financial means to contribute or the privilege of time to spend away from work or family to volunteer. Or maybe elitist spaces have left you feeling like you don’t have the right vocabulary or understanding of immigration policies to talk about advocacy in a meaningful way.

People are always asking me how to get involved but often feel like they have to be where the “action” is to make an impact. If the newscycle is telling us about a “migrant caravan” heading to San Diego, we assume we have to be on the ground in San Diego to make a difference. As anxious as they make us feel, chasing news cycles is not effective. If we’re going to be in the fight for immigrant rights for the long haul (keeping in mind that human rights change is generally slow) our efforts have to be strategic, sustainable and local. Look to local immigrant organizations to guide the way, and lift up their ideas and calls to action as often as you can. Remember that organizations are operating in a moment of heightened stress right now, and don’t always have the time or capacity to respond to emails asking “how can I get involved?” If you’re going to reach out (and please do reach out!), it’s best to do so with specific ideas for how you can help and lend your skills. Do your research, and find out what communities are in need of.  

There is space in this fight for all of us, and we all have to be involved to make tangible change. Our particular frontlines and the roles we play may look different, but it doesn’t make them any less valuable. Below are a list of ideas and guidance to help you get involved to create an impact that doesn’t solely involve spending money (sometimes it’s about where you don’t spend your money).

1. Report and document raids and arrests

ICE and Border Patrol’s success is contingent on secrecy. So the more we expose their abuse, the harder it becomes for them to hurt our communities. Documenting their actions, which often violate our constitutional rights, can help fight deportations in court and bring attention to a culture of racist and dehumanizing enforcement that has been separating families and inflicting trauma on immigrant communities for years. ICE and Border Patrol’s tactics aren’t new, but our ability to call attention to them, galvanize public support, and help directly affected communities fight back, is greater than ever.

See WITNESS’ Eyes on ICE Project for resources on how to film enforcement on your phone safely, ethically and effectively:

Report an enforcement, share footage and help connect people with legal services via an immigrant rights hotline like United We Dream – email: migrawatch@unitedwedream.org or phone: 1-844-363-1423. 

2. Don’t spread misinformation

We’ve seen how social media can be used as a powerful tool for immigrant communities to learn their rights and fight deportations. But unfortunately, we’ve also seen how misinformation spread online about raids can escalate fear and uncertainty within already vulnerable communities. Use the resource below created by WITNESS and United We Dream to help verify online posts of raids before resharing.  

3. Educate yourself

One of the most powerful ways to fight for immigrant rights is to better understand the policies, practices, and history that led to this current moment. We can’t change the future if we don’t learn about the past. And the more we know about our history and our rights, the better we can take care of ourselves, our families, and our community. 

4. Show up for community

There are so many ways to create an impact and show up for immigrant communities. It’s best to reach out to organizations with specific ideas for how you can help and lend your skills (i.e. legal, artistic, medical). Below are some ideas: 

  • Accompany an immigrant to court, their ICE check-in, or other necessary appointments. The power here is in bearing witness and standing in solidarity. Check out New Sanctuary Coalition’s accompaniment program in NYC.
  • Join New Sanctuary Coalition’s Pro Se Clinic where non-attorney volunteers, supervised by immigration lawyers, help people get relief from deportation and detention.
  • Host an asylum-seeker or refugee in your home with Room for Refugees.
  • If you’re able to travel to Tijuana, San Diego or LA, volunteer with Al Otro Lado. They’re looking for everything from health care workers to cooks to translators in order to support asylum seekers and their families.
  • Join a pen pal or visitation program for detained immigrants like the one run by First Friends of New Jersey and New York.
  • If you work in education, create school curricula to help young people learn about immigrant rights in the classroom: Teaching Tolerance.
  • Contrary to mainstream narratives, immigrants migrating to the US speak a variety of languages, not just Spanish. Lending language skills to translate documents and resources, accompany an immigrant, do court translation, etc. is a critical way to help immigrants access justice. Volunteer language opportunities: The Advocates for Human Rights, #StandwithImmigrants, Tarjimly.

5. Call your representatives

I know we’ve grown weary of this specific call to action, but calling your representatives is really important. We have to hold our leaders accountable and be the ones to set the agenda. Contact members of Congress and tell them that you want immigration raids to be called off in your community, and/or demand that detention conditions are improved. And remember that calls are better than snail mail or emails!

