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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.
As many Democrats and Republicans have cautioned, those who prevent the passing of immigration reform often commit political suicide. Yet unfortunately, a large portion of Republican members of the House of Representatives seem to be digging their graves right now. Instead of taking up the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill, House Republicans together decided to take a piecemeal approach, and not to deal with the issue until after the long August recess.
In response to the House’s inaction, a New Orleans-style funeral procession—complete with an energetic jazz band quartet and makeshift coffin held high-- made its way on a recent Wednesday from the Massachusetts Republican Party Headquarters at North Station to the historic Granary Burying Ground. There rally-goers symbolically laid inaction to rest . Passersby paused to get a better look, and cars honked in support as a couple dozen marchers from community-based groups holding signs to “Keep Our Families Together!” This mock-funeral mourned the demise of a political party that has continued to ignore the pleas of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
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.
Last Wednesday in Washington, hundreds of families, DREAMers, and immigration reform supporters rallied on the steps of the Capitol chanting “si se puede.” Just inside, House Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, made the crippling decision to scrap the Senate’s resolution for reform, turning away from the human face of this debate to look only at fence lengths and border-patrol numbers.
On June 27, hope for comprehensive immigration reform made some real headway when a bill passed through Senate on a bipartisan vote. Both parties agreed on things like a flexible guest-worker program and providing more visas for highly skilled workers, as well as paving a path to citizenship. Democrats had hoped for a 70 vote victory in the Senate, and in the end they came up just two votes shy of their goal. With 15 Republicans voting for the bill, they proved that democratic compromise could work, creating a wave of optimistic momentum as the bill moved into the House. However, the price of the agreement was over-the-top border security, an endeavor that would cost nearly $46 billion.
Yet it still wasn’t apparently enough for Republicans in the House.
On this terrible day of tragedy and uncertainty in Greater Boston, we at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition extend our deepest condolences to the family of officer Sean Collier, who was killed in the line of duty yesterday. We also offer our hopes for a speedy recovery to those hurt, and our prayers for continued safety and security to all residents of the Bay State.
By Sarang Sekhavat, MIRA Federal Policy Director:
After what seems like an eternity of waiting, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finally issued the final rule for provisional waivers of inadmissibility, what advocates are calling the “Family Unity Waiver”. DHS initially announced back in January 2012 that it would make changes to the way that undocumented relatives of US Citizens could re-enter the United States after leaving the country to obtain an immigration visa abroad. In April, DHS issued an interim rule and requested comments from the public. On January 3, 2013, DHS released the final rule which incorporates some of the suggestions from public comments, but leaves many of our major concerns untouched. The final rule will go into effect on March 4, 2013.
The Old Rule
The new rule is necessary because of the unfair way that the federal government processes I-601s, Applications for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), certain undocumented relatives of US Citizens who benefit from a family-based petition had to leave the United States in order to obtain their immigration visa from a US consulate. The problem is, once an undocumented individual leaves the country, they are subject to a 10-year bar to returning. So essentially, the person is leaving the country to obtain documents required to be here legally, but once they leave, they are not legally allowed to return for 10 years. The INA does allow an individual to file the I-601 to request permission to return to the United States prior to the 10 years, but current regulations say that the individual must file the I-601 outside the country. That means that the beneficiary of the immigration visa must leave the country and be subject to the 10 year bar first, then file the application and hope they are allowed back into the country.
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.
With the first debate focusing on domestic topics and the third debate covering foreign policy issues extensively, only the second meeting between the Presidential candidates provided insight into either’s plan for immigration reform.
As the race for the Senate seat in Massachusetts heats up and Election Day draws near, it is important to consider the effects the outcome will have on the state’s minority and immigrant communities – and vice versa.
The Boston Globe's blog "The Podium" published an editorial by MIRA's executive director, Eva Millona, explaining why the new RMV provision won't make Massachusetts any safer. Read the article or see the full text below. Take action on this issue!
Targeting undocumented immigrants
By Eva A. Millona | JULY 24, 2012
This Saturday, MIRA will join the Greater Boston Citizenship Initiative (GCBI) in hosting our only Boston-area citizenship clinic of the summer. These free clinics provide legal permanents residents (LPRs) with the guidance, referrals and materials needed to successfully complete their application, pass their citizenship test, and become fully integrated and engaged U.S. citizens.
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)
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.
This year’s Give Liberty a Hand gala also marks MIRA’s 25th anniversary. While MIRA is honored to celebrate another year of continued positive influence in the community, we are especially eager to honor the longevity of the organization. The sustained presence and expansion over the years is a point of particular pride for all of those who have remained steadfastly involved with MIRA and its core mission of advocating for immigrant and refugee rights in the Commonwealth. To those organizations and individuals who have contributed to this continued success, we extend our deepest gratitude.
As part of the Tufts Hillel Moral Voices lecture series, Deval Patrick spoke at the university on Monday about immigration rhetoric and voiced concerns regarding existing and pending immigration policies. Continue reading to take a look at what the governor had to say by reading the speechâ€™s transcript.
It 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.