Earlier this month, the World Education Services (WES) Mariam Assefa Fund shared its initial responses to the needs exposed and created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Immigrants are America’s workers, and 12 million are currently on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis. Immigrant workers number disproportionately among America’s health care, food delivery, and janitorial service workers. They also rank high in industries hardest hit by the faltering economy, such as caregiver, food, retail, and hospitality sectors.

As the crisis unfolded in late February, the WES Mariam Assefa Fund began to respond. We looked at existing efforts and adjusted our terms to ensure that, in the near term, our grantee partners would have the flexibility and resources to meet the deepening needs of the immigrant and refugee communities they serve. We also listened attentively—to our partners, to immigrant workers, to workforce and education service providers, to advocates, and to other funders. Most recently, we heard from leaders in immigrant-serving organizations across the country who told us what they were seeing and hearing in the field, and what’s required to design and implement rapid response and recovery solutions which ensure that all workers, including immigrants and refugees, can thrive.

We’ve heard loud and clear about several areas where immediate action is needed:

  • Financial assistance for the more than 15 million immigrant workers and their families who have been overlooked or are intentionally left out of federal relief programs, such as the CARES Act
  • Expanded advocacy capacity and efforts to elevate the perspectives of immigrant communities, advance equitable solutions at national, state, and local levels, and drive lasting change
  • Targeted resources for local government and grassroots organizations which ensure that critical health and employment information can be translated and disseminated in locally relevant languages for the more than 26 million people who have limited English language proficiency
  • Localized and timely insights and research on how labor markets are evolving in cities and states across the country, and where immigrants can contribute their talent and skills as economies begin to recover

The WES Mariam Assefa Fund is proud to announce new grants to several leaders in the immigrant workforce integration field. The grants will support these leaders’ efforts to tackle pressing issues, infuse longer-term thinking into response efforts, and help leading organizations address the diverse needs of immigrant workers. We are supporting:

  • The National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), a national network of immigrant-serving organizations, in its efforts to drive inclusive federal and state policies that value and support immigrant workers. Fund dollars will help support NPNA’s advocacy work to ensure that small businesses, non-profits, and local governments maximize federal dollars, and that funding is accessible to small, unbanked, minority-owned businesses.“As a network of, by, and for immigrants and refugees, we know the heavy weight that has fallen on our communities during this health and economic crisis. NPNA is proud to partner with the WES Mariam Assefa to support the country’s leading immigrant and refugee coalitions to ensure their sustainability and robust advocacy on all levels of government. We will continue to bring the countless contributions of all immigrants, not just essential workers, into the mainstream narrative. And we will work together towards an inclusive economic recovery with fundamental reforms,” said Eva Millona and Steve Choi, NPNA Co-Chairs.
  • Welcoming America’s Resilient Rapid Response Initiative to support COVID-19 response efforts for local governments and non-profits in its member network nationwide. As part of this initiative, Welcoming America is offering translation support, interpretation, and language access coaching to its members. The organization is also seeking to help counter negative rhetoric and xenophobia through positive stories and messages.“Welcoming America is proud to partner with the WES Mariam Assefa Fund to ensure that all Americans – including immigrants – are part of the solution to COVID-19. We’re grateful to directly support and grow the movement of welcoming leaders serving as positive role models for inclusive emergency response and resilient recovery,” says Rachel Peric, Executive Director of Welcoming America.
  • New American Economy, a bipartisan research and advocacy organization, in its efforts to ensure that state and local communities provide immigrants and refugees with access to accurate, timely, language-accessible COVID-19 information. NAE will use its grant towards original research to identify gaps in service provision and challenges specific to immigrant communities, so that local communities can better prepare, advocate for, and implement an inclusive emergency response for immigrants.“As this COVID crisis continues to quickly evolve, every facet of society, from public health to education access to the local economy, has been vastly affected,” said Mo Kantner, Associate Director of State and Local Initiatives. “New American Economy uses a data-driven approach to work with local communities, chambers of commerce, and governor’s offices to ensure that all community members – especially immigrants and the most vulnerable – have access to the services and support that they need.”

The Fund is also supporting organizations in cities where WES staff live and work. We have sought out organizations that work in a direct and immediate way to provide financial assistance to individuals and families who have been hard hit by the health and economic crises.

  • Make the Road New York’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund directly supports New York City’s most vulnerable workers and low-income immigrant families. Make the Road is also organizing to ensure that immigrant New Yorkers are not left out of government solutions.
  • The Workers Defense Project’s Texas Undocu Worker Emergency Fund supports the well-being of immigrant families in Texas who have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those individuals who have been laid off and who are excluded from state and federal financial assistance programs.

We are proud to join other philanthropies investing in the immigrant communities that are so essential to the vitality and resilience of our economy and society. At a time when federal support has excluded immigrant communities, we are grateful to be in a position to help shore up immigrant-serving organizations and provide emergency funding to those that have a frontline impact in the communities where we work and live.

These efforts are just a start in the long road to recovery ahead. As the field looks to rebuild in an equitable, inclusive way and ensure that immigrants and refugees are well supported, the Fund and several of our grantee partners have captured some early recommendations to guide the way forward. We will continue to research, share, and learn from the best practices and insights of others.

The Fund will also maintain its long-term focus on building more resilient, equitable, and inclusive career pathways and workforce systems that can better serve immigrant workers—especially those in low-wage jobs.

The COVID-19 crisis has crystallized and accelerated the reality that workplaces and required skills are changing in ways that are hard to predict or plan for. As this happens, funders, policy makers, employers, activists, and others must all work to ensure that all workers, including immigrants and refugees, are represented and supported as they seek to adapt, re-skill, and reintegrate into a changing world of work. Our collective economic well-being and recovery depend on it.

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