News from MIRA

‘You have to come close to other people to see them’

Amira at World Refugee Day 2017Amira Alamry, a Syrian mother and former schoolteacher now living in Massachusetts, speaks at a World Refugee Day event at Boston City Hall, with her portrait in the background.

A City Hall exhibit and World Refugee Day event offer a glimpse behind the numbers.

BOSTON – The portraits are displayed in pairs: one life-size, the other a close-up, with a questionnaire in the middle that includes the subject’s name, the year of departure from Syria, and tidbits of daily life: fondest memory, favorite TV book, favorite TV show, hopes for the future.

We learn that Raed, who left Syria in 2013, loves the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, but also the lyrics of the Arabic-language singer Majida Halim El Roumi. Ali, who fled Syria in 2014, loves The Simpsons – but in English, not the German dub, which isn’t funny. He’d love to meet Angela Merkel.

Talar, who left Syria in 2012, misses school life and her friends, many of whom are still in Syria. Rawa’a, who was resettled in Canada, wants to make Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proud of the Syrians his country has welcomed. Oh, and she loves the phrase “How’s it goin’?”

Read more: ‘You have to come close to other people to see them’

Good news for Dreamers – but not for immigrant parents

Dreamer at IDSH2017Elias Rosenfeld, who was brought to the U.S. from Venezuela when he was 6 and is now a student at Brandeis University, spoke at Immigrants’ Day about his experience with DACA.

BOSTON, June 16, 2017 – U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said yesterday that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will remain in effect – though a Homeland Security spokesman said today that the future of DACA “continues to be under review with the administration.”

Secretary Kelly’s update on DACA came on the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the program, a single line in a larger announcement that President Obama’s 2014 memorandum creating the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program, which has been blocked by court action, is being rescinded.

“We are pleased and relieved to see DACA continue at least for now, despite the president’s campaign promises to eliminate the program,” said Eva A. Millona, executive director of MIRA. “Since DACA started, more than 7,900 Massachusetts residents have successfully applied, with huge benefits not only for these young people, but for our entire communities.”

Read more: Good news for Dreamers – but not for immigrant parents

A flood of opposition to deputizing law enforcement as ICE agents

The message from advocacy groups, legal experts, faith-based organizations and citizens was clear: let the federal government handle immigration matters.

Cabral witnesses crowd May2017Rep. Antonio Cabral (far left, next to Rep. Denise Provost) prepares to testify, backed by a roomful of supporters.

BOSTON, May 11, 2017 – State Rep. Antonio Cabral said he doesn’t want to debate immigration policy. “That is the responsibility of the federal government,” he told the Joint Committee on Public Safety on Monday.

Instead, the New Bedford Democrat urged the committee to support his two bills, H.3033 (An Act Relative to Enforcing Federal Law), and H.3034 (An Act Limiting the Use of Prison Labor), on fiscal grounds. “State dollars ought to be used for state programs, period,” he said.

The first bill would bar the use of state funds to implement “287(g)” collaboration agreements between Massachusetts sheriffs and correctional facilities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Under those agreements, which have been signed by the Bristol County and Plymouth County Sheriffs and the state Department of Corrections, officers of those agencies are deputized to question people about their immigration status, arrest them for immigration violations, and start deportation proceedings.

Read more: A flood of opposition to deputizing law enforcement as ICE agents

On May Day, Congressman listens to concerns among immigrants and refugees

A dozen people brought together by MIRA talked about urgent needs and moral imperatives.

Congressman Kennedy with Eva Millona
MIRA Executive Director Eva Millona welcomes Congressman Joseph Kennedy at MIRA on Monday. Click to see more photos.

BOSTON, May 2, 2017 – Amira and her children came to Boston with just three suitcases and hope. She applied for asylum and got a work permit, which has enabled her to support her family. But progress on her case has been slow, and the wait has been nerve-wracking.

“I’ve been living in anxiety for three years,” she told Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA 4th Dist.) on Monday. She can’t travel internationally, but doesn’t even dare leave the state, lest it somehow get her in trouble. “My children think that if I speed in the car, I might get deported.”

She hears her people described as a drain on U.S. taxpayers, even though she knows they’re working hard, even starting businesses. She hears Muslims equated with terrorists and ISIS. Her son, now 8, has been bullied in school. “Kids are telling him: You are a foreigner – you must go back.”

Amira was one of a dozen people that MIRA brought together in its office on Monday to talk with Congressman Kennedy about the challenges faced by immigrants and refugees right now.

It was clearly a subject close to the Congressman’s heart. He spoke with anger about the Trump administration’s “cold-blooded” strategy to target immigrants, and with deep compassion for immigrants and refugees. It is our “moral obligation”, he said, to help ensure that all people in our communities can achieve their full potential.

Read more: On May Day, Congressman listens to concerns among immigrants and refugees

Bilingualism is an asset, and Mass. schools should promote it

It’s time to free schools to teach English language learners in the ways that best meet their needs – and to enable high school graduates to earn a ‘Seal of Biliteracy’.

Language opportunityWhen children who don’t speak English enroll in a Massachusetts public school, they go into an English “immersion” program – not just to learn the language, but for math, science and all subjects. Their teachers are specially trained to work with “English language learners,” but by law, even if they speak a student’s native language, they can’t use anything but English in the classroom.

For some children, immersion works well, and they quickly learn enough English to succeed in school. Others struggle, however, and fall behind significantly in their education.

And whether or not they thrive in English, often students who were fluent in their native language when they arrived get “rusty” after a few years. They may still do fine in casual conversation, but struggle to read, write or use the language in a more formal setting.

Bills before the Massachusetts Legislature this session aim to change that.

Read more: Bilingualism is an asset, and Mass. schools should promote it