How to Be an Advocate for Immigrants and RefugeesNatural disaster, civil war, ethnic conflict, economic depravity, and gang violence are just a few of the reasons that people in today’s globalized society are left with little choice but to flee their home countries in search of safety and prosperity elsewhere. As more and more individuals and families are impacted by these and other traumatic events, the number of immigrants and refugees is increasing worldwide. Yet the policies and administrative abilities of the countries in which immigrants and refugees seek refuge lag far behind the challenges and needs of the precarious circumstances and unique needs of the people arriving at their borders. Perhaps now more than ever, immigrants and refugees from countries around the world are in need of allies and supporters who will advocate for their rights in the face of increasingly anti-immigrant policies and rampant xenophobia.


As a profession rooted in social justice and dedicated How to be an advocate for Immigrants and Refugees Infographicto improving life for the most vulnerable populations, social workers around the globe have taken a stand to denounce policies and practices harmful to immigrants and refugees and protect their human rights throughout the migration process. These macro-level efforts by coalitions of social workers are an important avenue for influencing policy change, and set an example for individual social workers who are seeking guidance on these complex policy issues.

As a mandate of the profession, social workers engage in advocacy on behalf of their clients and the broader social issues that impact them. The mission of the social work profession is to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty,” and in pursuit of this mission, social workers can and often do go beyond case advocacy to policy advocacy and system advocacy. Thus, even social workers who are not engaging immigrant and refugee clients should consider committing themselves to advocacy for immigrants and refugees, as they are some of the most vulnerable populations in today’s society.

For those who are unfamiliar with the most pressing policy and practice issues impacting the everyday lives of immigrants and refugees, and/or uncertain how to take action to advocate for immigrant and refugee populations, here are five steps you can take to join the movement for immigrant justice.

  1. LISTEN to immigrants and refugees so you can understand the issues that impact them from their point of view.

While immigration policy experts and social service workers engaging immigrant and refugee clients might have a lot to say about the most pressing issues affecting these populations, the best information on the needs, challenges, and experiences of immigrants and refugees in any context comes directly from the source. If you have immigrant and refugee clients, listen to their stories with an open mind and let their firsthand experiences of migration guide you to the issues that most urgently need social work advocacy. If you practice in a different social work arena, or have not had the opportunity to work with any immigrant or refugee clients, there are still plenty of opportunities to listen to their stories and perspectives: talk to a friend who has migrated, look for local events featuring immigrant and refugee speakers, or search for videos and written narratives of immigrant and refugee testimonios or testimonies online. Immigrants and refugees are the experts on their own lives, and listening to and affirming the stories they choose to share is the first step in connecting their experiences to systemic issues in need of change.

  1. Get involved with an organization serving immigrants and refugees.

There are thousands of local organizations dedicated to seeking justice for immigrants and refugees, through direct services, community organizing, and policy development. These organizations are vital to protecting the rights and improving the lives of immigrants and refugees around the world, and your support of these organizations will help them continue in that important work. Your support can take a variety of forms – make a donation (a recurring one, if financially feasible), mentor a newly-arrived refugee family as they adjust to life in the U.S., volunteer to teach or tutor in English language-learning programs, or attend local fundraisers and other events. Your support in any of these ways will provide vital assistance to immigrants and refugees and the individuals who have dedicated their careers to working with them. Be sure to sign up for the organization’s email list to stay up to date!

  1. Contact your representatives about issues impacting immigrants and refugees.

Your representatives in local, state, and national government need to hear from you about the issues you care about, as an individual and as a social worker. Many immigrants and refugees are in precarious legal and economic situations that limit their ability to engage in direct advocacy for themselves in this way, but you can communicate directly with policymakers on their behalf. Getting in touch with the government officials elected to represent you is easier now than ever – in addition to visiting them in person and calling them by phone, you can email them, send them direct messages or tweet at them on Twitter, or even use ResistBot to draft personalized letters to them via text message. Do your research and find out specific bills and initiatives related to immigrant and refugee policy and practices that you would like your representatives to oppose or support, and reference those specifics in your communications with them. However you choose to get in touch, let your legislators know that they need to take action to improve the lives of immigrants and refugees.

  1. Show up for marches, protests, vigils, and other actions to show your support for immigrant and refugee communities.

In the face of anti-immigrant policies and xenophobic rhetoric, many immigrant and refugee groups are showing their collective power and resilience by organizing mass mobilizations and marches, peaceful protests, strategic acts of civil disobedience, commemorative vigils, and other actions that build community amongst immigrants, refugees, and their allies and display their strength in spite of oppressive forces. Many of these actions depend on a good turnout for their success – they need large numbers of supporters to show up in order to attract the attention of media and policymakers. You can be an advocate for immigrants and refugees by attending these events – or better yet, volunteering to help make the events a success and organizing a group of people to show up!

  1. Educate others to improve public attitudes toward immigrants.

A lot of misinformation about immigrants and refugees continues to circulate in the media and online, and many people remain woefully ignorant about immigration policy and its impacts on human lives. Substantial efforts to better educate the American public about immigrant and refugee issues are needed in order to improve public attitudes toward immigrants, and pave the way for policy reforms and local initiatives that will lead us closer to achieving immigrant justice. There are innumerable ways you can join the effort to educate others – talk to your friends and family members about the injustices immigrants and refugees experience, help your organization or agency issues a statement in support of immigrant and refugee rights, share immigrant and refugee stories and relevant media pieces on your social networks, and most importantly, make sure you are educated and up to date on current events that impact immigrants and refugees.


These five ideas are meant as first steps in becoming an advocate for immigrants and refugees. Check out these additional resources for more educational information, and opportunities for social workers and other social service professionals to engage in advocacy efforts that will improve the lives of immigrants and refugees in the U.S.

Educational Resources:

Advocacy Resources:


How to Be an Advocate for Immigrants and Refugees
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How to Be an Advocate for Immigrants and Refugees
These five ideas are meant as first steps in becoming an advocate for immigrants and refugees.