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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Unity out of Adversity: Non-Profit Organizations’ Collaborative Strategies to Serve Immigrants in Bay Area Suburbs

  • Author(s): Carrillo, Dani
  • et al.

In recent years, the geography of poverty has significantly shifted from an urban to a suburban setting, and the populations living in the poorer suburbs are increasingly racially diverse, including many who are first generation immigrants. However, within suburban communities, non-profit organizations (NPOs) combatting poverty are working from an infrastructure that is less robust than that of large cities. The weaker NPO infrastructure in suburbs is particularly troubling given that NPOs are now largely responsible for the delivery of social services, including immigration legal aid for a growing foreign-born population. The combination of these trends raises the questions: How does funding and staff capacity differ across urban and suburban legal aid NPOs? How do differences in social service infrastructure influence the strategies legal aid NPOs use to accomplish their mission? I examine this question through interviews with staff at legal aid NPOs and multi-service NPOs in the socio-economically and racially diverse city of Oakland and in Eastern Contra Costa County – a county where poverty rates have increased, particularly in the east suburbs, and where the immigrant population has significantly grown. I find that while a smaller scale of social service infrastructure coincides with lower resources in the suburbs, the under-resourced atmosphere leads to more cohesiveness among a broader set of organizations and institutions. This cohesiveness serves two goals: first, it provides a set of reliable, trusted institutions that low-income immigrants can feel comfortable accessing, despite their legal status. Second, it provides a base from which to organize for community development by and for an increasingly diverse population.

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