Approximately 955,000 immigrants live in OC, making up one-third of our county’s population. OC’s immigrant communities are deeply connected to our region, with 80% of OC’s foreign-born population having lived in the US for a decade or longer. Lawful permanent residents account for 26% of immigrants in the county, of which 180,000 are eligible to naturalize, and those who are undocumented account for 24% of immigrants (OC Equity Profile, 2019). Ensuring that immigrants are welcomed, gain economic mobility, participate in local civic decisions, and supporting naturalization among those who are eligible, are important ways to gain greater security for immigrant families, in addition to broader economic and civic benefits to OC.
The OC Opportunity Initiative (OCOI) was founded on the belief that the successful integration of immigrant and refugee communities into the full economic and civic life of Orange County is crucial to the health and well-being of our region. Since 2015, OCOI has partnered with more than 20 local and regional funders and donors to provide $3.75 million to 35 immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations for legal services, outreach and education, advocacy, and community organizing. Initially a funder collaborative, the initiative expanded to include both funders and nonprofit organizations to broaden its work and efforts in the region.
Our vision is of an Orange County where immigrant and refugee communities secure justice, solidarity, and a place of belonging in the socio-economic, cultural, political and civic life.
OCOI’s goal is to create a lasting infrastructure for immigrant rights in Orange County. OCOI strengthens immigrant-serving organizations by enhancing direct services and system change capacity to achieve collective impact. In 2020, OCOI adopted a more intentional focus on systems change as part of its new strategic plan, refining its vision to emphasize justice, solidarity, and belonging. OCOI convened nonprofit partners to redesign the initiative’s strategy toward articulating the key “drivers of change” that promote successful immigrant integration:
- Systems Change Advocacy: Development and implementation of strategies to engage decision makers (elected officials) in order to shift policy and change systems, rooted in advocacy demands from base.
- Narrative Change: Development and implementation of narratives and communications strategies that shift values and shape public opinion regarding immigrants in OC, countering harmful narratives of exclusion and fear.
- Infrastructure Development: Creation or expansion of long-term regional capacity for scalable collaborative work on immigration.
- Cross-Cultural and Multiracial Work: Building solidarity across communities with intentional analysis and understanding of their histories and cultures.
OCOI 2021 and 2022 grants were awarded to 10 nonprofits advancing the identified drivers of change through five specific scopes of work. OCOI has evolved into a collective impact approach that incorporates a shared governance model and fiscal sponsorship from Charitable Ventures. The shared governance model entails a Steering Committee of the 10 funded nonprofit partners, and an extended network of immigrant-serving nonprofit organizations.
Coordinated Advocacy Efforts – The Steering Committee will focus its collaborative work on County systems and policymakers through a set of coordinated advocacy efforts. This focus represents a significant step forward in collaboration to advance immigrant justice in terms of scope (four interconnected policy issues), degree (more robust coordination across four areas of work), and reach (more intentional engagement of OCOI partners in advocacy strategies). The Steering Committee’s strategic aim is to create County-levels systems change.
The Steering Committee will engage in the coordinated advocacy efforts using an ecosystem approach to immigrant justice, where each collaborative and organization plays a role in advancing systems change. Using this ecosystem approach, the Steering Committee identified four areas of coordination – Base and Capacity Building, Civic Engagement, Direct and Grassroots Advocacy, and Media and Messaging – each with a set of activities and shared resources. If successfully implemented, these activities and shared resources will establish a more robust degree of coordination than has previously been achieved within Orange County’s immigrant justice ecosystem.
The Steering Committee now hosts monthly OCOI Partner Meetings, which are a central venue for shared power analysis, policy landscape analysis, narrative/messaging, training, and capacity building. Partner Meetings will provide tangible opportunities for learning, capacity building, and action in support of coordinated advocacy efforts. With leadership and capacity building from the Steering Committee, partner meetings are becoming a space for aligning strategies, tactics, narrative, and messaging within Orange County’s immigrant justice ecosystem.