Members of the Society of Friends—also known as Quakers—are working hard to support immigrants and immigrant rights in the United States. Through local resettlement efforts, education about rights of residence and sanctuary, and advocacy at the state and national levels, Quaker groups across the nation have taken a variety of approaches to helping these vulnerable communities.
Quaker Service Past and Present
Much of this work is being done under the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), founded in 1917 to give conscientious objectors to the First World War an opportunity to provide humanitarian relief in war-torn areas. The AFSC—along with the British Friends Service Council—was awarded the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize. Helping refugees has long been a part of the AFSC’s mission. They helped at least 22,000 people resettle in the United States before, during, and after WWII. This feat is especially impressive considering that the American Quaker population stood at around 112,000 in 1930.
In addition to the AFSC, many individual Quaker congregations work with refugees and immigrants in their local communities. Some Quakers provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants in their meeting houses. For example, the Mountain View Friends Meeting in suburban Denver is sheltering a family of four.
Fighting for Immigrant Rights
Immigrants are often unaware of their rights in the United States and may have false beliefs about what they can and cannot do. This is why the AFSC has created the Know Your Rights program, which provides education in immigrant rights among local communities and online. It also has a network of professionals and volunteers who can provide legal representation to ensure that those rights are respected.
Education of individuals of faith is another important part of the AFSC’s work. As part of an interfaith coalition, they produced Who Is My Neighbor?, a handbook that describes the theological basis for supporting immigrants and information about the current state of immigrant rights in America.
The AFSC advocates for immigrant rights with national and state legislatures, too. In these efforts, it is joined by the Friends Committee on National Legislation. A recent campaign asked people to write letters to their elected officials and local newspapers opposing executive orders and pending legislation that would restrict the rights of immigrants.
This work is funded through a combination of donations from individuals, foundation grants, and bequests. The AFSC had 140,000 donors and supporters in 2016 and raised $12.9 million in contributions for current projects, $4.1 million in foundation grants, and another $8.3 million in bequests, working out to an average donation of $180.71. Both in raising money and doing the work, Quaker organizations rely on the combined small actions of many people to make a difference.
The inspired action of individuals has long been part of Quaker theology, and it is reflected in the Quaker approach to immigrant rights and other community services. Whether it’s people gathering small donations, writing letters one at a time, or directing those in need to accurate information, these actions combined make a difference in the world at large.