As the Senate takes up the debate on an immigration bill — and the White House ramps up deportation efforts and looks to punish immigrant families from using social services to which they are legally entitled — the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) is taking action. CRC’s new program, “Here to Stay: Building Financial Security for Immigrants,” builds on other “know your rights” initiatives and seeks to help immigrant families navigate this changing environment.

Immigrants have long been excluded from the economic mainstream in structural ways, leading to lack of opportunity and a growing economic divide between immigrant and non-immigrant communities. But in this time of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies coming from Washington, there is an urgent need for community-led solutions that ensure everyone has equal access to the American dream.

Along with many other allies and members engaged in this new program, Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) will work closely with CRC on this new initiative. Learning from the Mission neighborhood’s Latino heritage and history of displacement, CRC will use these lessons to inform our work across urban and rural California. In addition to a shared vision of greater economic equity for immigrant families, both CRC and MEDA are led by community leaders with their own personal immigrant stories.

Paulina Gonzalez: A legacy of immigrant activism

CRC Executive Director Paulina Gonzalez (photo, right) is well versed in the power of the immigrant experience, being a first generation American whose father who courageously headed north to create a better life for himself, and others.

“My father emigrated from Mexico, crossing the desert on foot. Despite having the limited opportunity of just a second-grade education, his innate passion for the greater good was the impetus for his later spearheading a campaign to unionize garment workers,” says Gonzalez.

Similarly, Gonzalez’ mother’s family were also immigrants, aiding Arizona miners endeavoring to form unions. Her mother even earned a bachelor’s degree in her 50s, becoming a caseworker for those with disabilities.

This compelling background led to Gonzalez’s work for over two decades leading economic justice organizing campaigns to expand the rights of immigrants, workers, and underrepresented communities of color. It’s in her DNA.

Luis Granados: An immigrant leader

Complementing Gonzalez’ experience is that of MEDA Executive Director Luis Granados (photo, left), who recently stepped into the role of CRC’s board chair.

During his formative years, Granados resided in Juárez, Mexico. Being a few miles from the United States meant regular border crossings — an experience that holds challenging memories.

Explains Granados of his immigrant experience: “My family would cross the border — and that bridge — into El Paso, Texas on a regular basis to work or shop, or to simply visit relatives and friends. Immigration officers invariably questioned our motives, and, through their treatment, convicted us on the spot of being immigrants. We were not treated as a humble family living a normal, dignified life. Forty years later, the vitriol aimed at immigrants is disturbingly familiar. It was wrong then. It is wrong now.”

Once in California, then 13-year-old Granados and his family harnessed the power of education and hard work to obtain the American dream — as has been the case for newcomers to the U.S. for hundreds of years.

The drive for community equity has been the catalyst for Granados successfully leading MEDA from solely being a longtime direct-service provider to also being an innovative affordable-housing developer (over 1,100 homes in the pipeline), growing small-business lender (Adelante Fund CDFI), and main player in the realm of policy and advocacy for San Francisco’s Mission District and beyond.

Program Background: Devaluation of the importance of immigration

The current administration’s policies have increasingly threatened the financial well-being of low-income communities, regardless of legal status. The recently passed tax bill is an example of a regressive policy which will line the pockets of the 1 percent at the expense of low-income communities. Corresponding funding deficits from this skewed tax structure will necessitate budget cuts for social service programs for low- and moderate-income people.

This assault is mostly aimed at immigrant communities, demonized in a political ploy to activate this President’s core right-wing constituency. There are almost daily overarching references by this administration to immigrants being “less than,” rather than that of newcomers seeking lives of opportunity and dignity.

As the Trump administration seeks to push immigrants further into the shadows, the economic threat of further marginalizing our communities looms large. CRC’s members have reported immigrant clients leaving their jobs, seeking fewer services, avoiding medical appointments and even pulling their children from school due to fear of immigration raids. This is a community living in terror, with generational repercussions as incomes are negatively impacted and the wealth gap grows, with families unable to save and falling prey to predatory financial services.

Communities lead

Here to Stay is a response to these challenges, and CRC is well-placed to develop this initiative. The foundation of this initiative is allowing our communities to lead. CRC recently hired Here to Stay’s first organizer, an immigrant herself, who will work directly with immigrant communities to identify obstacles to financial and economic security. CRC will develop grassroots leaders to advocate for community-driven solutions, such as ensuring that banks serve all Californians and provide products that meet the unique need of immigrants. CRC will also work with banks to ensure access, cultural competency, and affordability in all products. Communities will not only identify corporate policies that need to be addressed, but also promote new state and local government policies.

CRC works with unbanked communities like those in the rural Coachella Valley, where banks can be more than 20 miles apart and immigrants are particularly vulnerable to devastating financial losses as a result of keeping their money in cash at home. MEDA’s work in offering small-business owners access to capital and in providing culturally relevant technical assistance helps immigrant entrepreneurs in San Francisco’s Mission District, such as Alicia Villanueva of Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas, who started out in her home and now employs 18 community members.

The partnership between CRC and MEDA will allow both organizations to use these proven models throughout California, work closely with banks to better serve all communities, and, ultimately, result in the equitable treatment of immigrant communities.