  • This government website has links to finding your city, county and town officials. 
  • Call My Congress is a website and app that leads you to your representative, your two senators, along with their full contact details, party affiliations, and links to their voting records. 
  • If you’re having trouble finding contact information, you can call 202-224-3121 to be connected directly to the Capitol switchboard. Ask to be transferred to your senator or representative. 

6. Defund hate

Be aware of how companies like Amazon are profiting from deportations. We often think the best way to utilize our money is to donate, but it can be just as effective to take our money out of systems of oppression. In addition to how we spend our own money, we also want our tax dollars used to strengthen our communities by investing in education, housing, and health care programs, not bankroll xenophobic policies. Learn more about the campaign to demand that congress defunds hate against immigrant communities.

7. Support immigrant rights organizations

If you’re in a position to contribute monetarily, volunteer or offer material donations, do your research first. Verify an organization’s legitimacy and how they spend their donations by looking them up on a watchdog site like Great Nonprofits, researching their website, or finding their tax return on GuideStar. When donating to a campaign on a crowdfunding site, make sure the person running the campaign is directly involved with the organization or in communication with the person you’re raising funds for. 

In addition to the organizations listed throughout this article, below are some more groups I’ve personally engaged with around the country and have seen first hand how far your time, money and support can go.

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at Staff@0mq.349.myftpupload.com. This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Palika Makam

Palika Makam is a media activist supporting marginalized communities to use video and technology to expose human rights abuses and … Read more ›

Introducing Vaksana: Guyana’s First Sustainable Women’s Retreat

Menakshi Babulall

Sustainable development practices can be utilized as a model for addressing gender inequities worldwide. Empowering women with the resources to gain opportunities, learn skills and collaborate in a safe and welcoming environment is crucial to women’s growth and development as individuals. 

After witnessing the first-hand effects of gender-based violence growing up in Guyana, Menakshi Babulall founded the Canadian nonprofit A Different View Project (ADVP) to promote and implement sustainable development methods across Guyanese communities. Vaksana, which means “nourishing/refreshing” in Sanskrit, is a branch of ADVP exclusively aimed at developing Guyana’s first eco-friendly women’s retreat center.  The retreat will offer wellness activities, training services, regenerative farming and community outreach programs. 

[Read Related: Philanthropist Nirmala Ramprasad Champions Sustainable Development Through Green Dupatta]

Babulall was inspired by Guyana’s rich rugged beauty as a child. Her dual passion for preserving the environment and aiding underserved communities contributed to her studying International Development at Toronto’s York University before launching a public service career.  This eventually led her focus back to Guyana. Babulall talks to BG about her journey as the founder of ADVP, the progress of Vaksana and her perspective on sustainable and ethical charity work.

How and when did you create ADVP? 

“ADVP was founded in 2016 with the vision of empowering communities and fostering sustainable development. The idea stemmed from my desire to create an organization that could address pressing social and environmental issues through innovative and collaborative approaches. One thing that fills me with immense pride is ADVP’s unique ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, including those from the diaspora, to create impactful projects that make a tangible difference in people’s lives while also providing them with an opportunity to connect with their homeland.”

ADVP has worked on projects within Guyana’s fertile Pomeroon-Supenaam region, a vast expanse of hills and villages that dot the Essequibo Coast. Past projects include building a centralized outdoor recreation space for families and facilitating peer tutoring groups for children affected by COVID-related school closures. They also engage with the children of Queenstown Village through storytelling and interactive activities to nurture their passion for the environment. Overall, the focus of ADVP’s projects is geared toward education and sustainability while developing meaningful and positive relationships with the local community. 

Babulall’s remigration to Guyana during the pandemic to oversee Vaksana was a humbling experience. Living in rural Guyana allowed her to witness the benefits that wellness and eco-tourism can bring to a community, but also highlighted entrenched socio-economic struggles. It heightened her senses of resilience, adaptability and empathy; all key facets she believed essential to an effective leader. She soon realized the importance of cementing Vaksana as a catalyst for positive change in the region, particularly as a safe haven for women and gender non-conforming individuals who may face discrimination.

