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MIRA Blog

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.

Blogger: Samuel
Samuel Tsoi is Policy Associate at MIRA

A much-needed spark to the DREAM

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)

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The Obama administration to stop deporting DREAMers

Breaking news this morning via Associated Press:

The Obama administration will stop deporting and begin giving work permits to younger illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have since led law-abiding lives. The election-year initiative addresses a top priority of a growing Latino electorate that has opposed administration deportation policies.

The administration’s decision will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants. Two senior administration officials described the plan on condition of anonymity ahead of its expected announcement Friday.

Stay tuned for details.

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Send them to study

DetourIt is that time of year when high school seniors eagerly await their college acceptance letters.  For many, of course, acceptance does not guarantee access. Undocumented students must still pay 2-3 times more tuition than other students to attend public colleges in our state, regardless of their contributions to their communities, number of years in the U.S., or the absence of any choice in whether to immigrate.  Because they are also ineligible for public financial aid, college is therefore a financial impossibility for many undocumented students. The Massachusetts legislature, for the fourth time in the last decade, has deferred these students the equal access to higher education they deserve. 


Last summer, students, educators, business leaders and other supporters of higher education equality packed a
State House hearing room to testify in favor of An Act regarding higher education opportunities for high school graduates. This bill would remedy our state's current discriminatory policy by allowing all students to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges in Massachusetts provided they attend high school for at least three years in our state and graduate or obtain a GED. The bill would also generate $7.4 million per year once fully implemented, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayers Association, without crowding classrooms.

Last week, An Act regarding higher education opportunities for high school graduates was "sent to study" by the Joint Committee on Higher Education, effectively halting progress for the remainder of this year.  While it was convenient for politicians to not take up a reasonable and pragmatic bill because of yet another election season, many students are left again with the burden of sending themselves to study with unrealistic costs, or not pursue college at all.

By kicking the can down the road, the Legislature is not only failing these students, but also wasting talent of a population most likely tostay, contribute to the Commonwealth. Delaying the bill also lacks foresight in our goals for a strong economic recovery, especially as our entrepreneurs, world-class companies and research institutions are hungry for a readied workforce in this globalized knowledge-based economy. Having already lost our first-mover advantage, thirteen states have adopted laws and policies of higher education equality, including our neighbors New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. But this momentum also gives us hope, especially as the movement for national immigration reform continues.

MIRA expresses our deepest gratitude to the lead sponsors of this bill, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, Representative Denise Provost and Representative Alice Wolf, who stood as courageous champions for this bill, as well as the co-sponsoring legislators of this bill and all students, advocates and allies that stood up for higher education equality this session. It will be a bittersweet summer for some of our high school graduates, but it doesn't have to be this way for those that follow the class of 2012.

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Massachusetts bets on prejudiced “Casino economy”

casinos-news-4_bigThe fast-moving train of building casinos in Massachusetts included bigoted cargo yesterday, and could pick up some more this week.

An amendment designed to restrict immigrant workers sponsored by Senator Hedlund (R-Weymouth) to the Senate Casino Bill that will set an unprecedented mandate on future jobs contracted via this legislation passed 32-6 yesterday. All hires at Mass. casinos would have to go through the E-verify program.

Currently, all employers, public and private, are required to report work-authorization status via the I-9 form.   This amendment calls for the use of the federal E-Verify program, a flawed system that repeatedly misidentifies authorized immigrant and native-born citizen workers, resulting in candidates losing positions even after they have proven their status.   This legislation’s mission to drive undocumented workers further underground is a race to the bottom not only in terms of aggregate wages, but also in reported income (and therefore income tax revenue). This amendment further pits worker against worker, and unnecessarily burdens businesses.

Small businesses and immigrant and labor advocates have opposed these types of measures before, most recently in the House version of the Casino Bill (which wisely rejected an E-Verify amendment) and throughout the budget debate.  This time, with the hyped branding of a “jobs-creation bill,” the Senate has once again snuck in a prejudiced, unfair and scapegoating measure in the name of protecting jobs for Massachusetts workers.

Furthermore, states such as Arizona and Georgia who have implemented broad E-Verify mandates have seen their state economies hurt by a dramatic loss of workers in key industries such as agriculture, and losses in tax revenues due to a shifting of taxpayers off the books. Those hard-learned lessons are halting a push on the federal level to mandate E-Verify to all employers (currently only Federal employers are required, while others opt in voluntarily).

As if scapegoating immigrants on the supply end of this “Casino-economy” is not enough, Senators also want to drive away immigrant customers by proposing immigration-status checks on gaming customers. Amendment 157 and 171 to S.2015 requires that ICE verify the immigration status of all gaming customers who win $600 or more in Massachusetts gaming establishments.

There is no evidence that undocumented immigrants are less likely to report winnings to the IRS than persons lawfully residing in the U.S., though this was the stated justification for the measure when proposed in the House.  Undocumented immigrants often use Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITIN numbers) issued by the IRS for the express purpose of allowing them to pay income taxes to the federal government.

