MIRA was founded in 1987 in response to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which allowed 3–5 million undocumented immigrants to become permanent residents. The goal was to not only advocate for the rights and integration of those immigrants, but also build a diverse, member-driven coalition to advance the interests of all foreign-born people.
At the same time, similar coalitions developed in other states with large immigrant populations, such as Illinois, New York, Texas and California. As these groups built a nationwide network, we joined forces to become effective advocates in Washington as well as at home. Thus from the start, MIRA has been able to combine strong local knowledge with a national perspective.
Still, for much of its first decade, MIRA was mainly a “policy shop,” with a very small staff. This changed after the welfare reform law and the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, whose new restrictions on immigrants demanded a renewed political response. By the time founding director Muriel Heiberger departed in 2000, MIRA had grown to a dozen staff members, with a strong voice at the local, state and federal levels.
Over time, Massachusetts’ immigrant and refugee population has grown significantly, to nearly 1.2 million, about half of whom arrived after 2000. MIRA’s work has greatly expanded as well, with a large and diversified membership and high-profile organizing work such as the establishment of the annual Immigrants’ Day at the State House, which has brought together as many as 1,500 people at a time to Beacon Hill to advocate for immigrant rights.
MIRA has also played a key role in highlighting major policy challenges, with reports such as Democracy On Hold, which illustrated the problems of the naturalization backlog, and has been instrumental in the establishment of state programs and budget lines to support immigrant integration, such as funds to support naturalization. We worked towards passage of a federal immigration provision (245i) that allowed many families to reunite; as well as state legislation requiring interpreters and creating numerous safety-net programs, including one for domestic violence victims.
By its 20th anniversary in 2007, MIRA had again redoubled its efforts. Twenty years after President Reagan’s partial immigration overhaul, the organization became a leading voice in a new national movement for comprehensive immigration reform, backed by the crucial support of U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy. Around the same time, MIRA also founded and supported the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM, now an independent organization), opened a sister office in New Hampshire, and contributed to significant policy changes in the wake of devastating raids in New Bedford in 2007.
In its third decade, MIRA undertook several major initiatives, from English for New Bostonians (now independent) and English Works, two major efforts seeking to improve English learning opportunities for adult immigrants — to producing the Commonwealth’s New Americans Agenda, the most comprehensive study on immigrant integration in the nation. The Agenda not only shaped Massachusetts state policies, but also served as a model for national policies adopted under President Obama. MIRA was also a co-founder of the National Partnership for New Americans, established in 2010 to give a more prominent voice to state immigrant and refugee advocacy coalitions in Washington, D.C.
Today, as we face the most hostile environment for immigrants in our history, MIRA is committed to serving as a strong, unifying force, connecting immigrants and refugees, service providers and a wide array of allies to fight together for a just and inclusive society.