Letter from the Executive Director
Since we are a foundation that focuses on migration, over the past several months we have been giving careful thought to how to assess and respond to the global refugee crisis. In this issue of our newsletter, we share with you "Reflections on the Global Refugee Crisis: Bridging Divides, Sharing a Commitment to All Humanity." On this subject, we also share a conversation with Becca Heller, co-founder and Executive Director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, in which she explains why “refugee law is immigration law.”
One of the strategies that is essential to successful immigration, refugee, and asylum policies is the integration of newcomers into receiving communities. Central to integration is learning the language of the receiving community. Below, we share with you a conversation among Diana Sutton of the Bell Foundation, Kevan Collins of the Education Endowment Foundation, and Unbound about our co-funding of research and pilot projects that seek to raise the attainment of poor pupils in the UK placed in the category of “English as an Additional Language.”
In the US, Tom K. Wong, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, shares his insights about why, three years after its implementation, DACA is an integration success story (and why, at the same time, more work is needed).
As many of you know, we are in the midst of exploring popular culture and its existing, and potential, role in the portrayal and positioning of migrants and people of color. Jeff Yang argues that we are entering a new era of television programming that reflects the true demographic reality of the US (much to the chagrin of “piqued TV insiders”) in his article for us “Changing Channels: ‘Peak TV’ as an Expression of Establishment Privilege.”
As always, thank you for reading, and for your partnership.
Unbound Philanthropy’s broad aspiration is to welcome all newcomers and to strengthen communities. We work to ensure that migrants, refugees, and all people are treated with respect and can live with dignity, regardless of where they were born, their race or religion, their gender or sexual orientation, or their socioeconomic status.
Since we are a foundation that focuses on migration, over the past several months we have been giving careful thought to how to assess and respond to the global refugee crisis. By necessity, we concentrate on particular parts of the migration picture where our specific background and expertise are most likely to help improve the lives of newcomers. In the US, for example, we work to promote the most secure status possible for undocumented immigrants with deep roots in the country. In the UK, we focus on implementing existing pathways to legal status and citizenship for asylum seekers and undocumented youth. In both countries, we support efforts of newcomers and receiving communities to know, understand, and accept one another.
As countries in the West are forced to confront refugee crises and terrorist threats that people in other regions have endured for decades, we stand by our values. We remain committed to nondiscrimination and the dignity of all people, in a world where everyone can realize their potential.
We have been speaking with funding colleagues, grantees, and other experts to hear their response to the crisis as we work to articulate our best contribution. Here is what we’re hearing about the challenges that confront us all and how our grantees and other organizations are responding, followed by our reflections and next steps.
The global context
2015 has brought immigration, asylum, and refugee resettlement front and center in the minds of the public and policymakers, with large numbers of refugees moving across borders from different countries, intense media concentration on the European refugee crisis, and the attention that the crisis has received from US presidential candidates.
More than 874,000 migrants and asylum seekers have traveled by sea to European shores in 2015. Of those, over 700,000 people (more than the entire population of Seattle, WA) have claimed asylum in the region. More than four out of five of those migrating to Europe are from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, and Iraq—countries that are suffering from conflict, violence, or repressive governments. On the American continent, 68,000 children arrived alone in the US in 2014—many of them fleeing violence in Central America—a tenfold increase since 2009.
Experts remind us that the global refugee crisis has been building for years, with countries adjoining conflict regions, such as Jordan, Pakistan, and Kenya, bearing the overwhelming burdens. Today, more than one in five people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Lebanon has a geographic size smaller than the state of Connecticut, but has taken in 1.1 million refugees. The increased attention to the refugee crisis is new, though, because of the recent collision of the crisis with the everyday lives of Westerners.
The situations that cause refugees to flee their homes are extremely complex. Resolving them can take decades, or longer. Until solutions can be found, it is critical to enhance—not undermine—protection for refugees, and their integration into receiving communities. This has always been true. People don’t lose their human rights when forced to flee their country.
