Commitment to Dismantling Anti-Blackness and Racism
George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells. These are more than names, more than hashtags—they represent a life cut short, a family’s grief, a community’s despair and outrage. The slaying of Black community members by the police, targeting of Black people and communities of color, and racist rhetoric by Trump and his followers are continual reminders that anti-Blackness and racism pervade our society and imperil ILRC’s mission to promote diversity and uphold the rights of all people.
As an immigrant rights organization, it is our responsibility to recognize that our fight for justice is inextricably linked to the efforts of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. We stand in solidarity with the Black community and the bold demands of Black organizers and Black-led organizations who are leading the work to end police brutality, anti-Blackness, and racism.
As an organization, we also recognize that we can do more to address and dismantle systemic racism, both internally and externally. As first steps, we commit to:
- Continuous learning by staff and board to develop and maintain a shared understanding of what racial justice is and how to actively practice anti-racism
- Conducting an equity, diversity, and inclusion audit of all aspects of our organization—including our board, leadership, staff, and partners—and developing an action plan on increasing racial equity based on this audit
- Exploring and implementing policies, practices, attitudes, and actions that produce more equitable power, opportunities, and outcomes for Black people and people of color inside our organization and in our work with partners
- Providing opportunities for interested staff to engage and contribute to these ideas
- Standing in solidarity with, learning from, and supporting Black community members and allies across the country who are bravely protesting the system of white supremacy that perpetuates the devaluation of Black lives in this country
- Calling for and working towards solutions that dismantle racist institutions and direct our local, state, and federal resources towards our communities in a way that ensures that Black community members can live safely and thrive
Using an Abolition Framework to Guide our Work
INTRODUCTION: At the ILRC, we are committed to racial justice, centering individuals directly impacted by the criminal and immigration systems, and defining the justice we seek. We are learning to articulate the philosophical frameworks that undergird and unify our work, determine how we prioritize the issues to which we devote capacity, help us evaluate our effectiveness, and remain accountable to the communities we serve. Through these processes, we have thought deeply about how abolition impacts our work.
WHAT IS ABOLITION? Abolition is the belief and political vision that policing, imprisonment, and surveillance cannot be reformed to become more just or effective; but rather, these systems should eventually shrink into non-existence. The idea is that building safe and healthy communities does not depend on prisons and punishment. Instead, we should work through other means to ensure that all community members have their basic needs met. Abolition is a broad strategy. An abolitionist vision means that we must build models today that represent how we want to live in the future. It means developing practical strategies for taking steps toward making real our vision of healthy and thriving communities and living this vision in our daily lives. Abolition focuses on change that reduces, rather than strengthens, the scale and scope of policing, imprisonment, detention, deportation, and surveillance and investing instead into systems and strategies that lead to communities where all people are welcome. The vision recognizes that transformative change can occur through both incremental and bold steps.
ILRC’s WORK: We acknowledge that we are not an abolitionist organization, as we often work within certain established systems. We do, however, apply abolitionist values, practices, and ideals to help us think through and make important decisions about how we do our work. For years we have worked through an abolitionist, racial justice, and economic justice lens, especially in the deportation, detention, crimmigration and enforcement spheres of our work. For example, over the last couple decades, our work has included the following efforts to dismantle and/or curtail immigration enforcement, surveillance, and detention systems:
- Advocating to pass laws to stop cooperation between local law enforcement and other local officials and ICE;
- Advocating to decriminalize offenses and create mechanisms to avoid arrests and convictions;
- Advocating to discourage opening new immigration detention facilities and decrease spending on detention bed space; and
- Distributing millions of Red Cards (Know Your Rights Cards) to immigrants to frustrate ICE’s ability to arrest immigrants.
THE FRAMEWORK AND HOW TO USE IT: We use an abolitionist framework to guide some of our work. The ILRC uses a series of guiding questions to encourage us to examine our internal practices and external partnerships and to explore whether they support or hinder abolitionism. These guiding questions are applied broadly in our decision-making including in our policy positions, in engaging partners and choosing services, in addressing interpersonal conflict or violence, in fundraising and grantmaking, and in sharing and promoting our resources and technical assistance. Adopting this framework will help us develop the practice and discipline required to become an organization informed by abolitionist principles.
GUIDING QUESTIONS: Our guiding questions are not meant to be prescriptive. Instead, they are meant to help staff articulate why and how we make decisions and to consider how a decision aligns with an abolitionist framework. They are meant to encourage staff to consider the implications of their actions, articulate how and why they are choosing to make certain decisions, and gain deeper insights into their work.
- What is the issue? What is the goal of participating in the activity?
- What is the vision for this work?
- What are we trying to build?
- Who are we trying to support?
- Does this work or decision expand the reach of law enforcement and/or immigration enforcement?
- Are we empowering actors in the immigration enforcement and/or criminal legal systems, or are we taking power away?
- Are we directly or indirectly supporting funding that advances law enforcement and/or immigration enforcement?
- Are we overtly or implicitly promoting policing? Detention? Surveillance? Incarceration?
- Does this work challenge the notion that policing increases safety? Does it reduce tools law enforcement have at their disposal or reduce the scale of policing?
- How does the work or decision center directly impacted communities throughout the process?
- Does the activity invest power and resources in directly impacted communities?
- Is there a plan to consult directly impacted communities on the strategies and messaging on an ongoing basis? How will the project compensate them for their time, work, and expertise?
- How will we engage and consult with others working on related issues within and outside of the ILRC in a manner that is consistent with our values?
- How does this decision affect our relationship with community partners?
- How are we being genuinely inclusive through our actions and messaging?
- How might we reclaim what public safety means and looks like?
- Is the humanity of one group privileged over others? Is the messaging around decarceration of some based on the incarceration of others?
- How might we integrate language about abolition into the overall messaging?
- What is the decision-maker/group’s process to regularly check in on alignment with abolitionist values and goals?
- What is the decision and how was this decision reached? What outcomes are we hoping to achieve? How do these outcomes fit within our larger goals?
ENGAGING STAFF IN THE PROCESS: For this framework to be successful, we ask that all members of the ILRC engage in this process, commit to consider the guiding questions, and be open to discussing questions that emerge. We realize that staff may have different perspectives on the best approach to take on a given project and surfacing those tensions in a productive way is an integral part of learning how to apply this framework. The presence of disagreement does not always signal a lack of commitment to abolitionist principles. Often, disagreements may be rooted in differing perspectives about whether to employ strategies focused on incremental change or bold transformative change. As mentioned above, working towards an abolitionist vision does not necessarily mean that incremental and transformative change are distinct from one another. Rather, abolition creates space for reforms that reduce the scope of policing, imprisonment, and surveillance and increase community safety and health. Complete agreement on how to move forward may not be possible given the complex factors at play with these types of discussions. We encourage staff to think about opportunities to incorporate an abolitionist vision and practices in their work at the ILRC and engage in discussions with colleagues when uncertainty arises.