Explain the concept behind Vaksana

“The idea of Vaksana was born out of extensive research and a deep-rooted passion for creating a transformative space that combines wellness, eco-tourism and community development. The journey began with a vision to create a place where individuals could experience holistic well-being, connect with nature and promote sustainable living.

Vaksana’s foundation is built on three essential elements: tourism, community outreach and regenerative farming/agriculture. These elements were thoughtfully chosen to ensure a holistic approach to personal growth, community empowerment and environmental stewardship. By integrating these pillars, Vaksana becomes a powerful force for positive impact, both within the retreat center and the wider community.”

Vaksana is an ode to Babulall’s Indian heritage that was originally displaced and irrevocably transformed upon arrival to the Caribbean. Like its namesake, individuals have the opportunity to reclaim and reinvigorate themselves. Future plans for Vaksana include a kitchen/restaurant alongside sustainable farming, a workshop/training facility and a multipurpose room offering wellness classes such as meditation and yoga in consultation with a behavioral psychologist and holistic therapist. Collaborations with local businesses and partnership with the University of Guyana ensures that Guyanese citizens are actively involved in every aspect of the project, providing employment opportunities and allowing them to take on leadership roles.

What is the current progress of Vaksana, and where do you hope to see the project in one year? 

“As of now, Vaksana is in an exciting phase of planning and development. We have made significant strides in securing the land and are eagerly awaiting the approval of the lease for our carefully chosen site. Our dedicated team is diligently working on the architectural design and construction plans to bring our vision to life.

In one year, we envision Vaksana having completed its initial construction phase, with the retreat center standing proudly amidst the natural beauty of Guyana. We anticipate being fully prepared to open our doors and welcome our first guests to experience the transformative journey that Vaksana offers.”

Babulall believes in transparency regarding the difficulties faced with running a non-governmental organization. She has overcome several obstacles such as limited resources and bureaucratic hurdles by seeking collaborations, leveraging available resources and engaging in open dialogue with members of the community.

When asked about the misconceptions of running an NGO, she replied, “Many NGOs actually strive for financial independence by implementing income-generating initiatives and fostering partnerships that create long-term sustainability. Another misconception is that NGOs are not as efficient or effective as for-profit organizations. In reality, NGOs often have lower administrative costs and are driven by a strong sense of purpose and commitment.” 

She also disagreed with the belief that NGOs only focus on aid/handouts and says, “Many NGOs prioritize community-driven development approaches, working with local stakeholders to identify their needs/strengths and supporting capacity-building initiatives that enable communities to thrive independently.”

By debunking these perceptions, NGOs such as ADVP can continue to attract like-minded individuals to participate in the diverse work they undertake to address social challenges and advance a more equitable future.

How would you suggest those get involved in ethical public sector/charity work?

“I would recommend starting by identifying your passions and areas of interest. Research and connect with organizations that align with your values and goals. Volunteer your time, skills or resources to make a tangible impact. Stay informed about social and environmental issues and advocate for positive change. Collaboration and learning from others in the field are also crucial for personal and professional growth.”

What is your ultimate goal and future plans for ADVP and Vaksana?

“My ultimate goal is to continue building ADVP as a leading organization in sustainable community development, promoting social and environmental justice. With Vaksana, we aim to establish a renowned wellness and eco-retreat center that serves as a model for sustainable tourism, community empowerment and holistic well-being. We envision expanding our impact, fostering collaborations and creating positive change at both local and global levels.”

Guyana’s raw and authentic lifestyle has left a profound impact on Babullal as an individual and a leader. While embarking on the Vaksana project has not been without roadblocks, she is grateful to have gained the strength to confront difficult realities head-on in hopes of creating a safe place for individuals to learn and flourish. She has found contentment in the beauty of Guyana’s lush surroundings and hopes that others find its premise rejuvenating and inspirational. 

To learn more about ADVP visit their website here or follow them on Instagram.

To donate to the Vaksana project, visit their GoFundMe page.

Featured Image: Menakshi Babulall | Photo Courtesy of Menakshi Babulall

By Priya Deonarine

Priya D. Deonarine, M.S, NCSP, is the quintessential Pisces who has been dramatically shaped by her experiences and emotions. She … Read more ›