Refugee protection and integration are even more essential at a time of widespread insecurity. Sowing fear of refugees, and making it harder for refugees to embrace their rights and the opportunities that our communities provide, are exactly the kinds of responses terrorist groups seek. While receiving country governments need to continue their already robust security checks to keep militant extremists from arriving as refugees, they simultaneously can and must live up to their responsibilities to protect and integrate people who are fleeing violence and terror in their home countries.
Advocates and funders respond to the crisis
For varied reasons, many organizations working on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees operate separately from organizations working on behalf of immigrants. In recent conversations with leaders in these different fields, however, we are hearing a compelling case for bridging the divisions. The laws and policies for “immigrants,” “refugees,” “asylum seekers,” and “asylees” are interrelated and part of the same broad system. Moreover, when it comes to the human faces of the people to whom we attach these terms (often members of the same family), the distinctions wash away.
In the US, for example, the United We Dream Network is advocating consistently on all their social media channels for generous resettlement of Syrian and Central American refugees. Welcoming America has launched the This is Who We Are campaign, encouraging and sharing statements and actions from receiving communities in support of Syrian refugees. The Center for American Progress is collaborating with the Women’s Refugee Commission, Kids in Need of Defense, and America’s Voice to coordinate communications with the media, and to connect immigrant rights advocates with refugee rights advocates. Many state and local immigrant rights groups are contacting their policymakers, urging support for the continued resettlement of refugees from the Middle East, and for alternatives to detention and due process for Central Americans seeking asylum in the US.
Speaking at the November 17 meeting of the Four Freedoms Fund (FFF), Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of National Immigration Law Center, told us “We can no longer afford to continue working in silos, with some of us focusing on immigrants’ rights and others focusing on refugees and asylees. The public does not make that distinction, and neither should we. Whether we migrated for economic reasons or fled violence, we have to work together to challenge the conflation of terrorists with refugees and immigrants…Now more than ever, we need to be united in building a strong and inclusive movement of new Americans.”
In the UK, Citizens UK, a leading multi-sector organizing group, is walking door to door to organize support for Syrian refugees and is forging refugee-support collaborations with UK human rights and human services organizations. Their Refugee Welcome campaign generated a million-strong petition to Downing Street that helped lead to a reversal of position by the government, which agreed to accept a (still modest) quota of 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.
Funders’ groups are working to increase understanding of refugees and to urge members to respond. FFF, a funder collaborative seeking to secure the full integration of immigrants in the US democracy, is encouraging its grantees to take an active role in responding to the refugee crisis. FFF is also working with their donors to assess rapid response needs in the field, and to align FFF-supported work with donors’ direct grant making.
There has also been an active response from funder affinity groups such as Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees in the US, the Association of Charitable Foundations in the UK, and Ariadne in the EU, which have held highly-attended webinars and telebriefings on how funders can respond to the crisis.
Artists are illuminating the human costs of the refugee crisis and of harsh government responses. Culture Strike has collaborated with Mariposas Sin Fronteras, End Family Detention, and 15 artists to create Visions from the Inside, a visual art project inspired by letters written by women and children from Central America who are seeking protection as refugees within the US (as seen above). The “inside” of the title is the jail-like detention centers where women and children are held for weeks or months awaiting resolution of their asylum claims. Counterpoints Arts in the UK has teamed up with photographer Jillian Edelstein on a remarkable photo-journal that goes beyond the media’s one-dimensional lens to show refugees in their resilience and joy, as well as their fear and desperation.
How Unbound Philanthropy is responding
As a modest-sized foundation, Unbound Philanthropy fills a particular role. We bring our specific expertise to intensive and long-term work with a focused set of grantees to change hearts, minds, and policy on migration and human rights in the US and UK. So while we join with other funders in responding rapidly to the immediate crisis, our most valuable contribution will be intensifying what we do best: infrastructure building, exchange of ideas and knowledge, and fostering a steady shift of political will that can only be built relationship by relationship and "brick by brick" over years.
