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by Eileen O’Donnell

Radical welcome helps build a legacy of leadership in immigrant communities

New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia (NSM) was founded in 2007 in response to growing anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Its founding members, an interfaith group of immigrants of color and white allies, banded together to address immigrant justice needs in a bold, faith-rooted way.

NSM, located in Kensington, serves some of the most vulnerable and economically disadvantaged communities in Philadelphia. Its three facets – programs, community organizing, and campaigns – are equally critical to their mission to build community across faith, ethnicity, and class to end injustices against immigrants regardless of immigration status.

A key tenet of NSM’s work is to express radical welcome for all, and ensure that values of dignity, justice, and hospitality are lived out in practice and upheld in policy. NSM’s multilingual and predominantly immigrant staff work collectively to embrace members with love during their time of need. They let them know they are not alone and share the resources they need to navigate hardships with confidence, and to become helpers and promoters of resources to their neighbors.

95% of the people who use NSM’s services are undocumented immigrants of color. Many have faced food and housing insecurity, are single mothers, and do not speak English. Many have had someone close to them deported or places in ICE facilities.

Leadership at NSM

NSM’s leadership structure reflects its founding and its mission. The organization has a minimum of 70% immigrant leadership in every space: 5 of their 7 staff members, 3 of their 4 Base-Building organizers, and 6 of the 8 Board members are immigrants or children of immigrants.

“For 15 years, NSM has built strong communities rooted in relationships of mutual growth and led by a diversity of immigrant leadership,” said Priscilla Flores, NSM Development Coordinator. “By picking our programs and campaigns based on the needs of our immigrant communities, and by cultivating the leadership of immigrant membership, we ensure those most impacted by racist immigration policies are leading the work to change policy, build community, and transform power.”

Much of NSM’s strength comes from its committee work. The Immigration Reform committee, which consists of Indonesian and Afro-Caribbean members, started as a crisis response to the pandemic. In 2021, the committee continued to work in solidarity to fight for comprehensive immigration reform. This committee’s formation and achievements represent NSM’s ability to transform crisis into deeper work – building a broader racial solidarity movement and consolidating long term people power.

NSM recognizes the work of its members and looks for ways to engage them and encourage them to continue the work in the community. In the summer, 20 BIPOC women who work, organize, or participate in NSM committees were invited to partake in a holistic wellness space focused on physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.

NSM’s latest news:

  • In 2021, NSM’s Accompaniment Program helped more than 500 people with issues such as navigating the immigration system, domestic violence, childcare, mental health and wellness, rental assistance, and job search assistance.
  • NSM is a lead organization in the statewide coalition Driving PA Forward, which is fighting to ensure that all Pennsylvania residents have access  to a Driver’s License. In the last year, the Coalition held six lobby days, participated in a public hearing, and won the sponsorship of Democrat and Republican legislators. This summer, NSM gained the endorsement of 70 local businesses and several Chambers of Commerce for their Driver’s License for All bill. The Coalition continues to fight to win a majority of support in the House of Representatives and are strategizing how to gain support in the Senate.
  • In September 2022, NSM organized an event to help 140 individuals receive their Municipal ID.

NSM by the numbers:

  • NSM’s members come from 20 countries. 50% are Latinx, 5% are South Asian/Pacific Islander, 3.5% are Black, Afro-Caribbean, or African, .35% are Middle Eastern, and .15 are Native American/Indigenous.
  • NSM’s broader membership is made up of immigrants and allies, and of these 14,500 members, 59% are women or gender nonconforming people.
  • NSM’s Community Fund for Bond and Legal Support is the only fund in Pennsylvania run by immigrants to help immigrants. Since 2018, the fund has helped 78 families seek justice and freedom.

What’s ahead for NSM

NSM is expanding its membership in new immigrant congregations, building relationships with tenant rights organizations, and continuing to partner with mission-aligned organizations. The organization received an Impact100 Philadelphia Community Award in June 2022. Over the past six months, committee members and staff have met with clergy and have attended regular community events in the Latinx and Indonesian congregations. NSM’s organizers have also collaborated with Afro-Caribbean groups to support Haitian immigrants. NSM hopes to expand its influence by working with congregations in the collar counties. The team has identified congregations to meet.

By base-building and fostering strategic alliances, NSM will build a coalition of people committee to ending injustices against immigrants at the local, state, and federal level.

NSM welcomes volunteers and donations. Email NSM to learn about volunteer opportunities.