High number of deportations amidst a record number of crossings.
A Democratic president promising positive change to immigration policy that never comes.
Limited capacity at every nonprofit legal service provider.
You would be forgiven for guessing whether we were talking about 2012 or 2022. Over the 10 years since the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) was founded, the immigration space has roiled under the relentless, demeaning attacks by politicians and populists eager to exact suffering on a marginalized group of people to push their agenda. However, the community that has grown to respond to the wave of inhumane hate stands as the key change over the past decade. While many of today’s challenges in the immigration field share an uncomfortable amount of similarities with longstanding systemic issues, HILSC believes that the future for the community looks bright.
To mark its tenth birthday, HILSC worked to position its network to tackle the next decade. At the beginning of this year, HILSC finally became an independent 501(c)(3), giving the organization greater latitude to advocate for immigrants and greater flexibility to martial resources on their behalf. Shortly after, HILSC began work on a strategic plan. Why select that as the first major project after becoming independent? Because the power of HILSC always came not merely from the collective labor of its partners but also through the opportunity of coordinated efforts to smartly tackle the challenges at hand. The words of philanthropist W.K. Kellogg, which continues to guide his foundation, encapsulates this sentiment: “…it is only through cooperative planning, intelligent study and group action – activities on the part of the entire community – that lasting results can be achieved.”
This spirit informed our strategic planning as we collected feedback from our network through surveys, one-on-one interviews and group discussions. HILSC wanted to co-create with its partners a guide to fostering a resilient interdisciplinary immigration ecosystem capable of meeting the existing and emerging needs of immigrants in Greater Houston in an agile, adaptive manner.
The planning culminated in a June meeting that brought more than two dozen partners throughout the network, many seeing each other for the first time since before the pandemic. Across the conference room were the four goals that underpinned our new plan, an evolution of the goals that guided HILSC in the past. Over four hours, partners gathered in small groups and discussed the critical elements HILSC and the community should prioritize when it came to each of these goals.
Participants expressed broad enthusiasm and support for the proposed goals and approaches. They encouraged HILSC to take a bold and systemic approach to its work, noting, however, that sequencing of activities would be critical to success. This is a marathon, not a sprint, they reminded us. They also provided valuable input on how HILSC could approach implementing these elements and ways in which HILSC partners could contribute. By the end of the process, the foundational goals of HILSC transformed into revised goals that resonated with lessons learned from past experiences and better suited to today’s challenges.
Though the work in organizing the strategic planning was not easy, especially as the plan put in place requires regular evaluation to ensure the goals are being met, we would not have chosen differently. We as a community have tirelessly worked to uplift and defend immigrants against the unjust excesses of the immigration system, but working tirelessly without plan or direction is not sustainable. As we enter the second decade of existence, HILSC wants to safeguard the existing capacity that serves immigrants and continue growing it as this community has done since 2012.
These plans provide a start to a more dynamic future where HILSC can help the community continue adapting to an ever-changing landscape. Similar to Amnesty International, another organization that faces intractable problems in an increasingly hostile environment, HILSC believes having at all times “strategic goals to guide the movement.” One of the few frameworks designed explicitly for this type of situation is the Theory of Change, a process specifically designed to enact wider social change through informed, strategic decision making, a version of which we will unveil in the coming months. In our future blog posts, we will go more in depth through the steps taken in the strategic planning, including data collection, the philosophy of inclusivity and the decision-making process.