Nonprofits Respond to Surge of Children, Families Crossing Border

Nonprofit organizations in Arizona and Texas are scrambling to accommodate the influx of families and unaccompanied children who have been detained after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports.

With government agencies overwhelmed by the surge of new arrivals — most of them reportedly fleeing violence in Central America — and holding facilities already at full capacity, nonprofits are working to fill the service gaps, coordinating everything from shelter to legal aid. While unaccompanied minors are placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, to be released to a guardian in the U.S. or deported, a lack of existing infrastructure means that for now adults traveling with children mostly are being released on their own recognizance — often without food, money, access to showers, or means of communication.

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, an El Paso nonprofit that has provided hospitality services to immigrants for more than three decades, told the Chronicle that two planeloads of migrants a week — 135 adults and 135 children — have been arriving from south Texas and that the community's response has been "very generous." The families stay only as long as it takes to make contact with relatives in other parts of the country and to come up with the money to travel — typically a few days.

Foundations also are responding to the situation. Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees will host a webinar for funders on July 9 and is working with partners to provide a list of philanthropic opportunities for donors who are new to the issue. Tara Magner, a program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which committed more than $1 million in 2012 to the issue of unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S., told the Chronicle that while the problem is not new, current events are intensifying the situation. Elsewhere, the Ford Foundation is exploring additional funding opportunities and working to develop a coordinated response, said foundation spokesperson Joshua Cinelli. The foundation has invested in work related to the immigration issue for decades, including grants totaling $206,000 since 2010 to support nonprofits doing forensic work on border-crossing victims.

"The curve upward is [getting] steeper and steeper," said Magner. "There is a lot to learn for everyone. Even donors who have focused on immigration before may not have focused in on this particular population prior to the last months when the numbers really skyrocketed."

Megan O'Neil. "As Children Spill Over Border, Nonprofits Respond." Chronicle of Philanthropy 06/25/2014.