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Julie Feng Develops Immigrant Rights Advocacy Tools that Center Community Care

Report cover of Community Provides: Undocumented Communities in Washington State During the COVID-19 Pandemic

September 28, 2023

I am deeply appreciative to receive funds from the UW Center for Human Rights’ Osheroff-Clark Award to support my work in a coalition-driven project to ensure access to unemployment services for excluded immigrant workers in Washington state. The Unemployment Insurance Campaign Coalition is gearing up for another legislative session, after our losses and learning from last year.

Julie Feng

Julie received the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Award. She is a PhD student in communication and has been working with a coalition that includes many labor and community organizations committed to building an unemployment program for undocumented workers in Washington state.

My part in this work is currently twofold: 1) I am continuing to serve on the communications subcommittee to develop a narrative strategy to persuade stakeholders and empower community members. 2) I am supporting the launch and implementation of a pilot UI program, funded by the Washington Dream Coalition and administered by Scholar Fund. The funds I’ve received from the Abe Osheroff and Gunnel Clark Endowed Fund are going towards the development of stronger advocacy tools. In particular, it is going towards honorariums/stipends for community ambassadors to tell their stories.

This summer, we connected with some potential community ambassadors, as we were also recruiting them to be participants in the pilot program. Currently, there are 27 participants, and we plan to ask five of them to share their stories more publicly. This process is slow because it takes a significant foundation of trust building and informed consent. The pilot will launch and proceed this fall, 2023. The data and stories from all the pilot participants will be used to develop strategy for the campaign and to build a permanent unemployment system for excluded workers. Throughout the fall and winter, we will also be developing stories and narrative frames, pitching them to local media, circulating on social media and digital platforms, and using our partnership network to strengthen the calls to action. We don’t just have our eye on the upcoming 2024 legislative session, but the longer-term fight beyond that.

Much of this work builds on Community Provides: Undocumented Communities in Washington State during the COVID-19 Pandemic, a report that I was the project lead for, commissioned by the Washington Dream Coalition (WDC). Community Provides showcases data and stories from over 78,000 undocumented immigrants who applied to grassroots and state relief funds. The stories we have been told will stay with me forever. I have heard so many stories of how people struggled, what they’re dreaming of, who they love, where they build community, and why they care about contributing to social justice. As we continue, I want to continue thinking about the most authentic and conscientious ways to share these powerful stories while protecting community members.

In reflecting on these interconnected projects, I am thinking deeply about how a whole new world becomes possible when we center community care. Often in this type of work, we are defining the line between “basic” human rights and “extra” benefits. I believe, as do many of the amazing people I work with, that everyone deserves more than basic survival—we all deserve to thrive with joy, connection, safety, and opportunity. Our goal is to change the system so that this is in reach for all.