Video: Lifting Up the Communicators in the South

This summer, Four Freedoms Fund and SPIN Academy trained immigration communications advocates in a region that has seen a proliferation of Arizona anti-immigrant copycat laws.   The voices of immigrants are growing stronger.

Watch the video produced by participants and edited together by Will Coley of Aquifer Media of the experiences of those who attended.

Fighting Breast Cancer With Song and Art

By Maritza Guzmán, Director, Fiscal Sponsorship and Project Management, Public Interest Projects

It is a sad fact that many of us have a personal experience with breast cancer. There are so many of us who have either battled the disease ourselves, have lost a loved one, or know someone who is a survivor. For these reasons, we were immediately interested in serving as the fiscal sponsor for the Over the Moon: Broadway Lullaby Project. It has been an incredible journey, from the first conversations when it was just an idea and a vision, all the way to sitting in a darkened theater, moved to tears or laughing out loud as we saw the original compositions brought to life on stage.

It has been a labor of love with a beautiful CD and book that will hopefully benefit many of those same people affected by breast cancer. I own both myself, and love sharing it with my daughter. It is my fervent hope that many others will also purchase the CD, the book, or both. It’s for an important cause, since the proceeds benefit two fantastic organizations, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and the Young Survival Coalition.

It’s been a privilege to do our part to ensure that the many moving parts of this ambitious effort went smoothly. And it’s been fun to see the roster of marquee names, including some of the brightest stars on Broadway! It’s quite an impressive A-list of Broadway singers, composers, as well as well known illustrators. Public Interest Projects has been honored to serve as the fiscal sponsor for the Over the Moon: Broadway Lullaby Project.

Historic Visit to Laos by Secretary Clinton Results from Advocacy by Legacies of War and Six Former U.S. Ambassadors to Laos

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the first stop of her eight-nation tour, which will include her historic visit to Laos on July 11.

On Wednesday, July 11, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive in Vientiane, Lao PDR, marking the first time that an active U.S. Secretary of State has visited the country since 1955. Legacies of War has been pushing for this groundbreaking trip since July 2011, when it joined with all six former U.S. Ambassadors to Laos in encouraging the Secretary to visit the country and to make a long-term commitment to addressing the crisis caused by unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over by U.S. bombings during the Vietnam War era.

Public Interest Projects is the fiscal sponsor for the Legacies of War project. For more information on our fiscal sponsorships, contact Maritza Guzman,

“The important progress Laos has made . . . in matters of economic liberalization, trade, and religious freedom has already led to a remarkable improvement in U.S.-Lao relations,” wrote the Ambassadors in a joint letter to Secretary Clinton. “We feel strongly that the United States should acknowledge this progress by reaffirming our commitment to help Laos overcome the UXO crisis.”

Secretary Clinton’s historic visit demonstrates that she “recognizes that bringing along the less developed countries of the lower Mekong region is key for stability and development in the region,” said Brett Dakin, Chair of the Board of Directors of Legacies of War.  “However,” he added, “Laos will not reach its full potential as long as much of its land is still contaminated with unexploded bombs.”

An estimated one third of Lao land is still littered with UXO from over 40 years ago, making land unavailable for food production or development, and 20,000 people have been killed or maimed by UXO since the bombings ended.

“We are hopeful that after witnessing the human impact of UXO in Laos first hand, the Secretary will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to helping Laos solve this problem once and for all.”

The bombings were part of the U.S. “Secret War” in Laos, unauthorized by Congress, to stem communist ground incursions from the North and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped the equivalent of one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day on a country the size of Minnesota. One ton of bombs was dropped for every man, woman, and child in Laos at the time, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.

“The people who continue to suffer from the bombings are ordinary Lao villagers,” said Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director of Legacies of War. “We are hopeful that after witnessing the human impact of UXO in Laos first hand, the Secretary will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to helping Laos solve this problem once and for all.”

U.S. funding for UXO clearance began in 1997 and remained at an average of $2.6 million per year until recently, when Congress directed that funding be increased to a record $9 million in 2012. Legacies of War joins its supporters in the diplomatic community and in Congress in asking Secretary Clinton to commit to allocating at least $10 million per year over the next ten years to help bring UXO clearance operations up to scale and make significant progress toward clearing Lao land for farming and development.

“Legacies of War joins its supporters in the diplomatic community and in Congress in asking Secretary Clinton to commit to allocating at least $10 million per year over the next ten years to help bring UXO clearance operations up to scale and make significant progress toward clearing Lao land for farming and development.”

Legacies of War was founded in 2004 to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombings of Laos and advocate for greater U.S. funding to clear UXO. Legacies seeks to provide space for healing the wounds of war using art, culture, education, community organizing, and dialogue among the Laotian-American community and the broader U.S. public. The organization is based in Washington, D.C.

For interviews or additional information please contact Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director,






Recent Supreme Court Rulings on Immigrants and Juveniles Highlight Tenacity of Public Interest Projects Grantees; Decisions Seen as Milestones for Dignity and Justice

Advocates in Arizona react to Supreme Court ruling on SB 1070

The U.S. Supreme Court made two momentous rulings recently that carry significant implications for grantees and funders advancing social justice.  In marking the decisions on Arizona’s SB 1070 and juvenile life without parole, the staff and board of Public Interest Projects honor the work of our grantees and funders that helped pave the way for these legal achievements.

Ruling on Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant SB 1070

On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down three key provisions of Arizona’s infamous SB 1070.  The law criminalized non-citizens who fail to carry documents and immigrants working in Arizona without authorization, as well as allowed local law enforcement to arrest without a warrant any person they believed committed a deportable offense.  In striking down three of the four provisions of Arizona’s law, the Court dealt a stinging rebuke to states like Arizona attempting to enact their own harsh immigration laws.  The ruling reaffirms the longstanding principle that the federal government has exclusive authority to set immigration policy:,  The decision came on the heels of an historic announcement by President Obama to grant deferred action to more than 800,000 immigrant youth known as “DREAMers.”

