Giving in the Trump Era


MacArthur Foundation: Long View on "Big Bets," Moves to Help Immigrants

Chicago Immigration March, March 3, 2006

The Southwest Organizing Project is among 13 Chicago groups that received $1.2 million in grants from the MacArthur Foundation to advise immigrants and refugees in the wake of several restrictive executive orders signed by President Trump. Photo by SWOP (Chicago).

Immigrants and refugees are among those feeling the most pain from policies enacted by the Trump Administration since January. A series of executive orders has imposed dramatic new restrictions on those groups, prompting many to turn to nonprofits for help.

Watching the fallout in its home town of Chicago, the MacArthur Foundation this month awarded $1.2 million in grants to 13 local immigrant-rights and legal-aid organizations.

“The orders left many in Chicago’s immigrant, refugee, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities feeling fearful and apprehensive,” writes Tara Magner, director of Chicago Commitment at MacArthur. “Chicago residents and organizations immediately responded, and MacArthur offered financial assistance to help those groups meet the extraordinary demand.”

Tara Magner
Tara Magner

Tracks to Success is checking in with funders to see if they are shifting their grant-making priorities to adapt to President Trump’s sometimes radical departures from Obama-era policies. I thought of the MacArthur Foundation because I wondered if people there were dejected about what they must see as federal backsliding on some key priorities.

Take climate change, for example. As part of its new “big bets” strategy under President Julia Stasch, MacArthur started a Climate Solutions program in 2015, with a goal of limiting global warming by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It has committed more than $120 million to the effort since then.

But the United States in June announced it plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, an international plan for accomplishing that goal. In a statement issued that day, president Julia Stasch said MacArthur deeply regretted the move, calling it a “globally isolating decision that also rejects broad support by American voters and American businesses for the United States to lead on climate solutions.”  

Another “big bet,” Criminal Justice, seeks to “reduce incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.” But Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a tough-on-crime approach, for example demanding that prosecutors seek charges that could result in mandatory minimum sentences.

When I asked about the “Trump effect” in such areas, MacArthur said it was taking a long view.  “Our grantmaking is characterized by big bets—long-term investments in areas of profound concern—that do not shift because of a single election in a single country,” president Julia Stasch said in an email. She added that its strategies require a sophisticated understanding of political and policy trends at global, national, and local levels and are “ sufficiently flexible to evolve and pivot over time.”

Andrew Solomon, managing director of communications, notes that much of MacArthur’s grantmaking for climate and criminal justice involves agencies other than the federal government.

Our grantmaking is characterized by big betslong-term investments in areas of profound concernthat do not shift because of a single election in a single country. 

In her statement on the Paris accord, Stosch said MacArthur remained optimistic that work to control carbon emissions would continue because of “growing leadership by cities, states, and corporations.” She said MacArthur would also support efforts by China and India to play a leadership role.

The Criminal Justice program, through its Safety and Justice Challenge, also has a strong focus on local activity. For example, it is funding jurisdictions across the country in a competition to design programs to create fairer, more effective local justice systems. “The work of these sites will raise the profile of the problem of overuse of jails and demonstrate alternatives to incarceration as usual.”

However, in some areas, MacArthur has decided it’s not business as usual. It’s  important to keep some “dry powder for use when core values are at stake,” according to Stasch. And that’s where the money for immigrant-rights organizations comes in.

Magner says an executive order that makes it easier for federal authorities to deport noncitizens has had a “dramatic effect” in Chicago. “Immigrants have kept children home from school and curtailed their day-to-day activities out of fear of an immigration raid,” she writes. In Little Village, which hosts a large Latino population, merchants and restaurant owners on the 26th Street corridor reported a 40 percent drop in sales in the weeks after the order was released.

Julia Stasch
Julia Stasch

Other executive orders temporarily ban foreign nationals from six majority-Muslim countries, slash resettlement of refugees in the U.S., and seek to punish jurisdictions that adopt “sanctuary city” policies limiting local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

MacArthur’s new grants—ranging from $25,000 to $500,000—will help nonprofits respond to those threats by offering legal services and organizing outreach, education, and training sessions on immigration policy.

The recipients are: Arab American Action Network, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, Chicago Cultural Alliance, Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, Hana Center, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Illinois Immigration Funders Collaborative, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, Latinos Progresando, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Raise the Floor Alliance, The Roger Baldwin Foundation of the ACLU of Illinois, and Southwest Organizing Project.

“MacArthur commends the work of residents and organizations to keep Chicago a welcoming and safe community,” Magner says, “one in which communities of different ethnicities, races, faiths, and national origins stand together.”