The state of Georgia is known for having strict anti-immigrant bills that limit the rights to do tasks like obtaining a driver’s license, pursuing public higher education in the top 5 schools, and forcing students to pay out-of-state tuition in the few schools they can attend. As a result of the instability that exists for immigrant communities in the south, organizations like the Latino Community Fund have sprouted to help provide economic and community relief that these immigrant groups deserve.
The Latino Community Fund is a 501(c)(3) membership organization amplifies democracy, protects and builds community and invests in economic opportunity. The organization funds power-building strategies, program development, and scholarships to stimulate investment in Latinx businesses. Their underlying mission is to create a positive narrative for these communities in Georgia.
Latinx-led, Latinx-governed, and Latinx-serving, the Latino Community Fund aims to become the most trusted connector among funders, nonprofits, and businesses operating in the Latinx community. The organization is both a philanthropic intermediary and a direct service organization. Through philanthropic investments, grantmaking & restricted funds they provide educational scholarships, financial assistance for DACA and naturalization and grants for micro-entrepreneurs in the state.
Barriers for Immigrants specific to the state of Georgia
Many policies and laws exist in Georgia limiting the rights and opportunities for immigrants. As a response, LCF actively promotes, supports, and invests in civic participation to help create policies and opportunities for families, workers, entrepreneurs, students, and women.
Latina Republic reached out to the Latino Community Fund and was able to speak with Michelle Zuluaga about how LCF works with government and policy makers in support of the Latino Community:
“We (Georgia) are an English-only state. However, there is one county in the state, Gwinnett County, that does comply with federal law which says that if there is a population that reaches a certain threshold, I believe it’s 10%, you must offer essential government documents in the language that is spoken by the population. We have a lot of policies in the state that passed, that are not immigrant-friendly, an example is the case of immigrants driving; that’s a really bad one here in the state of Georgia.
When it comes to our community, there’s just a constant fear of voting or having your voice heard, testifying, etc. I’m sure with other states where there are more friendly policies, people are more encouraged to go out and vote. Here, not so much.”
The state of Georgia recently caught media attention for its recent voter laws. As a response to these laws, the Latino Community Fund had to work harder to inform Latino voters:
“We constantly strive to really educate the Latino community, to fill those voids. So everything from how to register to vote, to how to find your polling place, to checking your voter registration here in Georgia.”
“We have a presence not only in the ballot box but also in the policy space. There are coalitions such as Freedom to Drive which advocates for safer roads, makes sure that everybody that is driving knows and understands all the roads, policies and rules, and how to drive safely. We are advocating for that, and a freedom to drive bill is presented every single year. We do have a majority at the state level that does not support this kind of policy.
I believe it was in Cobb county where they overturned a policy like 287 G. The policy basically makes it so that in any kind of driving incident if you pass a stop sign or if you don’t stop at a red light, you can be charged with a criminal offense, and this targets the Latino community. It also allows the police to work with ICE directly if somebody is pulled over and is undocumented.”
Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens ended the county’s participation in the 287(g) program, announcing he hoped the action would encourage immigrants to build a relationship with Cobb’s sheriff’s office. “So when [immigrants] have issues or crimes in their neighborhoods, they will come to the police,” Owens said. The 287(g) program is an agreement between the sheriff’s office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Under the program designated deputies are given immigration enforcement powers by ICE.
2020 was a very important election year for many states. The results of the election showed GA as a new swing state. Zuluaga commented on her experiences in canvassing and working with new voters in Georgia during the election:
“We do have a lot of people who are naturalized citizens and it’s such a such an exciting place to be, but they say, I just don’t know how to speak English and I’m not going to go vote because I don’t know how to speak English so we remind them that if they have a daughter, a son, any relative, they can translate for them.
We ask them if they know where their polling location is and offer to have a volunteer go with them. We do have the Election Protection Program which are volunteers that are standing outside of the polling place. We offer translating services for anybody who needs them. The only county that does have ballots in Spanish is Gwinnett County. Other than that nobody else is obligated to provide language accessible ballots.”
Civic Engagement and Naturalization
Between Asian and Latino residents, approximately 81,000 individuals could become citizens by 2020. In order to achieve that estimation, the Latino Community Fund has provided assistance and worked towards engaging the residents that qualify for naturalization. One way they do this is by hosting citizenship workshops where those that could qualify can learn how to start their journey towards citizenship.
Additionally, the Latino Community Fund has a web page dedicated to updates on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with all the information on qualifications, required documents, and the current status of the program which is currently on hold from accepting new applicants.
Delivering on the Dream- Georgia
One way LCF has worked towards defending the rights of immigrants and refugees to help them achieve their dreams is through their Delivering on the Dream (DOTD) program.
