Monday, December 29, 2008

The Rise of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform -- Foundation Funding

(Fourth in a Border Lines' Series on the Movement for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.)

The Carnegie Corporation’s report, “Immigration: The Reform Movement Rebuilds,” rightly places today’s immigrant-rights movement in the context of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CCIR). 

The coalition was the foundation-backed movement to advance comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) in the Bush’s second term. The structure, strategy, and messaging of the post-CIR immigrant-rights movement are a direct outgrowth of the now-extinct CCIR

In close consultation with their grantees – including National Immigration Forum, Immigration Policy Center (part of American Immigration Law Foundation), National Council of La Raza, and Center for Community Change, among others – most of the major liberal foundations early in the first Bush administration joined together to establish and maintain an expanded immigrant-rights movement led largely by Washington, DC. organizations. 

 The primary goal was to create the grassroots support and policy advocacy capacity needed to pass CIR, and the strategy adopted to advance this goal was to empower a national network of immigrant, community, and labor organizations united by their immigrant-rights messaging. 

While the leading coalition players were funded separately by Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, and other liberal foundations (organized into a consortium called the Four Freedoms Fund), Atlantic Philanthropies was the principal foundation behind CCIR. The story of the immigration reform movement can’t be understood apart from foundation funding. 

The CCIR was a product less of a burgeoning immigrant rights organizing than of a decision by Atlantic Philanthropies in 2003 to focus on immigration reform as one of its leading priorities. Although established in 1982, it wasn’t until 1997 that the foundation started making public grants in its name.

One of the world’s largest foundations, Atlantic Philanthropies, established by businessman Charles Feeney (who made a fortune building an empire of airport duty-free shops), decided in mid-2003 to spend down its multi-billion dollar endowment over the next 12-15 years. 

Immigration reform was one of priority funding areas of the foundation’s Reconciliation and Human Rights Program; and starting in late 2003 the foundation began working closely with immigrant-rights organizations to launch a coalition movement that would serve as the public spearhead for comprehensive immigration reform. 

 The foundation was determined “to ensure that something would be left when we were no longer here.” 

According to Rebecaa Rittgers, executive director of the foundation's Reconciliation and Human Rights Program, 

“The decision was made with the caveat that we would spend it out in a way that would leave a tangible impact on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society.” Under its human rights program, immigration reform was selected as one of the three funding priorities.” 

 The foundation’s desire to serve the most vulnerable and disadvantaged found a perfect match in immigrant-rights organizations, which could credibly claim that they represented the interests of then 12-plus illegal immigrants. 

It was a perfect match, and the foundation initiated a strategy process that birthed CCIR in 2004. The foundation tells the CCIR story this way:

“Atlantic has made three grants to date in support of this effort: a planning grant in the amount of $100,000, and two core support grants, one in 2004 which was renewed in 2005, totaling $7million.The initial planning grant enabled these twelve advocate groups – from labor, community development, ethnic identified groups, national immigration advocacy, and regional immigration coalitions – to come together at a common table and set a coordinated agenda and strategy. The two core support grants enacted this strategy – through advocacy, lobbying, communications, message and media development, grassroots mobilization and education efforts. To widen the reach and coordination of this ‘inside/outside’ strategy, a sister 501(c)(3) coalition, the New American Opportunity Campaign, was created by the CCIR.”

CCIR was established as a 501(c) (4) nonprofit organization -- allowing it to lobby extensively for congressional bills. The New American Opportunity Campaign, which effectively became CCIR, was established as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that has more restrictive lobbying regulations. The creation of the New American Opportunity Campaign opened up new funding opportunities for CCIR since many donors prefer granting to 501(c) (3) organizations. 

 According to Atlantic Philanthropies, CCIR was a “a joint legislative advocacy and grassroots mobilization initiative begun in 2003 with the mission to enact rights-centered comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the United States. 

This coalition effort is guided by a core set of rights-based immigration principles and priorities.” Briefing other funders in 2005, Atlantic's Rittgers explained her program's strategy with regard to the role of immigrant-rights in immigration reform:
"What we’re trying is to take it to the next level, to play upon the investments that have been made to date, to bring all the key players together. To us, this mechanism of a coalition is the best bet."
Next in Border Lines' CIR Series: Immigrant Rights Movement Gets Organized

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