In both the US and UK, we will continue to work on building public understanding about migrants and refugees, integration of migrants and refugees into receiving communities, and legal rights and protections. As a learning foundation, our priorities will continue to evolve, but these will be our focus areas through 2018, the time horizon of our current Strategic Plan.
And, while they may not all have “refugee” in the name, our ongoing programs will continue to support refugee protection and inclusion. In the UK, we have been investing in building the communications capacity of the migrant and refugee field for several years. Even before the current crisis, we began supporting several high-profile moderate Muslim leaders to develop the communications tools, messages, and collaborations that help ensure that their voices are heard prominently when crises occur. We also fund City of Sanctuary, which is a network of neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the UK that is mobilizing supporters for new laws that provide more and better ways for people fleeing violence and terror to come to the UK safely and lawfully.
The fruits of this work have been both notable and noticed. For example, #WalkTogether, a collaborative campaign to memorialize the 10th anniversary of the July 2005 terrorist bombings in London, brought residents together in gatherings across the city. It generated stories in prominent media outlets in the UK and abroad, as well as thousands of messages that trended on Twitter.
In the US, grantees have worked for years to dispel dangerous myths about newcomers that keep communities divided. Grantees are responding robustly to the misguided notion that refugees arriving in the US are dangerous people, and are helping to push back against anti-Muslim sentiment through intensified “hearts and minds” work. These efforts are all the more important now that there has been a growing backlash to accepting Syrian refugees into the US.
Unbound continues to forge partnerships that help us connect foundations that support the voices of refugees with other interested funders. Collaboration is core to how we work; we see even greater opportunity now to partner with funders who have focused on increasing understanding of Muslim communities in the US and UK. We hope that this work will, among other things, promote greater leadership development opportunities for Muslim refugees and all refugees, so that they can define their own stories, as the DREAMers movement has so successfully done.
Leveraging our leadership role among immigrant rights funders, we also will support deepening of relationships between refugee and immigrant leaders, and the expansion of the immigrant rights movement’s agenda to include refugees and asylum seekers.
While our vision is long term, we know that when working with immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers everything can change in an instant. This makes our work challenging. But it also means that we should be as forward-looking and optimistic as possible. While we navigate this highly complex time ahead, we will continue to listen and share ideas with all of you, our valued partners in this work. And we will keep our sights set on the incredible outpouring of support that unites us all and reaffirms our collective humanity. We see strength and justice on our side.
Thank you to several experts who spoke with us for this article: Michelle Brané, Director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission; Ben Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association; Doris Meissner, Senior Fellow and Director, US Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute; Kathleen Sullivan, an independent consultant to foundations and nonprofits; and Wendy Young, President of Kids in Need of Defense.
Conversation with Becca Heller, co-founder and Executive Director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, September 15, 2015
Taryn Higashi (TH): When and why did you found IRAP?
Becca Heller (BH): I founded it as a law student at Yale in August 2008 with John Finer. There were eventually five students who came together, motivated by different things. One was a reporter at the Washington Post in Fallujah. Another was a veteran from Afghanistan, trying to get people out. I had been doing an internship in Israel between my first and second years of law school. I kept hearing about Iraqi refugees over the border in Jordan, and felt as a US citizen I had an obligation to understand the situation they were in. Somehow despite reading a fair amount of news every day, it had escaped me that there was a major Iraqi refugee crisis. At this point, we’re five years out of the US invasion of Iraq.
I went to Jordan and met with six families over a week. I was really surprised—each one independently identified their biggest issue as a legal [one]. For all of them, the way out was being recognized as refugees by the UN and ideally referred for settlement. But the processes were unbelievably complicated and bureaucratic and no one understood what was happening to them and why. Everyone thought they were on a wait list and if they waited long enough they’d get a call from someone who would say, your number is up and you can get on a plan. I finagled a meeting with the US Embassy and asked them questions about refugee processing, including how long is the “wait list.” Their response was, “what waitlist?” I realized that when you’re down at the bottom of a really deep, dark hole, you have to believe there is some kind of light at the top. I think the refugee community itself invented [the concept of a wait list] to get out of bed in the morning. That really struck me. This motivated me to go back. At the very least, if you have accurate information about what’s happening with your case and how long you can expect to wait, you can make a plan. If you think you’re getting on a plane in a day, you might do things like sell possessions that you need or not get work or not seek healthcare.
