SIREN builds on years of support for immigrant community

SIREN builds on years of support for immigrant community

“Everyday people’s voices have power,” said Maricela Gutiérrez, executive director of SIREN, the Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network. San Jose-based SIREN has been serving the Silicon Valley area for almost 35 years, providing legal services and helping community members advocate for themselves.

“You don’t have to be a citizen to demand better schools or that the roads be repaired in your neighborhood,” Gutiérrez said. “Any resident of California, or of Silicon Valley, can demand a better life for themselves and their families.”

To help continue this work, SIREN has been awarded a $50,000 grant for general operating support from Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s recently completed Civic Participation: Movement- and Power-Building grant round.

Siren groupSVCF’s Movement- and Power-Building Fund supports nonprofits in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties that organize people, build coalitions and advocate for public policy changes. The fund builds on SVCF’s mission to build a Silicon Valley where all can live financially secure, safe and fulfilling lives. The goal is to rectify the power imbalance in Silicon Valley, where communities of color face significant hurdles to building power and effecting change.

About 80 percent of the organizations that received grants in this round have leaders who are Black, Indigenous or people of color, and the rest are committed allies. Nearly 60 percent of the recipients have budgets under $1 million, and most of the others have budgets between $1 million and $2 million. For this round of grants, SVCF received over 70 applications and funded 29 groups. Themajority of the grants — 85 percent — were for general support, like the grant to SIREN.

“We have learned that nonprofits thrive when they have flexibility. General support grants enable organizations to determine how to spend the funding they raise and commit more resources to impactful programs,” said Jack Mahoney, senior program officer for movement- and power-building at SVCF.

A long partnership

SIREN, a longtime SVCF grantee that has been featured in SVCF’s Civic Participation Giving Guide, has a long history of standing up for undocumented communities in Silicon Valley. Its work also includes California’s Central Valley, though the SVCF funding is for work in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

“Its work has evolved — SIREN has moved from strength to strength,” Mahoney said. “The group has had a lot of success organizing students of color, in particular Latinx students and undocumented students, around issues that affect their communities.”

In one recent example, SIREN won a campaign to get undocumented residents aged 50 and older covered by Medi-Cal, having previously seen Medi-Cal for undocumented residents expanded up to age 25.

“Now we have to fill the gap from 25 to 50,” Gutiérrezsaid.

She said the pandemic has highlighted the importance of healthcare for everyone. “We’re all interconnected,” Gutiérrezsaid. “We can’t have an unhealthy person that has no healthcare dying of COVID sitting next to someone with healthcare – you’ll still get sick.”

Focus on civic engagement

SIREN also does voter registration and outreach.

In 2020, the group had its highest reach for civic engagement, reaching almost 600,000 people through texting, phone banking, and on-the-ground outreach. They held voter forums and produced a voter guide, and they helped register about 15,000 new voters.

“Our experience is that once a young person votes for the first time, they become a long-term voter,” Gutiérrez said.“The same is true for new American voters – they’re very excited about participating in democracy.”

In the September 2021 gubernatorial recall election, “we were out phone banking, canvassing, and texting,” Gutiérrez said. They produced a voter guide in Spanish, English and Vietnamese. (Although SVCF has supported SIREN through 501(c)3 grants, SIREN has both a 501(c)3 entity and a 501(c)4, which can endorse candidates.)

Being active in politics helps the people involved learn about the mechanics of how government works – and see the power of their own voices.

Currently, SIREN is working on civic engagement training, running a leadership development program to teach both youth and adults how to become involved in their communities. “New American voters can sign up for local commissions,” Gutiérrez said. “Youth can become youth commissioners or run for office one day.

These programs tie into SIREN's larger goal to empower community members of all backrgounds to advocate for themselves and SVCF is proud to support this mission-aligned work as we seek to rectify the power imbalances that communities of color face.