Border Philanthropy Partnership

Bi-Partisan and Bi-National: Supporting Humanitarian Efforts Along the Border

“We’re not political. We are non-partisan. But what we do engage in is humanitarian efforts,” Andy Carey, Executive Director, Border Philanthropy Partnership.

The Border Philanthropy Partnership (BPP) emphasizes the importance of cooperation. Whether that’s across borders, across the political aisle, or between corporations, community foundations, and NGOs, the nearly 13-year-old organization has an excellent track record of facilitating partnerships between disparate groups, sometimes with opposing viewpoints, to improve life for those living in the border region.

BPP operates with the support of generous corporate donors and membership dues from government organizations, community groups, universities, and nonprofits. In return, they “build bridges” between these groups to improve communication and collaboration along the border. The groups they work with are called “member partners,” and they’re able to attend workshops, solicit advice and mentorship from BPP staff, and even apply for grants.

 

A group photo of BPP and some of their member partners after a training seminar (pre-COVID).

 

Their organizational structure is unique in that the Border Philanthropy Partnership and the Alianza Fronteriza Filantropia, their sister organization in Mexico, operate as one unit. This arrangement allows donors and organizations on both sides of the border to make tax deductible donations in their local currency to organizations in the other country.

Aside from the financial benefits, this allows for daily, direct collaboration between the staff and board members on each side of the border, all of whom are well-versed in the specificities of their respective countries’ borderlands.

Executive Director Andy Carey, who moved to the region to help solidify the organization after it operated in an unofficial capacity for six years, describes the BPP’s efforts this way: 

“We help them [our member partners] do their jobs. They reach out to us for coaching and technical assistance, so if they have an issue… they’ll call us and say, ‘well, you know, we have this issue, we need some more board members, how do we go about that?’ And we’ll sit down with them and we’ll help them figure it out.

Or they’ll say, ‘you know, we’re not reaching all of our fundraising goals, is there something we can do to help increase our fundraising?’ so we’ll sit down with them and help them figure it out. Or they’ll want to come to our events and say, ‘Look, we want more people to know about us,’ so we’ll make some networking opportunities so that they can reach out and get more funds from different foundations…

The whole point is to create opportunities for them [our members] so that they can access information, knowledge, resources… very low cost [to our members] and hopefully high impact.”

For a small membership fee, nonprofit organizations, community foundations, universities, government agencies, NGOs, and more can access BPP’s services. Aside from individual mentorship and case-by-case problem solving, BPP offers seminars and workshops aimed at “capacity building,” which Carey describes as “continuing education” for staff and volunteers of partner organizations. Since its founding in 2008, the Border Philanthropy Partnership has expanded from 18 member organizations to over 350. 

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the BPP boasts an incredibly high member retention rate, which Carey credits, at least in part, to the individualized support and varying membership levels. This has been especially important with the COVID-19 pandemic. He said,

“The pandemic has made this hard, there’s a lot of groups that can’t afford to pay right now, but they’re sticking with us and we’re sticking with them. We’ll figure it out together, right?”

 

A packed in-person capacity building event pre-COVID. Most of BPP’s events over the past year and a half have been online.

 

Collaboration is at the heart of everything the Border Philanthropy Project does, including their newly launched public policy efforts. Although they specifically keep corporate donors out of their advocacy decisions, their actions are developed “organizationally and organically” with the help of their member partners and staff. As Carey put it,

“We didn’t just come up with them- we spoke a lot with our member network, we engaged stakeholders, plus our own knowledge about the situation.”

In October 2019, the organization made their first trip to Washington, D.C., carrying a collective of voices from the border, to meet with congress and the diplomatic corps of Mexico. Carey explains;

“The migration debate is very controversial. A lot of people feel very strongly about it one way or another, but there’s a humanitarian effort at play because when people are repatriated, meaning when they’re expelled from our country… The way the people were being treated was not humanitarian.

They were being dumped off in the middle of the night in the middle of a community they had no ties to. They had no possessions, they might not have spoken the language, they had no money, and it really is a vulnerable situation for them. 

So, we asked Congress to change the way repatriations are happening so that they could be more humanitarian. We didn’t get into the debate about should they or should they not be repatriated, we just said, ‘Look, this is happening, you need to do it in a much more humane way.

You need to do it with the support of nonprofits so these people can be received. They need to be put in touch with their families, we need to give them some money, we need to help them get home in a safe and dignified way.’ So that was the first one.”

