Silicon Valley Community Foundation Adjusts Giving to Protect California Immigrants


Immigrants at Citizen Day Workshop in San Jose, CA

At a citizenship day workshop in San Jose, Calif., in April, more than 1,400 immigrants sought help in their quest to become U.S. citizens. The workshop was organized by Services Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), a collaborative that SVCF supports through its immigration services grants. SVCF, along with other organizations, partnered with SIREN to make the workshop possible. Photo courtesy of Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Nine months into the Trump Administration, immigration remains one of the policy areas that most concerns many U.S. foundations. In the latest clampdown, the White House moved to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects about 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Last month, as part of a series about giving in the Trump era, I wrote about the MacArthur Foundation’s decision to boost its grantmaking to immigrant-rights groups in Chicago. This month, I spoke to Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF) in California, the nation’s biggest community foundation. (It awarded $1.3 billion in grants in 2016.)

"Immigration is the one area where we said, We need to hit the pause button here," says Erica Wood, chief community impact officer. "We need to consider the political climate."

I heard a similar story: SVCF has decided to take extraordinary measures to protect the region’s large foreign-born population. “Immigration is the one area where we said, We need to hit the pause button here,” says Erica Wood, chief community impact officer. “We need to consider the political climate.”

Erica WoodErica Wood, chief community impact officer at Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Immigration was a SVCF priority long before Trump made tough border controls a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. More than one in three residents of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are foreign-born and the foundation has awarded more than $14.2 million since 2009 to nonprofits that help them learn English and provide legal and citizenship services.

But Wood says the “harsh and divisive rhetoric” coming from the White House prompted the funder to create a new grantmaking program, one that helps organizations working to ensure the safety and security of immigrants. SVCF has learned in conversations with local partners that “Silicon Valley immigrants and their children are facing increased, open hostility,” says a news release announcing the grants in May. “In some cases, hostility has led to confrontations and violence.”

The money is coming from SVCF’s discretionary fund, which distributes about $8 million to $10 million annually, and will be awarded on a rolling basis under a simplified RFP process. (Find out more about the program, “Immigration: Ensuring the Safety and Security of Immigrants,” here.)

The grants will pay for “know your rights” campaigns and programs that address harassment and hate speech, help immigrants make child care and financial contingency plans in case they are detained, and tighten digital security to safeguard data that could make immigrants vulnerable if it were compromised or stolen.

Awards so far have included $50,000 to Faith in Action Bay Area, to support the Solidarity in Action project to train immigrants about their rights and provide resources for those who are detained; and $50,000 to Islamic Networks Group to support the Know Your Neighbor project to promote education, dialogue, and friendships across cultures and religions.

Silicon Valley Community Foundation has also taken these measures to help California’s immigrants:

  • Started the Opportunity for All Fund in November to raise money from the community to address the immediate needs of immigrants in Silicon Valley, particularly for information, resources, and high-quality legal services. It has raised about $242,000 of the $1 million goal.
  • Issued a statement with 19 other California philanthropic groups condemning the decision to end DACA. Signed by SVCF’s president and CEO, Emmett Carson, it cites the move’s “devastating impact” on almost 223,000 Californians, adding, “The administration’s decision pushes these young people out of the workforce, disrupts businesses, erodes our tax base, and undercuts our economic growth.”
  • Lobbied for the Due Process for All Act, California legislation that would provide funding for legal services for immigrants – excluding those with previous convictions for violent crime – who are facing removal proceedings.

Donor Concern for Civil Liberties

In addition to discretionary grantmaking, Silicon Valley Community Foundation holds billions of dollars in donor-advised funds, including money from some of the region’s tech moguls.

Wood says SVCF has noted one giving trend among donors in that category since Trump was elected: an uptick in gifts to civil liberties groups, specifically the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). From January to September this year, they totaled almost $5.6 million—compared with $469,175 during the same period last year, or a 1,089 percent jump. Giving to those groups this year is already 198 percent higher than in all of 2016 ($1,872,111).

The ACLU has filed a number of court challenges against Trump administration moves to restrict immigration, including an executive order banning foreign nationals from six Muslim-majority countries. The ADL is fighting an upsurge in anti-Semitic and white supremacy activities.

In October, the heads of those organizations, Anthony Romero of ACLU and Jonathan Greenblatt of ADL, will speak at SVCF’s regional meeting in Santa Clara. The topic: “Protecting and Upholding the Rights of All People.”