TH: Fast forward to today, how are things different?
BH: I don’t think they are that different. At the time, it was mostly Iraqis who were in the Middle East. The biggest difference is the rise of ISIS and the conflict in Syria. The numbers are much, much larger. In 2008 it looked like Iraq might calm down. That was two years before we pulled the troops out and felt things were fairly stable. Syria was also host to the largest number of refugees in the region. It contributed to some stability in the region. Syria took in something like a million Iraqis. Now, you have tons of Syrians fleeing Syria. You have Palestinians and Iraqis who had fled to Syria fleeing Syria. And you have countries that don’t have the absorption capacity that Syria did being forced to take everyone. It’s the volume that’s different.
TH: Why, in this moment, are refugees gaining more exposure in the media than they had in the past?
BH: Because everyone is showing up in Europe. You can’t ignore the problem when it’s literally showing up on your doorstep. Refugee intake is immigration law, but it’s also foreign policy. When you’re a Western country and you agree to take in refugees, it’s a political statement. Everyone was so excited by the Arab Spring. The excitement and the hopes Assad would fall I think prevented countries from taking in large numbers of Syrian refugees because it would have been an admission that Assad wouldn’t fall anytime soon. Resettlement is only used when refugees won’t ever be able to go home. It’s only now that people are taking in really large numbers because I think the problem is starting to wash up on their shores.
The Central American minors issue is not so different. There’s been incredible gang violence in Central America for a long time and they’ve been targeting children. The issue coming to the US border forced the US government to do something about it.
TH: How has your vision changed about what’s possible since founding IRAP?
BH: At the very beginning I just wanted to help people. The goal was to provide assistance. The longer I worked on it, I realized there were serious problems with the way refugees are processed. I went to law school intending to be an immigration lawyer and I realized that refugee law was an area that no one was practicing. I also realized there was a great need for systemic reform. On a personal level I’m obsessed with efficiency. When we started we said: which organizations are already working on this so we can call them and volunteer, since it’s super inefficient to create a new organization. After a year of looking around we realized nobody was. Not just for Iraqis, but there were not [any] organizations saying the resettlement process is a legal process—you should have a lawyer assisting you because your life literally depends on it.
The following summer, I got a call from the head of UNHCR of North America asking if IRAP could help with some cases. I was both excited and flattered, and dismayed that I was who they were calling! (A 27-year old law student who can’t legally practice law yet). It motivated me to go beyond helping a handful of people to try to build a legal aid movement for refugee law, systemic advocacy, and reform.
TH: What do you see as the direct and indirect impacts of the refugee crisis on the US?
BH: There’s relevant context to understand. The US takes more resettled refugees than any other country in the world combined. We fund about one-third of UNHCR’s budget. Refugee protection and resettlement globally is a US issue to some extent, because of the influence we yield over all parts of the process. Simultaneously, the US has taken one of the more active roles on the ground in the Middle East. It’s hard to dispute that the power vacuum in Iraq was not directly correlated to US foreign policy, and that contributed to the rise of ISIS.
We have some responsibility for helping to alleviate the refugee crisis—both as a leader on the humanitarian side to light the way, and to take responsibility for the humanitarian fall out of our foreign policy. If we’re serious about wanting partners in the Middle East we can’t just send in the military. The US has dropped more bombs on Syria than we have admitted Syrian refugees, which is not a good way to build relationships or alliances. Both European and Middle Eastern countries are paying close attention to how the US responds to the crisis.
TH: What are the most strategic ways that funders and individuals can help with the crisis?