 

BPP Board leaders and Executive Director recognize US Congressman Hon. Henry Cuellar, (D – TX 28th District) for his leadership in the US-Mexico Border region.

 

As Carey said, the BPP operates as a non-partisan organization, which can be difficult when speaking out on such politically charged issues. In their policy suggestions and informative sessions for member partners and the public, they rely on observable facts rather than political opinions. This is exemplified in their second suggestion to congress.

“The second one, because we share a border, people seek medical care on both sides of the border. But because we share a border, you have to wait to cross the border, so there’s a lot of delays that happen. We asked that medical lanes be instituted at all ports of entry in between the United States and Mexico; they exist between San Diego and Tijuana but nowhere else.

We had several partners and stakeholders in El Paso and Juarez and Laredo and Nuevo Laredo reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, we have people that we’re trying to get across, can’t we do something to expedite getting them to the other side of the border?’ So we asked congress to install medical lanes in all ports of entry. The third thing we asked was… the census just happened in 2020, this was a lead up to the census.”

Historically speaking, the census has always counted everyone living in the United States, regardless of citizenship status. There has been a push from the right in recent years to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census, which experts predicted would vastly impact the number of congressional seats assigned to border states and the resources allocated to those areas for things like schools and healthcare.

Carey explained that the issues they brought to congress, and those they will in the future, are meant to be non-partisan issues of humanitarian importance that almost everyone can agree on, regardless of their political affiliation.

It’s very important, and there’s always donors on both sides of the issues and so it’s important to navigate those waters cautiously, diplomatically, and to choose wisely. Everybody says, ‘oh the border’s in crisis,’ we’re not in crisis. There’s nothing new going on here.” 

Carey went on to explain that the previous administration had claimed to solve a problem that’s been going on for over 300 years by simply locking the door. He’s referring to Trump’s use of Title 42, an article of the US Code that allows presidents to essentially close the border, even to those seeking asylum, during a public health crisis. The former president, and many of his supporters, declared the crisis fixed. Carey continues;

“But they didn’t fix it, they left a bunch of people living in a humanitarian crisis to be cared for by a country that doesn’t have the resources to handle it. There was nothing humanitarian about that, we didn’t fix anything. There’s a lot still to do, and I think we’re going to play a role in it.”

Though COVID prevented their second trip in 2020, Carey and his team are excited to continue communicating with the federal government to develop more humane solutions to repatriation and immigration in general. As with everything the BPP does, they will continue to receive input from member partners, scholars, and other advocates in the border region when brainstorming these policy suggestions. 

 

BPP member partners participate on a cross-border tour, just one of the ways BPP builds bridges across the border.

 

Along with political advocacy, the Border Philanthropy Partnership/Alianza Fronteriza Filantropia aims to better inform the public about what is actually happening at the border.

Their bimonthly newsletter, “Border Buzz” in English and “Echo Fronterizo ” in Spanish is sent out to over 2,000 people. Depending on what language subscribers elect to receive their news in, the publication has either a U.S. or Mexico focus. 

Both issues contain roughly 40 to 80 stories in each edition, with the goal being to inform the audience about what the BPP is up to, what their member partners are currently working on, border relations in general, new research on the region, and resources to allow for greater collaboration in health, educational, and environmental initiatives in both countries.

You can sign up to receive Border Buzz or Echo Fronterizo directly to your inbox for free by clicking this link, though member partners have access to an even more in depth newsletter through their subscription.

Their entire website is full of information not only about the border’s history and current situation, but also on how individuals can contribute to the effort to improve humanitarian conditions in the region. The focus of BPP is collaboration, and at the heart of collaboration is information. As Andy Carey put it, 

When you share a border, an international border, there’s a lot of cultural commonality and there’s a lot of cultural difference. So it’s important to teach people about what is the same, what is different, and how to navigate those differences, appreciate them, and work to strengthen them.”

 


Hannah Fontaine | Harvard University

Hannah is a recent graduate of Harvard University who wrote her thesis about the connection between the state-sponsored violence of the Guatemalan Revolution and the lack of prosecutorial and judicial success for women who are survivors of sexual violence in the country today. In the fall, she will be attending University of Wisconsin- Madison for law school where she plans to focus on immigration and criminal law. Hannah has been working with Latina Republic since October 2020 and her favorite part about writing articles is using quotes from interview subjects to emphasize their voices and experiences, telling their stories as they want them to be told and highlighting the successes of organizations and movements working to make their communities better.