Connecticut's Philanthropic Organizations Aid In Educating Immigrants


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Bill Sarno/
The federal government may be growing less charitable toward undocumented immigrants, but this has not deterred philanthropic organizations from committing resources to support families and individuals whose status in this country has become increasingly precarious.
In Connecticut, well-established grant-providing institutions such as the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven are helping fund organizations that educate immigrants about their rights, support stronger protections from detention, deportation, abuse and even exploitation by notary publics and others who cannot legally address their needs.
The topic of undocumented immigration has become a hot button issue since the last presidential campaign, with Hispanic arrivals especially targeted. However, the Hartford Foundation does not consider its current efforts to help immigrants controversial in this context.
“We have been doing this for 90 years for all communities,” said Judy Rozie-Battle, the Hartford Foundation’s senior vice president for community investments. “This is something we have done in the past and something we will do in the future,” she said.
Launched in 1925, the Hartford Foundation is the nation’s 20th largest community foundation and at the end of 2015 had more than $888 million in assets. Since 1985 HFPG has awarded $3.4 million through 90 grants to nonprofits that support immigrants and refugees. Last year, $341,000 in grants were allocated to immigrant-related programs that address critical health, human rights, employment and legal services.
The Hartford Foundation and other philanthropic entities, either individually and as part of a statewide collaborative effort launched in 2015, work through local nonprofit agencies and public entities such as the cities of New Haven and Hamden. Each foundation primarily provides grants to service providers and advocacy organizations within their primary service areas.
The Hartford Foundation, which covers a 29 town area in central Connecticut, recently awarded a $50,000 grant to the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford. “We are pleased with the opportunity the foundation provided for us to leverage resources,” said Yanil Teron, the Park Street-based center’s executive director.
The HFPG grant has enabled the center to hire a part-time staff member, Camille Giraldo-Kritzman who visits libraries, churches and schools throughout the region to talk with families and staff about immigrant rights. “They don’t think they have rights, but they do,” Teron said.
These “know your rights” workshops may include role-playing and distribution of information cards so that immigrants gain confidence in dealing with authorities, Teron said. “Sometimes she goes out with legal specialists, who are acting pro bono,” the center director noted.
Many of the grants which the Hartford Foundation and other philanthropic organizations provide are focused on broader concerns such as education and nonprofit capacity building activities but the financial support they provide often dovetail with immigrant-oriented initiatives.
“There is an immigrant component in all sectors of our work,” said Yvelle Bello, who handles much of HFPG grant making connected to immigration. In this regard she cited literacy and English as a Second Language programs.
The Hartford Foundations considers “the unique needs of immigrants” in strategic investment areas such as education and the institution’s Career Pathways Initiative, explained Chris Senecal, senior communications and marketing officer.
For the philanthropic organizations, a major thrust of recent grants has been awareness and enrollment in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which so far is shielding from detention and deportation about 1.5 million Latinos, including more than 8,000 in Connecticut.
There also is an emphasis on helping nonprofit agencies and local institutions obtain Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accreditation so they can help immigrants with some legal services, such as filing out forms and green card applications.
These efforts received a major boost in 2015 when the Open Society Foundation, an international private charity led by billionaire George Soros, offered matching grants to foundations and funding collaboration groups who would work on the local level to expeditiously increase the number of eligible immigrants applying for deferred action under President Obama’s executive orders extending DACA and creating a Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).
In Connecticut, this opportunity to bring “new money” into the state and to “learn from one another,” prompted seven grant-giving institutions to create the Immigration Strategic Funders Collaborative of Connecticut, said Ingrid Alvarez, state director of the Hispanic Federation, a member of this group. Other participants are the Hartford and New Haven community foundations, the Progresso Latino Fund, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, the Hispanic Foundation, the Perrin Family Foundation and the Tariq Farid Foundation.
“Then, (2015) there was a different environment,” Rozie-Battle said.
The DACA extension and DAPA never happened because of a Texas court order and the disapproval of the new Trump Administration. However, the Collaborative remains viable focusing on participation in DACA, which so far has survived presidential policies hostile to immigrants, and building awareness of immigrant rights.
The Collaborative’s stated mission also includes supporting programs to increase access for undocumented immigrants to legal services, strengthening advocacy efforts at the local and state levels in support of public policy and public funding that would address the needs of undocumented immigrants and enhancing the capacity of immigrant serving and advocacy nonprofit organizations through funding and through supporting the sharing of knowledge and best practices.
The local and statewide agencies that work with the Collaborative include Apostle Immigration Services (New Haven), the cities of New Haven and Hamden, Center for Latino Progress, Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (New Haven and Bridgeport), Elm City Internationals (New Haven), Hartford Public Library, Junta for Progressive Action (New Haven), Neighbors Link Stamford, New Haven Legal Assistance Association, Unidad Latina en Acción (New Haven), and Yale Law School Worker and Immigrant Rights Clinic. The statewide agencies are Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA), Connecticut Parent Power, Connecticut Students for a Dream and International Institute of Connecticut (Statewide)
Each philanthropic organization primarily invests within its service region. For example, the New Haven foundation supports Connecticut Students for a Dream, which is based within its area. On the other hand, the Hispanic Federation is ‘heavily involved across the state,” including “five fantastic agencies” in Hartford and has helped the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury provide accredited legal services to immigrants.
Last year, the Hartford Foundation awarded over $100,000 to four nonprofit organizations that have met the Board of Immigration Accreditation requirements in its region. They are Catholic Charities, the Hartford Public Library, the International Institute of Connecticut, and the Center for Latino Progress.
“These organizations are known by local residents as trusted and reliable sources of information,” Senecal said.
One of the recent developments that Rozie-Battle said the foundations find especially exciting is that the International Institute in Bridgeport has been the first organization in the state accredited to offer the full 40-hour BIA training program. “This is a big win for us in Connecticut,” she said. “We no longer have the cost of sending staff to Pennsylvania and other states.”
Teron said the Hartford Federation grant also will be used for the Center for Latino Progress to send a staff member for BIA certification at the International Institute. Teron recalled that when she and another Center employee received this training they had to travel to Texas, Maryland and New Hampshire for courses.
There still is a cost for this training, Teron said, but “it is important to do it.”
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving will hold a donor education session on Thursday, April 20 entitled “A Philanthropic Approach to Immigration and Naturalization” which will spotlight how philanthropy is making a difference in Hartford and around the state. The program will take place at the foundation’s offices at 10 Columbus Boulevard, 2nd floor, in Hartford from 7:30 to 9 a.m. with the first hour devoted to breakfast and networking. To attend, visit and enter code: EDU1, or contact Rachel Salyers at 860-548-1888 or