Call your State Senator to ask them to oppose amendments 157 and 171 to the Casino Bill: 617-722-2000

Also, be sure to voice your displeasure with the adoption of amendment 156, and thank those who stood firm against the anti-immigrant wave (Senators Chang-Diaz, Creem, DiDomenico, Eldridge, Fargo, Rosenberg).

You can also take action here.
 

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9/11, Immigration and American Ideals

A decade after 9/11, the issue of immigration has become more complex and contentious, but we continue to nurture the hope that it might become a source for renewing and revitalizing American identity and values.

The horrific attacks fundamentally altered the ways in which we conduct civil immigration enforcement and how we feel about diversity and demographic change. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, there were courageous stories of patriotism, unity, and empathy across America’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious fabric.  Unfortunately, there was also a rise in xenophobia, hate-crimes against Middle Eastern and Asian Americans, and the unjust profiling and harassment of foreigners and immigrants.

Thousands of Middle-Eastern, Muslim and South Asian young males were detained for indefinite periods of time, echoing the shameful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  The dragnet was enforced on the basis of minor immigration violations unrelated to criminal activity, let alone terrorist affiliation.

The National Security Entry Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was also implemented, requiring non-immigrants from predominantly Arab, South Asian and Muslim-majority countries to register at ports of entry. Furthermore, it required immigrants from these countries already residing in the United States on temporary visas to also register, a process that involved being fingerprinted, photographed and interrogated. Among the over 80,000 males who registered, not one has ever been convicted of terrorism.

After a long struggle by advocates, DHS de-listed those countries, but the registration system can still be activated for future actions that are deemed necessary for homeland security.

Today, the fissures of 9/11 are still open. The Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution recently released findings from the survey “What It Means to Be American: Attitudes in an Increasingly Diverse America Ten Years After 9/11.” According to the study, public opinion is divided on whether the influx of newcomers strengthens or threatens the United States, and the divide largely falls along partisan and generational lines.

Interestingly the study also uncovered deep contradictions in the divisions. While 51 percent support deportation of all undocumented immigrants and 57 percent supports the DREAM Act, 62 percent supports a legalization program if the border is secured — although there is no practical or policy consensus on what a secure border means.  It demonstrates the overwhelming preoccupation with security in the post-9/11 era — a preoccupation that has led to immigration and enforcement agencies being shifted from the Department of Justice to the conglomeration known as the Department of Homeland Security.

The securitization of immigration has had deep ramifications – from altering policy priorities and allocation of resources, to encouraging practices of profiling that erode the fundamental values of freedom, dignity and civil rights that undergird America’s strength.

Taken together, the prejudiced approaches to immigration enforcement, the complex attitudes of the public, plus the inflamed rhetoric by some pundits and politicians all have played a role in poisoning the debate on immigration reform – a reform on which the long term economic and social health of our nation hinges.  As a decade has passed, the results of draconian immigration policies and racial-profiling clearly show that this poison not only hurts the solidarity necessary to cope with 9/11, but also adds no strategic value to our security.

Sadly, the struggle for more sensible and just approaches still faces daunting obstacles. Muslims are still demonized in events such as Congressional hearings on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community" held by Representative Peter King (R-N.Y.).  Immigrants that have no intention to harm America are still being scapegoated in draconian policies in states such as Arizona and Alabama and in misnomer federal enforcement programs such as Secure Communities.

As we mourn those perished in the attacks on September 11, 2001, let us also work to counter prejudice and unjust treatment of those living in the aftermath by recognizing that our immigrant tradition and ideal of E Pluribus Unum add to our security and strength as a nation.

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Combating human trafficking at home

The international fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery is facing daunting challenges, the U.S. State Department said in a new report out this week.

Roughly 27 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide, according to the report, with 100,000 of them in the United States. The total number of countries that are not meeting international standards to stop human trafficking nearly doubled to 23, according to the department's annual report.

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Stop Anti-Immigrant Amendments!

During last year's State Senate budget debate, a package of harmful amendments were passed that became the most severe blow to immigrant rights by the Massachusetts legislature in recent memory, the core effects of which eventually defused by the conference committee.

They are back.

Senators Tarr, Hedlund and Knapik filed a number of anti immigrant amendments in the FY2012 budget: from a 24 hour hotline to report suspected undocumented workers anonymously, to E-verify mandate and barring in-state tuition.

Please contact your Senators to let them know that you are against these amendments!

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Applauding Refugee Resiliance

As Boston sloughs winter, its streets fill with athletes logging the final miles for the spring running of the Boston Marathon. This year marks the 115th annual race, which boasts a history much in line with the changing dynamic of life in the United States.

At the race’s inception, it was merely a local event, attracting a homogenous crowd of runners. Over the years, the race has grown in popularity and notoriety, becoming one of the worlds’ most recognized marathons. Owning a coveted race bib holds a great sense of accomplishment for runners from Boston to places as far reaching as Ethiopia or Mongolia. The field is composed of a hodge-podge of athletes from across the globe, a diverse event joining individuals from many nations with a single goal: to finish, and finish strong.