BH: Funders can assist first with what’s going on in the field, and second, in advocacy with the US government to play a larger and better role in alleviating the crisis. I’ve been trying to get across the notion that you don’t get on a boat if you have another option. The option that is supposed to exist is for people to flee to countries of asylum first and register with the UN, be screened for vulnerabilities, and be referred for appropriate services. That may include resettlement, medical care, [and] if you are a survivor of trafficking or LGBTI it may include additional protection. In reality, the UN is so overwhelmed that even the first step of the screening is not occurring in the majority of cases. There’s an enormous role for NGOs to play in supplementing the role of the UN in the identification and referral process.
Another recommendation I have for funders is supporting NGOs to screen and refer cases either to UNHCR or to destination countries for resettlement. The UN put out a report yesterday that they have 100,000 Syrian refugee slots to fill, but at current staffing levels they can only refer people to half the slots. Without someone to identify those cases, the slots will go unfilled. There’s a big role for NGOs to play there.
TH: What have you learned?
BH: Don’t give up. IRAP has worked on thousands of cases. We build our advocacy on what we’ve learned in individual cases. When we meet people at a high level, if we say, x is a problem, they’ll ask for examples. It’s really helpful to be able to say here are 45 examples. It also has a nice ripple effect of bringing to their attention the specific cases.
Other lessons are not being partisan and building nontraditional coalitions. We’ve done work on organizing Middle East veterans on refugee issues and trying to play well with others. Realizing that we’re all in this together, no one is acting in bad faith.
TH: Can you say a little more about how the refugee resettlement system fits within the overall immigration process?
BH: If IRAP has a thesis, it’s that refugee law is immigration law. It is governed by the immigration and nationality act; the agencies and individuals responsible are the same. And refugees need lawyers the same way someone needs a lawyer if they are in a deportation proceeding. It’s one of the highest stakes immigration processes you can be in. For refugees, the beneficiary happens to be outside of the US, trying to get in.
TH: What is your wishlist for an audience of funders? Now that you’ve been working for several years, what do you think is possible?
BH: We recently had a staff retreat and we talked about our five-year goals. We all said, “Help more people!” That still remains a primary goal. A medium-term vision for the Middle East and a slightly longer vision for the world: I talked about how funders should be supporting NGOs to supplement their capacity to support UNHCR. My specific vision for IRAP is that we engage in capacity building and training campaigns for grassroots NGOs with deep ties in vulnerable communities. Then we prepare the legal submissions for those cases, because your paper trail goes everywhere. If you register with UNHCR and a mistake goes into your file, you will be rejected for resettlement. There’s a huge role for organizing, bundling, and presenting those referrals. Our field staff can help with IDs for the cases. From a resource perspective, that would involve additional field staff. It would be helpful to have someone who could do advocacy with UNHCR to smooth the way for the referrals model. In the long-term, my hope is that legal aid for refugees becomes a widespread area for pro bono practice. When we recruit lawyers, we say, “you could save a life from your desk.”
TH: Anything else you'd like to share?
BH: I think a lot of people look at the refugee crisis and see it as overwhelming, not our problem. I think the “not our problem piece” is slowly being solved. The main thing I want people to understand is that it’s large and complex, but not hopeless. There are concrete, specific things that the international community can do and that funders can support.
Becca Heller is the director and co-founder of IRAP and a visiting clinical lecturer in law at Yale Law School. She has received numerous awards in recognition of her work with IRAP. IRAP has recently been selected to partner with UNHCR to build their capacity for refugee resettlement in the Middle East over the coming year.
Note that the International Refugee Assistance Project has been a grantee of Unbound Philanthropy, as part of the Executive Director Discretionary Fund, and that Taryn Higashi has recently joined its Board of Directors.
Unbound Philanthropy spoke on October 28, 2015 with Diana Sutton, Executive Director of the Bell Foundation, and Kevan Collins, Executive Director of the Education Endowment Foundation, to talk about our co-funding of research and pilot projects that seek to raise the attainment of poor pupils in the UK labeled as “English as an Additional Language” (EAL).
