According to the UNHCR’s Global Trends report, 89.3 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide by the end of 2021. Yet, for many Americans, the possibility of becoming a refugee seems abstract and detached from their day-to-day reality. Not so for me.

When I first arrived in Florida with my husband and small child in 2010, I instantly was hit with a wave of discrimination.  Though my family and I had escaped persecution in Baghdad, Iraq, we regularly endured verbal assaults and harassment going about our day, solely based on our religious identities. Just as bad, the American job sector deemed my “foreign” engineering credentials as “invalid,” derailing any hopes of continuing my career stateside.

My journey was and is not unique. There are hundreds of refugees and immigrants of various nationalities across the American South that are facing the same challenges that I once did. What’s worse is that they are doing so in an increasingly toxic political climate that threatens to further cement these systematic obstacles.

The attacks on unaccompanied children, Black migrants, and asylum seekers over the last several years have fueled a large scale increase of xenophobia that infiltrates all sectors of society, but is most easily seen in the electoral arena. In my home state of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has built a political platform around targeting refugee and immigrant communities actively promoting overcriminalization efforts like the ‘Border Strike Force’ to to normalize local attacks on asylum seekers and immigrants. Politicians in Tennessee are similarly mobilizing against asylum seekers by calling for the reinstatement of the Trump-era public health policy, Title 42, as an immigration deterrence tactic.

For many Black and Indigenous people of color, community organizing has been rooted in a legacy of survival, and such is the case for formerly displaced people too. Organizations such as Unbound Philanthropy have noted how refugees, like undocumented immigrants or other constituents, are part of their community and desire to engage in advocacy. By funding these local leaders and their organizing efforts, we have seen that it is possible to pass legislation even in conservative states that can protect our communities.

Read the full article about supporting grassroots organizing for displaced people by Basma Alawee at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.