Although the Supreme Court left the most controversial part of the law – the notorious “show me your papers please” provision that allows police to check identification of anyone suspected of being undocumented – to stand (for now), the court left the door open to an array of constitutional challenges.

It’s too early to tell whether the Supreme Court ruling will quash states’ appetite for enacting anti-immigrant copycat laws.  Advocates fear increased racial profiling caused by the “show me your papers” provision. The spotlight now turns to Georgia, South Carolina and Utah to demonstrate how the ruling will affect the existing injunctions on each state’s anti-immigrant laws, as well as a similar provision in Alabama’s copycat law, which has been in effect

The work of grantees of the Four Freedoms Fund (FFF), a collaborative fund of Public Interest Projects, helped persuade the Supreme Court to reaffirm federal preemption as it relates to state immigration laws. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and ACLU Immigrant Rights Project coordinated the filing of amicus briefs in the Arizona case before the Court. These organizations are also co-lead attorneys in the class action lawsuit challenging SB 1070 on other grounds including racial profiling and unreasonable search and seizure. These two public interest law firms have also led class action challenges against copycat laws in five other states.  Litigation is one part of the overarching strategy to defeat these measures.  Our grantees are at the frontlines of struggles to defeat copycat laws state-by-state through advocacy, organizing and changing public opinion with strategic communications.

Additionally, FFF grantees in Arizona, Alabama and numerous other states responded immediately to the Supreme Court ruling with press conferences, hotline calls and community outreach.  At ground zero in Arizona, the Somos America Coalition and other community groups have been gathering the testimony of victims of racial profiling since the Arizona Governor signed SB 1070 into law.  In Alabama, FFF has supported the build up of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice in the wake of that state’s passage of HB 56, the copycat law, as well as funded communications and organizational capacity building efforts throughout the South.

Determined to protect the rights of immigrants and citizens nationwide, FFF grantee Somos America and its allies have launched the “Say Something, Do Something” campaign through Spanish language media to engage community members to document incidents of racial profiling by local law enforcement officials. Supported by FFF, Respect/Respeto’s 24-hour hotline continues to field calls from Latinos and immigrant community members who have questions about the Supreme Court’s ruling and the implementation of the “show me your papers” provision. As a result, community members are better prepared and informed about their rights under the Supreme Court decision.

“Public Interest Projects is proud to support over the past 10 years a phenomenal network of immigrant rights organizations both national and local across the country and stand in solidarity with immigrant communities who have been at the frontlines of the struggle for justice and equality,” said Berta Colon, Public Interest Projects co-president. “As the fight turns to overturning the ‘papers please’ provision, the ruling has major implications for funders interested in strengthening the capacity and power of organizations to document and challenge racial profiling.”

“FFF’s long-term support of the immigrant rights field has helped pave the way to victories such as the Supreme Court decision and the recent White House announcement of deferred action for DREAM students,” added Geri Mannion of Carnegie Corporation of New York, a founding funder of FFF.  “FFF donors have a place to strategize and coordinate their resources, so when events such as this past month’s happen, the funding community and advocates are ready to take immediate action.  Being part of the FFF donor collaborative helps make me a better funder.”

Ruling on Juvenile Life Without Parole

On June 25, the Court issued an historic ruling regarding the practice of sentencing juveniles to life without parole (JLWOP), holding that it is unconstitutional to sentence any child under age 18 to a mandatory life-without-parole sentence if convicted of a homicide.

This ruling reflects a recognition by the Court that children are different from adults, and must be treated accordingly when facing sentencing.  Mandatory life-without-parole imposed on children violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments.”  A 2005 decision by the court prohibited the death penalty for those under 18. In 2010, the Court struck down JLWOP sentencing for crimes that do not involve homicide.

For more than five years, the U.S. Human Rights Fund (USHRF), a collaborative fund of Public Interest Projects, has supported community organizers and litigators seeking to end the heinous practice of juvenile life without parole.

It is unclear how much relief the 2010 and 2012 decisions will offer those currently incarcerated. To that end, legal and legislative efforts of USHRF grantees will continue on both a state and federal levels. In practice, JLWOP advocacy has traditionally been under-resourced, but the chance to limit excessive punishment for children and show the special capacity they have for rehabilitation has never been greater.  Changes in JLWOP can also serve as a powerful lynchpin for other needed reforms within the criminal justice system.

The USHRF and its partners will host a funder briefing on the rulings on July 11.  Download information regarding a July 11 telebriefing, by clicking here:  USHRF Teleconference Flyer.

“Today’s historic decision brings our nation closer in line with the rest of the world, as the U.S. alone sentences children to life in prison without the possibility of parole. We are heartened that the Court has brought hope to those who were told as teens that they deserved nothing more than certain death in prison,” noted Jody Kent Lavy, Director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, a leading USHRF grantee.

Although different rulings, the Court’s decisions have close parallels historically and politically since politicians often target unpopular and disenfranchised groups, including youth, immigrants and people of color – all constituents of work Public Interest Projects funds.

“A priority of Public Interest Projects is building the long-term program and organizational capacity of grantees, like those behind these historic rulings,” explained Michele Lord, Public Interest Projects co-president. We are grateful to our many dedicated long-term funders who have joined us in supporting these grantees over the past decade.  We hope these rulings will inspire other funders to join our effort to ensure advocates have the resources needed to challenges repressive and unjust laws.”