Taryn Higashi (TH): Could you share some background about your interest in funding EAL?
Diana Sutton (DS): The Bell Foundation began in 2012, with a long history prior to that of working on language education and teaching training. We wanted to develop a new charitable program in the UK with a focus on language education and social disadvantage. We are also using some of the technical expertise in Bell, the company we own, that teaches English as a foreign language, for training teachers and supporting those for whom English is an additional language who are disadvantaged. There is a situation of rising numbers and there is expertise and funding disappearing in the sector.
Kevan Collins (KC): We think the application of good research brings wisdom to this issue. We want to support children from wherever they come from, breaking that cycle that says the more education you have, the less disadvantaged you are. Additionally, my background as a teacher was spent in East London and West Yorkshire, where the majority of children speak English as an additional language.
TH: What are the short-term and long-term goals that you’re hoping to achieve with the pilot projects?
KC: The work to date has already achieved some outcomes. Our review of literature revealed key aspects of knowledge that the system hadn’t been fully aware of. Particularly under the headline of general performance, there are groups of children who aren’t making the progress we hoped. Exposing and bringing that issue to the fore is already an outcome.
The second outcome is in making a call for programs that we can evaluate, bringing people together and having those conversations has helped to codify and structure what researchers are doing. We’ll have some increased confidence on what works and what doesn’t when serving these children. We can then go to scale and disseminate and share more widely. We’re equipping teachers in schools to use what works.
DS: Our research has actually begun to change the dialogue around this issue. There were inaccurate perceptions that either EAL learners are a huge problem for schools, or the other extreme, that they’re not a problem at all and are outperforming other groups. The three organisations are shining a spotlight on where underachievement for EAL learners actually is. It’s been helpful in beginning to get engagement from decision makers, and having a more informed, accurate debate with public data.
TH: Is there a model that you have in mind for scaling up successful projects?
KC: There’s knowledge about effective practices of serving these children. Our approach is to spread the knowledge as widely as possible, particularly by encouraging and using local networks for dissemination. But also to be ready to build the capacity of organizations that have demonstrated they’ve got very powerful approaches. We’re thoughtful about how to move knowledge around. Generating evidence is one thing, mobilizing it is quite another, and it needs more attention in many ways.
DS: Capacity building is one of the objectives our program. There’s very little capacity in this sector because of funding cuts. Now, there are pockets of expertise around the country, and a limited evidence base of what works. We’re thinking about this as regional centers of expertise. It’s also a challenge because the education system in general has undergone a lot of evolution. The other thing about working with EEF that is so positive is they have the “what works” network, which disseminates best practices around schools. We each bring different set of strengths and expertise to the partnership.
TH: Any reflections on the partnership?
KC: The expertise from Bell and Unbound has really complemented what we can offer. All too often we have pockets of great stuff but we don’t align it.
DS: You can triple the amount of resources each funder is putting in and you really can have an impact much greater than you can do on your own.
TH: Is there anything in addition that helps make the partnership work? Is it the complementary expertise? Leveraging resources? Equal partnership? What actually powers the work forward?
KC: It’s adopting a mindset where you allow trust to govern what you’re going to do rather than endless bureaucracy. If you can make the leap based on trust, you can really move on much more quickly.
DS: I agree. We feel appropriately involved in the right stages of the process. Everyone is committed to achieving the same outcome with a can-do approach.
TH: What is your wishlist for philanthropic investments in this area of EAL or this population of children beyond EAL?
KC: I want to encourage organizations that allocate funding to constantly inform spending in a reliable way with evidence and data to start with. Additionally, when we find [approaches] that work, we can encourage others to make them widely available.
DS: We want to move to a society where having an additional language is considered an asset and where every child can be the best that they can be. It means that we move from artificial headlines to evidence-based policy. As a challenge to us as funders, we think: is there any group that we’ve missed? Are their hidden groups that we want to pay attention to? There will be additional challenges around this work.
TH: How do you think the current refugee crisis will impact this work?
