Our Stories

Supporting the Resilience of Immigrant Communities, When Policy Doesn’t

For nearly 40 years, LISC has invested in local organizations working with immigrants, with the understanding that when new arrivals to the United States prosper, so does the country as a whole. David Greenberg, director of our Research & Evaluation team, weighs in on the troubling effects that changes in immigration policy are having on immigrant communities, and reminds us that helping immigrants access opportunity is good for neighborhoods, and good for everyone.

For as long as immigrants have come to the United States, immigrant-led neighborhood organizations have formed to support them. Recent research confirms the power of such groups in creating a pathway to economic opportunity for immigrants. In turn, immigrants often give back to their adopted communities, helping revitalize urban neighborhoods.

LISC supports many neighborhoods with large immigrant populations. Indeed, the places where we invest are home to 1.5 times more foreign-born residents than most American communities. We partner with organizations that offer job training, English language classes and youth programs to immigrants and refugees, and that organize with immigrants to fight discrimination and ensure access to health care, housing, and other needed services.  

Many of those partners, in cities from Houston to Chicago and New York to L.A., have raised alarms about the impact of recent and potential federal immigration policy changes on the members of their communities. These changes affect not only young “Dreamers”—those participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. They also can influence how neighborhoods as a whole access potentially life-changing and life-saving services.

Some of our partners, for example, have reported that households made up of lawful permanent residents and US citizens have become more anxious about enrolling their children into medical care, because they fear this might be used against other family members seeking to apply for a visa or green card in the future. Others talked about young children who are afraid and distracted in school because they’ve heard that other children’s parents have been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

This climate of fear and uncertainty is further aggravated by the Department of Homeland Security’s recent proposal to change the “public charge rule.” Public charge is a concept in immigration law which allows officials to examine whether an individual will become primarily dependent on governmental assistance.

DHS's proposed rule could deny an immigrant the ability to change their status if they accessed a far broader set of public benefits than has been the case in the past. These include most kinds of Medicaid, nutritional support and housing assistance. Were the rule change to take effect, a person who is working and in school, but receives SNAP to put food on her family’s table, could be denied a green card down the road. The rules also make it harder for immigrants working hard but at low-wage jobs—to have family members join them and eventually become permanent residents.

Our partners are very engaged in making sure that families know their rights and feel able to access the services to which they’re entitled. They share information about immigration policy to their communities through their housing, child care and educational programs, and they advocate for public policies that support immigrants.

LISC’s Research and Evaluation division is conducting case studies in Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and New York, chosen because these neighborhoods have some of the highest proportion of immigrants and refugees within our 33-city network. In examining this issue, where many of our community partners are real leaders, we hope to better understand the ways that the fabric of neighborhood connections can be strengthened—or threatened—by federal policies which may make it harder to connect residents to the support they need.

Our goal is to understand the role community development organizations can play in creating spaces of resilience and support for all residents during uncertain times. Stay tuned for research and more specific findings soon.


David M. Greenberg, Director of Research & Evaluation
David is the National Director of Research and Evaluation for LISC, where he evaluates its impact in 33 cities and rural areas, and supports the learning and evaluation needs of local offices and national programs. Before LISC he was a Senior Associate with MDRC, directed policy and advocacy for a coalition of 90 community housing organizations in New York City and organized with homeless men and women in the municipal shelter system. He holds a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning from MIT, and is a part-time faculty member at The New School’s Milano School of Urban Policy.