But this is nothing new. Immigrants built American railroads in the 1860s, expanded the early agricultural sector, and helped grow factories and businesses during the Industrial Revolution.
Not that the value of immigrants is found only in their contributions to the American economy. Yes, they help bolster the Social Security system, bring skill sets that the labor force might otherwise lack and provide international links to global business and opportunities.
But newcomers have also introduced innovations and scientific discoveries (let’s not forget Albert Einstein was a German immigrant) and have woven compelling art, literature and philosophies into the fabric of our culture (Khalil Gibran and Khaled Hosseini, anyone?)
And yet, the struggles immigrants face are enormous. The United States still spends about $2 million in detaining immigrants each year. Discrimination is rampant. Political policies are inauspicious. And with the legal and language barriers, social isolation and employment challenges that immigrants often face, many are also at risk of exploitation and human trafficking.
What does all this mean? It’s a two-way relationship. Immigrants can enrich our nation, and our nation can help immigrants out.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of great agencies that support newcomers, but there is always a shortage of funding and resources. That’s where you come in. Below is a short (but by no means comprehensive) list of agencies you may want to consider supporting:
International Rescue Committee
IRC provides legal support not only for refugees and immigrants achieving citizenship but also for reuniting their families as well. IRC relies on 3,500 volunteers in 29 cities across the U.S. and 40 countries around the world, so there may be a chapter near you at which you could volunteer. If not, giving a donation is only one click away.
With 27 offices located throughout the U.S., World Relief provides accessible volunteer opportunities, from helping immigrants apply for citizenship to teaching ESL. In some cases, if you’re looking for a longer commitment, your household or team can “adopt” an immigrant or refugee family to help them get groceries, find an apartment and navigate the public transit system.
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
LIRS has welcomed more than 500,000 immigrants and refugees since its inception in 1939. You can help contribute to that number by giving basic needs items—from hygiene items to winter clothes—online through their gift catalog. You can involve your church by hosting a Refugee Sunday. Or join their visitation ministry by bringing encouragement to an immigrant in a detention center. If volunteering from your couch sounds more appealing, you can even write comforting and hopeful messages to detained immigrants.
American Civil Liberties Union
The ACLU is a powerhouse in advocating for the rights of immigrants, campaigning against discrimination and challenging state and federal laws. Help them by signing on to the petitions listed on their website or sharing their steady stream of blogs, videos and press releases online.
A hub for human rights news and information, Amnesty International creates plenty of opportunities for civic involvement through political letter writing campaigns, petition signing, and hosting #NoBanNoWall peaceful protests and vigils. Check with your regional office to learn more about nearby events or campus clubs.
In many North American cities, the United Way offers direct services for immigrants, or partners with those who do. One of their key national programs is offering free tax filing for newcomers. Get in touch with your local chapter to learn about volunteer opportunities and other needs.
There are dozens and dozens of other organizations that are worthy of your support, too—consider these six agencies a starting point.
And let’s not forget about one of the greatest organizations of all: community. Relationships with immigrants and refugees don’t always need to be brokered by a charitable organization. Look into your own neighborhood and reach out as an individual, family, church or workplace. You don’t need a program or accreditation to be a good neighbor.