DS: One of the issues will be what tools from this project and other work can help schools deal coherently with new arrivals. It’s disappointing that the UK is taking so few refugees. I know from my international work at SAVE the Children that the reason children travel is because of war and natural disasters. Although some adults may be seeking a better life, most often for children it is because they’re fleeing persecution. The project can potentially uncover interventions that will be helpful for schools. Our jointly commissioned research shows that new arrivals do particularly badly, in terms of the data. This work has the potential to have a real impact.
Note: For further reading about funder collaborations, check out this recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review: "Five Guidelines for Successful Funder Collaborations," by Will Seldon.
On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA provides temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to undocumented youth who meet certain criteria. An estimated 2 million people are potentially eligible for the program: an estimated 1.2 million are immediately eligible; an estimated 400,000 will be eligible after they turn fifteen; and an estimated 400,000 are eligible but for the education requirement. Nearly 800,000 initial DACA applications have been submitted to date and nearly 700,000 have already been approved. Put otherwise, approximately 60 percent of the estimated immediately eligible population is “DACAmented.”
On balance, existing research shows that DACA is an integration success story. At the same time, more work is needed. Not all who are eligible have applied, and not all who have DACA are benefitting from it equally. Moreover, as Texas v. United States continues to stand in the way of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program and the expansion of the original DACA program, it is important to ask whether the future of the immigration policy debate should center on executive actions that confer temporary legal status, or whether it is time to launch a new push for permanent legislative solutions?
A growing body of research demonstrates how the transition from undocumented to legal immigration status can improve the lives of individuals across a menu of different immigrant integration outcomes. Indeed, the success of the DACA program can serve as a strong argument for broader comprehensive immigration reform. For example, recent research that I conducted with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) showed that a full 96 percent of the DACA recipients we surveyed were currently employed or in school. Among those in school, 92 percent reported that they were “[pursuing] educational opportunities [they] previously could not.” With respect to employment, 69 percent reported getting a job with better pay, 57 percent reported getting a job that better fit their education and training, and 54 percent reported getting a job with improved work conditions. Moreover, our survey showed that average hourly wages increased by 45 percent post-DACA, moving from $11.92 an hour to $17.29. Our survey also has something to say in response to Texas v. United States. Specifically, every car purchased by an individual after receiving DACA contributed an average of $647 in sales tax revenue to the state of Texas. Whereas Texas claimed harm from DAPA because of the costs of issuing driver’s licenses to deferred action recipients, Texas did not take into account any of the new tax revenue that would accrue from car purchases.
Still, despite the mounting evidence of the success of the DACA program, DAPA and expanded DACA continue to remain on hold as the 5th Circuit Courts of Appeals upheld, on November 9, its preliminary injunction challenging Obama's Executive Actions, and is now filing for more time to file court papers before the case goes to the Supreme Court. However, it is important to remember that it was the activism of the immigrant-rights movement in advance of the 2012 presidential election that helped pave the way for the original DACA program. As the 2016 presidential election draws closer, it may be the immigrant-rights movement that once again moves immigration policy forward. But this time, the dynamic is different. Because DAPA directly affects the U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident children of undocumented parents, if the children of undocumented parents who can naturalize become citizens, if those who are not registered to vote register, and if those who can vote go to the polls in 2016, such a groundswell has the potential to refocus the immigration policy debate back towards permanent legislative solutions.
By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., UC San Diego
Tom K. Wong is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. He is also Director of the International Migration Studies Program Minor. His research focuses on the politics of immigration, citizenship, and migrant "illegality." He is an advisor to Unbound Philanthropy.
Note: Unbound Philanthropy supports outreach and application assistance projects aimed at maximizing the number of immigrants who benefit from the DACA program, and we promote the integration of these beneficiaries.