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Preserve Refugee Resettlement and America's Ideals

As Washington moves forward with largely symbolic cuts to the federal budget, with no substantive discussion on the biggest parts of spending (tax breaks for the rich, military, entitlements), many critical human services programs are being threatened.
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Mixed messages for immigrants in the National Budget

budget_tnPresident Obama’s FY2012 federal spending bill includes two conflicting proposals for immigrant integration. On one hand, the President’s proposed $19.75 million for the Office of Citizenship marks an increase of $1.76 million compared with FY11 (which the GOP-controlled House of Representatives wants to completely eliminate). This is a critical commitment to helping already-integral legal permanent residents to fully participate in our civic life and democratic process by becoming US Citizens.

On the other hand, the President proposed deep cuts to Community Service Block Grants (CSBG), which has been the federal government's only comprehensive approach to address the needs of economically vulnerable residents – helping immigrants and citizens get the services they need to recover from the recession. A cut in CSBG spending will decimate successful and fiscally-efficient programs such as the Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) and Tri-City Community Action Program (Tri-Cap) in Malden. These programs, along with the 1000+ agencies across 99 percent of U.S. counties, together retained over 18,000 jobs, and help provide critical support in employment, workforce training, housing, utilities, child care, disabilities services, etc.

MIRA and other immigrant advocates welcome the Office of Citizenship funding, with which it will continue the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program, fee reform, public awareness initiative. The funding can also expand the Citizenship Resource Center, establish regional Citizenship outreach officers, and advance civics and literacy education programs.

However, without economic security, which the defunding of Community Action agencies undermines, it will encumber the naturalization process for many working- and middle-class legal permanent residents. While acquiring citizenship is in many ways a milestone for immigrant integration, the federal government's role in improving economic security, community development and workforce training needs to go hand in hand to comprehensively integrate New Americans into our social, economic and civic future

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Patrick Tries to Resuscitate Immigrant Health Care

BOSTON -- This afternoon Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick held a press conference to discuss his signature of the Massachusetts state budget for fiscal 2011, which begins tomorrow.

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Health care coverage for immigrants

MIRA welcomes the new year with great news — Just as it was about to run out at the end of January, the Commonwealth Care Bridge program has been funded until the end of this fiscal year, June 30, 2011!

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Stand for Public Safety

The Patrick Administration abruptly reversed course last week and announced it would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), entering the state into the controversial "Secure Communities" program.

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Stand for Public Safety

The Patrick Administration abruptly reversed course last week and announced it would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), entering the state into the controversial "Secure Communities" program. (See previous post for details)

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Gov. Patrick to sign "Secure Communities" agreement



Immigrant and Refugee Community Oppose Patrick's"Secure Communities" Accord
Agreement called premature and potentially dangerous

BOSTON -- The Patrick Administration abruptly reversed course today and announced it would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE), entering the state into the controversial "Secure Communities" program. Law enforcement enrolled in the program automatically runs fingerprints of all arrested persons against an ICE database. The federal government's intention is to flag and detain those with immigration violations, thus improving the apprehension and deportation of dangerous criminals, or "Level 1" offenders. In practice, however, the program has had numerous problems. Nationally, almost 80% of those deported have not been "Level 1" violators, and in Boston, over half of those deported have not been guilty of any criminal behavior whatsoever (immigration violations are generally a civil, not a criminal, offense). The program is also criticized by immigrant and civil rights advocates for potentially increasing instances of racial profiling, and for decreasing levels of trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.

Governor Deval Patrick had previously named these and other systematic concerns as issues needing further scrutiny before the state entered into any formal "Secure Communities" accord. Nationally, the program has been slowed in jurisdictions that expressed similar misgivings, which has called into question the ability ICE to appropriately implement "Secure Communities" nationwide by 2013.

"Governor Patrick has previously shown great sensitivity to the concerns expressed by the state's immigrant and refugee communities," said Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "That is why we were shocked and deeply disappointed that he would reverse course without any apparent need. We continue to believe that the state should hold off from signing any "Secure Communities" accord until the program is fully scrutinized and its serious flaws addressed. We can only conclude that the governor is receiving faulty legal advice, and we urge him and his advisers to reconsider this unnecessary and potentially dangerous decision at this time."

Press Contact: Franklin Soults, Communications Director 617-350-5480 ext. 204, 216-849-2271, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Senate Votes Tomorrow on DREAM Act

Sixty votes needed to overcome Republican-led filibuster

Last night Senate majority leader Harry Reid filed for cloture on the DREAM Act and a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

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DREAM Act Now!

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act is federal legislation that would provide qualified undocumented US high school students to earn legal residency by serving in U.S. Armed Forces or attend college for at least two years.

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Thanksgiving: an enduring immigrant tradition

On November 16th, MIRA continued the tradition of celebrating the immigrant family at it's 7th Annual Thanksgiving Luncheon.

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Bigotry goes mobile

Apple approved a new iPhone application for mobile bigotry. NumbersUSA, founded by white supremacist John Tanton, is notorious for starting the fire and fanning the flames of anti-immigrant sentiments.

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Immigrants Create Jobs

Despite the political salience of blaming immigrants for job losses in America, economists, scholars and journalists have conclude quite the opposite.

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