How to help undocumented immigrants in ways that'll actually have an impact
In recent weeks, numerous reports have surfaced about the horrifying conditions at migrant detention centers in America. Meanwhile, on June 22, President Trump postponed nationwide ICE raids he had announced less than a week prior. On June 28, the Supreme Court announced it would review Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects certain undocumented youth who arrived in the U.S. as children from deportation and enables them to work legally. In this uncertain, harshly anti-immigrant climate, showing up for undocumented people is crucial.
While feeling powerless in the face of the current situation is understandable, there are plenty of ways you can meaningfully support undocumented immigrants. Below, migrant rights activists — two of whom are undocumented themselves — offer their advice on how to get started.
1. Check in with your undocumented friends — but first see if that's the best way to support them
Although well-intentioned, asking your undocumented friend how they’re feeling amid all the bleak immigration-related news lately could do more harm than good. Cuahuctemoc Salinas, an undocumented University of Michigan student, tells Mic that the more than 60 supportive emails he's recently received from friends and classmates have left him feeling touched — but also overwhelmed. “I was so amazed that people were actually supporting me, but it became that pressure of replying to them and not allowing you to sit with your own feelings," he explains.
Salinas suggests before checking in with an undocumented friend, first ask them if they want you to do so. His work as an activist requires him to speak publicly about his undocumented status—it's tiring enough that often, the last thing he wants to do is discuss it even more. “I’m so exhausted talking about the topic that I want to talk about something fun or how my weekend is going,” he says.
Instead of directly asking your friend how they’re doing, perhaps help them take a break from the news cycle. “Take them out to eat,” advises Julio Salgado, an undocumented, queer visual artist in Los Angeles. Grab a drink or take a walk together — do “something that takes us away from the TV or the computer," as he suggests.
2. Verify warnings about ICE raids or checkpoints before posting about them on social media
While you might think you're being helpful, not checking to see if a situation is real before spreading info about it can create unnecessary panic in immigrant communities. If you have the privilege of being documented, scope out a purported checkpoint yourself (or fact-check in another way if that's not possible) and report back before posting. “The best thing allies can do is physically show up there to see if that’s happening," Salgado says.
If you do post about a checkpoint you’ve verified, don't use an alarmist tone, says Nana Gyamfi, executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). “It’s important to remember to remind people to be calm, to remind people that we have what we need to deal with this, to remind people we’ve faced this before,” she notes. When panicked, she explains, some immigrants might forget that they already have experience with ICE raids that targeted them even before Trump, and thus know how to handle the situation.
3. Think twice before posting sensitive content
When the photo of the bodies of 25-year-old Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, who drowned while trying to cross the Rio Grande, appeared on Salinas' Facebook feed recently, he says he “felt chills all over.” He knows that he and his mother could have easily suffered the same fate when they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. On top of that, his Facebook friends kept sharing the photo, so it cropped up again and again.
Some people believe that posting disturbing images like that shed light on the devastating impacts of Trump’s immigration policies, but Salgado questions whether that's actually the case. “Do we really need to see an image like that to know what is happening?” he asks. Instead, he suggests, “share that image of when they were alive.”
If you choose to post sensitive content on social media, preface it with a trigger warning, at the very least. “Recognize that we have been traumatized, we are constantly under attacks that are traumatizing, and we don’t want to add to that trauma,” Gyamfi says.
4. Share information about resources and services
Since he only recently relocated to Michigan, Salinas has struggled to find basic resources, such as legal services and healthcare providers, that admit undocumented people. Luckily, he's been helped by a few of his peers, who have emailed him lists of local resources and services.
Salinas says that if you hear about a workshop or legal clinic that an undocumented friend might find useful, don't hesitate to tell them about it.
5. Be there for undocumented parents — and plan for the future
If you have relatives or close friends who are undocumented parents worried about their kids' futures, talk to them about putting a plan in place that will allow you to assume legal guardianship of their U.S.-born children should ICE detain or deport them, Gyamfi says.
“You might need to spend a little money to hire an attorney to help you understand how it works and get the paperwork ready," she notes, but doing so could spare the kids from having to enter America's beleaguered foster care system.
6. Don’t “out” an undocumented person without consulting them first
“It actually happens all the time,” Gyamfi says, even when it comes from good intentions. Setting up a GoFundMe to cover an undocumented friend's legal fees as a surprise, for instance, might out them, as could revealing their identity to someone you think could provide them help. “All of that is putting people at risk,” Gyamfi explains.
Also, don’t assume that just because your undocumented friend participates in protests or other forms of resistance against the country’s immigration policies that they’re ready to go public with their status. No matter what, ask first.
7. If feasible, make yourself a financial resource
If you're able, let an undocumented friend who’s struggling to find a bank that will allow them to open an account have access to your account, Gyamfi suggests. You could also help your friend set up a trust by establishing yourself as a trustee who manages their assets (which could include, for instance, paying bills on their behalf). “Become that access to financial resources,” she says.
Salgado adds that you can even do something as simple as asking your friend how you can best assist them financially. "If you have the ability to help out with money, do so," he says.
8. Be willing to disrupt law enforcement
If you see an undocumented person in danger of being apprehended by ICE, don’t just whip out your phone and start filming it, especially if someone else is already on it. “We need folks to actually engage in disruption," explains Gyamfi, such as speaking to the officers or finding out the immigrant's legal rights.
However, he adds that people should only take action with “a conscious use of their identity." In other words, if you’re a Black trans woman (Black trans people report higher rates of police assault and harassment than all other racial groups), think twice before standing between ICE and an undocumented person. On the other hand, if you’re a white cis male, then standing between ICE and an undocumented person is “a strategic use of your identity," says Gyamfi.
9. Listen — and learn
Take into account the intersecting sources of oppression that may impact an undocumented person. Salinas, for instance, is not only undocumented, but gay and Latinx. “Sometimes allies don’t know what people are going through and what identities they hold,” he says.
Gyamfi agrees. “Hear what folks are telling you about what it means to be a Black, queer undocumented person,” she advises. “Don’t’ assume you know what that means. Hear what that means.”
Note and apply what you hear, and importantly, be humble enough to accept when you didn’t hear correctly instead of acting defensive. And remember that what you learned from one person with one set of identities doesn’t necessarily apply to others who share those identities.
10. Acknowledge undocumented immigrants' resilience
Salgado says that while it’s natural to feel sympathy for undocumented people, “we’re not just pobrecito,” or people to be pitied. “The reason I say I’m undocumented and share my story freely is that I know I have a strong community behind me," he explains.
It’s also why he takes issue with people sharing photos like the one of Ramirez and his daughter that only show suffering. “That’s not all we are. There’s got to be other ways of honoring their resilience," he says. Support immigrant businesses, share their stories, and work to understand the difficulty of the situations.
Amid Trump’s immigration crackdown, “the best thing folks can do is be there for somebody,” Salgado says. He notes that many of his friends who are U.S. citizens are scared, too, because they have undocumented parents. Indeed, the current administration’s policies affect not only undocumented immigrants, but their families and communities, too. “One way or another," says Salgado, "it affects us all.”