A new meme has emerged in Hollywood: According to TV executives who’ve watched the number of shows, channels, and platforms available for watching episodic videos explode over the past half-decade, we’ve now arrived at “peak TV” — essentially, a “kid in a candy store” era of programming, where the selection of delicious content is far too great for viewers to reasonably consume. The net result, paradoxically, is that in a time that has rightly been dubbed a new golden age for television, the studios and networks responsible for creating much of it find themselves in a tooth and nail battle for survival.
The concept of peak TV may have been best summarized by John Landgraf, president of the cable programmer FX Networks, at this year’s spring Television Critics Association summit. “There is simply too much television,” he said. “When we go out and talk to audiences...television is less precious to them because there’s so much of it. Television episodes, television shows, television programmers are all a dime a dozen.”
Although Landgraf is right that the quantity of television available has reached a historical high — this season saw the airing of some 400 scripted series, 14 percent higher than 2014, then the year with the most original programming on record — the question is whether sheer volume is really to blame for the TV industry’s challenges.
More choices certainly mean a more fragmented viewing audience, and fewer eyeballs for any given program or channel. Network TV has seen live viewership drop by half in the past 15 years, due in no small part to the rise of cable television. And over the past five years, cable viewership has been similarly disrupted, as on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have dramatically increased their original offerings.
But people continue to find more screen time — in 2015, the average U.S. adult watched a staggering five and a half hours of video each day, up 12 percent from 2011 — and more platforms on which to use it. And what Landgraf and other television leaders fail to note as they bemoan “peak TV” is that this continued growth in video consumption has been driven by audiences that have traditionally been poorly served by traditional television programming: ethnic consumers.
And the truth is, until very recently, TV did little to represent America’s vibrant and growing multicultural identity. According to a 2014 study by UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, just 5.1 percent of lead roles on broadcast TV and 14.7 percent of lead roles on cable were nonwhite as of 2012 — a stark contrast to the actual makeup of the U.S. population, where blacks, Hispanics, and Asians make up 37 percent. That “disconnect,” as the Bunche Center put it, might help explain why programs offering a reasonable representation of American diversity — with about 40 to 50 percent of main cast being nonwhite — consistently score higher in ratings than those failing to mirror America’s diverse reality.
At the time, executives dismissed the Bunche report as advocacy disguised as research. But only a year later, shows like Fresh Off the Boat, How To Get Away with Murder, and especially the ratings-phenomenon known as Empire demonstrated that the Bunche Center’s study was devastatingly prescient — that a significant pent up demand did indeed exist for programming with diverse leads and authentic multicultural storylines.
Since then, we’ve seen a bold proliferation of programming that “looks like America,” with new shows like Dr. Ken, Rosewood, and Quantico joining the network ranks and finding substantial and loyal audiences. The reaction in some ranks of the old Hollywood establishment has been sharp: Earlier this year, industry mouthpiece Deadline ran a controversial piece in which “insiders” wondered whether the pendulum had “swung too far” in the direction of diversity.
While that story was quickly and appropriately shouted down, the recent refrain of “peak TV” has eerie echoes of that insider backlash. It hardly seems like a coincidence that the Hollywood conversation around “too much TV” is occurring only now, as diverse perspectives are being reflected in mainstream television in unprecedented numbers.
We’ve seen this rhetoric before, among critics and academics who’ve raged at the inclusion of fresh voices in the literary canon, and classical enthusiasts who sniffed at the noisy din of jazz, rock and roll, and hiphop; among suburban homeowners wondering about the neighborhood’s “new arrivals,” and parents anxious that Affirmative Action is degrading the standards of their children’s schools.
Which is to say that at its core, peak TV is a notion devised by piqued TV insiders, watching as audiences for their single white professional rom-dramas, their gritty white cop procedurals, and their suburban white family comedies migrate to fresher programming pastures reflecting a truer demographic reality. Yes, television as we once knew it is dead. Long live television — now in living color.
Jeff Yang is a featured opinion columnist for CNN, and contributes regularly to NPR, Slate, Quartz and other publications. His son, Hudson Yang, plays the lead role of Eddie on ABC's groundbreaking hit comedy Fresh Off the Boat.
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