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Despite Defunding Threats, Immigrant Rights Advocates Speak Out Against Israel-Hamas War

Immigrant justice advocates — including 104 organizations and 138 individuals — released a joint statement with four key demands: for a ceasefire in Gaza; that congress reject funding requests; that the U.S. government ceases “its support for the Israeli government’s apartheid, occupation, and systematic dispossession of Palestinians;” and that all organizations and elected officials who support immigrant and refugee rights support these demands. 

The document containing the statement began circulating for signature November 8, preceding a brief 4-day temporary pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas that began on Friday, Nov 24, with plans to continue today and for an extension.

At the time the document began circulating for signatures, the Israel-Hamas war was in its fifth week, only a handful of immigrant rights organizations in the U.S. had spoken publicly about it. Many immigrant rights groups who wanted to take a public stance calling for a ceasefire were unable to do so as they were being silenced by imminent threats that doing so would lead to boycotts from funders, sponsors, and supporters — according to interviews and communication shared with Documented.

A source told Documented that an immigrant rights nonprofit group got their funding cut right after they posted a statement that called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. They declined to name the organization. 

“The organization that [got their funding cut], they’re partners. It happened kind of abruptly,” they told Documented. “So when the organization’s leaders took a position, there was a conversation about pulling their funding from a donor. … They didn’t expect that immediate reaction. And word travels quickly. What I can suspect is that people are taking that into consideration whether they speak out or not. I know, at least some organizations that we work closely with, that is in the equation of what they’re willing to say or not publicly?” 

One of the most public examples of organizations that have faced retaliation for speaking out in support of a ceasefire has been the case of CASA, a Maryland-based advocacy organization, which receives state funding for its work with immigrants, and was reprimanded by Maryland Democrats, who threatened to cut CASA’s funding. 

“That’s more of a public example, the one you mentioned, about CASA, but I know people in the [industry], immigrant rights groups, are aware of what’s happening there,” the source said, still speaking on the organization that got its funding cut. “And in some of the conversations behind closed doors, this [threat to funding cuts] is part of the equation,” they said. 

Organizations Documented reached out to for interviews either declined to comment on the organization’s experience with internal funding or are yet to speak. 

So far, the suppression of speech has occurred not only through external factors like an organization’s donors and supporters, but also internally within organizations. 

An organization’s leadership may decide that the Israel-Hamas war and its impact on immigrant communities in the U.S. is tangential to the work they do but does not intersect enough to speak publicly on it. 

Employees may advocate for their organization to express its position more openly, yet the leadership might hesitate due to a crucial concern: how might this impact our funding?

I’m not trying to lose a dime,” The Legal Aid Society’s Chief Executive Officer Twyla Carter said in a recording of a staff meeting obtained by The Intercept. Carter warned that if staff voted in favor of a union resolution opposing Israel’s war crimes in Gaza,  it could jeopardize the organization’s funding. Four legal firms had already warned that they could pull funding due to the resolution. 

When the Israel-Hamas war began last month, some organizations struggled to find how the Middle East conflict intersects with their efforts to advocate for immigrant rights in the U.S. As a result, they were reluctant to react to what was happening. 

But when President Joe Biden requested additional funding for Israel from congress, he solved these immigrant rights groups’ dilemma with success by requesting money for Ukraine, Israel, and the U.S.-Mexico border — a bane of many groups’ advocacy work — in the same document. It essentially provided more opportunities for more immigrant rights groups to speak openly and in unity about the Israel-Hamas war, and stand in solidarity with the palestinian people. 

This ultimately culminated in a joint statement which, so far, 242 individuals and organizations have endorsed.

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