​​Beyond Borders: Reflections from the US-Mexico Border for Funders and Allies

What Funders Learned and Recommendations from HIP & GCIR 

By Andrea Villaseñor de la Vega, Director of Migration and Climate Mobility, and Ivy O. Suriyopas, Vice President of Programs, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees

Hispanics in Philanthropy and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) sent out an open call for funders from across the US and Mexico to join a learning trip to immerse themselves in the realities of the border communities of the Rio Grande Valley. This May 2024, 15 funders headed to McAllen, Texas, and Reynosa, Tamaulipas to bear witness to the impacts of unjust immigration policies and above all hear directly from the voices of those affected.

As we all returned home, we acknowledged that we carried powerful narratives of resistance. In our conversation and through internal debriefs right after the trip with the full group, many expressed a resolve to strengthen projects and to mobilize within their organizations for justice at the border. 

Lincoln Mondy, a program officer at the Andrus Family Fund, shared his immediate experiences with us in this podcast, and in our recently co-hosted webinar, ​​Beyond Borders: Reflections from the U.S.-Mexico Border for Funders and Allies, Carolline Kim (Levi Strauss Foundation), and Stephanie Acosta (El Paso Community Foundation) debriefed their perspectives and insights from the visit. 

Based on individual and group reflections, several key takeaways and potential next steps emerged.

Narrative Change and Combating Anti-Migrant Rhetoric

Multiple funders highlighted opportunities to invest in narrative change, storytelling, and efforts to combat anti-migrant rhetoric and solidify support for immigrant rights. It was clear that there is a need to shift narratives within the philanthropic sector itself.

Stephanie Acosta shared with us, “When we also shift the narrative, not only about the border but also shift the narrative in philanthropy from an emergency response to an effort that really needs to be a long-term investment with long-term impact, we will really begin to see our communities thrive. 

When we trust them with the work that they are already doing – incredibly important work for very vulnerable people - and understand that they are also putting themselves at risk in many situations, we will begin to see that shift too. 

The El Paso Community Foundation established a binational news collaborative called Puente. It’s focused on changing the narrative about the US-Mexico border. Alfredo Corchado, a former writer with the Dallas Morning News, is the executive editor. He’s  working with local journalists and  people from the border to tell those stories and make sure that our stories are reflected in local news.”

Capacity Building for Grassroots and Youth-Led Groups

The funders praised the work of grassroots and youth-led organizations, which often operate under intense surveillance with limited resources. Capacity building through donor organizing and access to funding is important. Highlighting intergenerational and youth leadership can attract more support.

Lincoln Mondy shared, "Riding in the van the first day with Ramona from ARISE, she shared her story about how she was looking for answers to problems that she saw in her community, and so she went to a neighborhood meeting. That's when she was in her early 20s, and now here she is decades later leading the work and still in the community. I think that was powerful because it's not surprising, that's the story of a lot of youth advocates, young people who grow up and say, 'I'm not going to leave these morals and principles behind. I'm going to have the optimism to hope, to dare to beat back against these systems.' That's what Ramona did, and she was so welcoming and so warm with her time her stories, and the space. 

“The best work I think is in community. In the neighborhood, in the colonias. It reminds me of the Black church and how that's always been a center of organizing because of proximity and usually there are a lot of Black families who live around Black churches so it just makes sense to organize in that space.”

Funder Collaboration and Information Sharing

Greater communication, collaboration, and sharing of funding opportunities and best practices can create a more comprehensive approach to supporting this work. Connecting the dots between different issues and communities is valuable.

Carolline contributed, “For funders and other people working in this space, it’s really important to be bold and innovative and really get creative with how you define your strategies. 

The Refugee Advocacy Lab gave me a fascinating statistic that they pulled from [a study] with Data for Progress that surveyed US citizens – over 70% of them are supportive of refugee resettlement and that percentage jumped up to 89% supportive of this program if they knew a refugee personally. That's where I think the narrative piece can play a huge part and set that foundation to change people's hearts and minds through not just the news, but also through video games and storytelling, and through the work of these organizations. Fund those groups and talk to those groups and work in collaboration with other funders to find and support those communities and organizations.”

Addressing Legal and Policy Challenges

Concern exists about the legal and policy hurdles these organizations face, such as potential lawsuits for providing transportation or services. Support in navigating this complex landscape is needed.

Andrea shared thoughts on the recent executive order, “It’s concerning that this order dismantles the right to seek asylum in the US. We have the recent experience of what Title 42 meant for people and organizations. This is challenging for philanthropy and for organizations because they’re on the frontlines, and it’s challenging for people on the move. It is important to see how we can try to have coordinated responses because we have the learnings from the recent policies. It’s important to highlight how we can continue supporting organizations, not just as a first response, but for all the work that organizations are doing for advocacy. There are a lot of opportunities to advocate to make sure this decision is less damaging for people and organizations.”

Prioritize Community Expertise & Power

There is an ecosystem of grassroots leaders and the communities they serve that hold power, influence, and expertise in the challenges that confront their communities. Prioritize their wisdom and role in making decisions.

Andrea shared, “It’s always inspiring and a learning to see how strong the coordination is among the organizations, including the transnational work and coordination across the border. For myself and all the participants in this visit, it was really important to identify the different kinds of organizations that are present in the territories and their different roles. And to understand the importance and value-add of all these organizations with their diversity and specialties and how they are all coordinating together.”

Ultimately, the border visit underscored both the immense challenges and the resilience of migrant communities and those serving them. As funders reflected on the way forward, they reaffirmed their commitment to learning, listening, and investing in the solutions that emerge from those closest to this human rights situation. 

Ivy reflected, "The duality of the incredible strength of RGV communities while also facing challenging living conditions in Colonias and a heavily surveilled region in general, underscored the importance for GCIR and HIP to create the opportunity for authentic voices to inform philanthropic strategies in the region. From the call to resource narrative work and power building to the importance of legal supports and humanitarian relief, the broad range of needs and opportunities were amplified in this visit."

We hope you’ll continue to join our work and explore more of the organizations we partnered with to participate in this visit. 

**Quotes and excerpts of conversations have been edited for clarity and grammar.