This program works with collaborative investors like Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) to help fund immigration relief programs, expand legal services, and build support for individuals and families. LCF works toward the following goals:
- Build statewide capacity to provide immigration assistance, legal defense, and representation
- Prevent the exploitation of immigrants through immigration service (or “notario”) fraud
- Build immigrant leadership and organizing capacity to engage in local, state, and federal immigrant rights campaigns, programs, and support services
- Facilitate opportunities for funders to invest in immigrant-led, people of color-led and LGTBQ-led grassroots organizations
Know your rights programs
The Latino Community Fund also informs the community through the “Conozca Sus Derechos” (know your rights) section on their website. This segment has important information about the rights of immigrants in Spanish, including:
- Acoso Sexual u Hostigamiento (Sexual Harassment, Harassment)
- Youth Rights when encountering Police
- Ayudas Federales/ Salud (Federal Help/ Health)
- LGBT Rights at School
- Estatus Migratorio (Migratory Status)
- Sus Derechos DACA- Update (Your Rights)
As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 17th, 2020 the Latino Community created a COVID relief department that is available both in English and Spanish. This department includes a COVID-19 emergency relief fund focused on helping the most vulnerable in the community such as the undocumented, low income residents, and those with limited English proficiency. This fund includes, funding supported food security efforts, rental and utility assistance and emergency cases addressing a gap in philanthropic investments for these critically vulnerable communities.
This COVID relief program provides:
- Food distribution
- Rental assistance
- COVID-19 free and accessible testing
- Investment in undocumented business owners
- Grant-making to Latinx-led grassroots organizations.
The Latino Community Fund uplifts with dignity. When conducting food drives, they do not require a SSN, photos, children to be present, nor do they restrict access to services for community members who don’t have a car or lack a drivers’ license.
Under this framework, LCF has been active in delivering groceries to homes when recipients are unable to drive to the food drives. They have also helped families with rental assistance in numerous counties, including Whitfield, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Clarke, Rockdale, Newton, Fulton, Hall, and Chatham. As another form of support, the organization prioritized undocumented families for rental assistance.
The Latino Community Fund has been working actively to provide COVID-19 related relief. Genesis Castro is the Programs and Network manager:
“In January we started interviewing with the Mexican Consulate, to do glucose screenings and blood pressure screenings at the consulate. Anyone who comes to get a covid vaccine gets free glucose or blood pressure. It’s the only free health, consistent, health care service for Latinos.”
While a large portion of the Latinx community lives closer to the center of Georgia, communities exist outside of the metro Atlanta area from Athens to Savannah. Castro explained the reach of Latino Community Fund’s work:
“We’re a membership-based organization. We have 39 or so members located throughout the state of Georgia. Most of them are in metro Atlanta, so we can represent Dawson county, we have members in Chatham County, we have members in Gainesville, and we have members in Athens.”
With all the challenges and barriers facing immigrants in the state of Georgia, we asked Castro why many Latinx communities stay in the state:
“The South has existed for a long time, there’s people here for a long time taking different forms of oppression but they’re still here, still thriving, they’ve still been able to make something for themselves. A lot of the times in spite of the oppression here,” adds Castro.
Michelle Zuluaga also provided her perspective on why immigrants continue to make Georgia home:
“Let’s start with why people stay here. Georgia is a beautiful state. There are a lot of jobs here and it’s constantly developing. I know that that’s one of the biggest reasons why we (Zuluaga’s family) moved here when I was young. I think it was probably 1996/1997 when I moved to the state. So, it’s really just how fruitful the economy is here in the state of Georgia, how it’s growing and how the International Airport that we have contributes to that development.
Unfortunately, policies aren’t as friendly to our community. We’re constantly targeted. Even driving to work is such a hassle. So why don’t immigrants move to other states?
Honestly, I have known a lot of people who have moved to other states, especially undocumented folks who definitely want to go to school. Here schools for undocumented folks are super expensive. They have to pay cash upfront, it’s not like they have access to any kind of help. So it’s not to say that people don’t move to other states people definitely do move to other states, but a lot of folks stay here because, 1) Like I mentioned, our economy, but 2) Their families are here, their communities are here. They’ve already moved from their own country and have already experienced culture shock, having to start all over once they got here.
So, when you work so hard to create a home and you create a community here, leaving that is very difficult, wanting to do that again is just not always an option for a lot of folks. We also have a great education system. When it comes to college, HOPE scholarships and opportunities for their kids are available. I know my parents stayed here and they sent me back here because of the opportunities that I had as a citizen. It’s not always about them. If your parents aren’t documented, they aren’t necessarily thinking about themselves but more so, they think about the opportunity for their kids. Here, we have some of the best scholarships in the country, like HOPE, and so it’s all these things why we call Georgia, home.
I grew up here. And even though maybe other states don’t see us through the best eyes, Georgia has this beautiful diversity in the metro area, and even in the rural area there’s so much community. There are areas where I can go and eat food and feel as if it was cooked by my grandma. There are so many things about Georgia that are so beautiful. And not only that but we are changing. There is hope for the future. I think when it comes to this kind of approach to policy and change in policy, things are changing here in the state of Georgia.”
The Latino Community Fund is an NGO that has helped protect, nourish, and vouch for the Latinx Community that exists all throughout Georgia. From policy work to local community support, they have an active presence on Instagram where they update the community on access to COVID vaccine sites and host zoom meetings for first time entrepreneurs.
Flor Chavez Barriga is an undergraduate student at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, GA studying History and Sociology with a focus on research. She was born in Michoacan, Mexico, and grew up in Atlanta surrounded by the rich history of Martin Luther King’s legacy. She previously attended Freedom University where she was given the opportunity to achieve higher education, while also learning about collective action and human rights. Flor is passionate about the south’s reaction to immigration with its restrictive policies and infamous detention centers. She hopes to highlight the voices of communities in the south that have helped combat all the hurdles that continue making immigrant lives harder.