MIRA advocates for the rights and opportunities of immigrants and refugees. In partnership with its members, MIRA advances this mission through policy analysis and advocacy, institutional organizing, training and leadership development, and strategic communications.
By CARA FOSTER-KARIM
"I came [to] America like everybody else who imagines America as a great nation," says Yiheyis Derebew. “At first I worked as a parking lot manager at Logan Airport, but I was always looking for a way to introduce the great culture of Ethiopia to this country.” When Derebew arrived in Massachusetts in 1997, he was surprised to realize that Americans’ main impression of Ethiopia, and Africa in general, was one of famine, poverty, and desperation. Determined to set the record straight, he and his wife saved up enough until they were able to open their own business. Their store, Lalibela, is located on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge and sells Ethiopian clothing, jewelry, books, and traditional food items such as teff flour, spices, and coffee beans. In response to people’s misconceptions, he says, “I wanted to show that that was not the right picture of Ethiopia. It’s the only non-colonized country in Africa, with very nice weather, very good soil, and rich history and cultural traditions.” Although his store primarily serves Ethiopian and other African customers, Derebew says people frequently walk in off street, intrigued by the window displays, who have never even heard of Ethiopia.
Yiheyis Derebew is one of many African immigrant entrepreneurs in Massachusetts who not only contribute to the local economy, but also help to enrich their neighborhoods by sharing their culture. According to a recent Boston Globe article, immigrant-owned businesses in Massachusetts generate $2.8 billion in income annually, 14 percent of the state’s total. Immigrants are also twice as likely as native-born residents to start a business.
By Elizabeth Maguire, Citizenship Program Intern
Inna Ivers first came to the United States from Bulgaria 13 years ago as a library sciences student looking for work experience and to improve her English.
A new report from the Information Technology Industry Council, the Partnership for a New American Economy, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tells another, less familiar part of this story, though one well-known to those paying attention: the growing role of immigrant workers in these same STEM industries, where the foreign-born account for 26.1% of workers with PhDs and 17.7% of master’s degree holders.
In the lyrics of Sam Cooke, “It’s been a long time coming, but I know…a change is gonna come.”
Today, President Obama will announce lifting the threat of deportation for some undocumented students and granting them work authorization on a temporary and renewable basis.
In a memo released this morning from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, an estimated 1 million young people could be eligible for DHS’s “deferred action” directive. Students in the U.S. who are already in deportation proceedings or those who qualify for the DREAM Act, will not be deported and will be eligible for work permits.
To be eligible, applicants must be between 15 and 30 years old and have resided in the U.S. for at least five years continuously. Students can either be presently enrolled, graduated, received a high school diploma/GED, or be honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces. People who have one felony, one serious misdemeanor, or three minor misdemeanors will be ineligible to apply. Minor traffic violations such as driving without a license, will not be counted. Deferred action will last for two years and can be renewed, meaning long-term relief is still be predicated upon legislative change.
Republic Senators blocked the DREAM Act in 2010, after it passed the House – the furthest it has gone in the legislative process. The DREAM Act offers a pathway toward permanent residency for young people who have completed some college or military service. This year, House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) has already said he would not hold a hearing on the DREAM Act in his committee. Recently, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has expressed support for a scaled-back version of the bill.
This announcement is a much-needed boost to our nation’s spirits and economic vitality. While this is a milestone for the immigrant rights movement, and a long overdue help for the young people who have known no other home other than the US, it is important to recognize that this does not alleviate the need for congressional action and comprehensive legislation.
The administration’s action today is not guaranteed immunity or categorical amnesty. Instead, the process will still be subjected to the discretion of individual field officers. Today’s directive and broadening of criteria is certainly promising, but it is important to prevent the spreading of false information and exploitation of immigrants.
Further details regarding the detailed process and implications on access in-state tuition, conditions for travel, etc. are forthcoming.
Tune in at 1:15 p.m. for the President’s statement.
(Photo: Massachusetts student activists advocating for the DREAM Act in front of the State House in 2010)