Seeks to help illegal immigrants gain legal status and exercise “the greatest privilege of citizenship, voting”
The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) was founded in 1987 to serve as “a voice” for the three to five million immigrants who had recently gained legal status with the passage of a 1986 federal amnesty bill. For much of its first decade, MIRA remained primarily a “policy shop” with a small full-time staff. That changed in 1996, however, when the Coalition actively sought to discredit two newly enacted laws: a welfare-reform bill that reduced public assistance for immigrants, and theIllegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which brought stricter enforcement of existing immigration laws. By 2000, MIRA had become a visible actor on the national political stage.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, MIRA was among the most strident critics of the PATRIOT Act, deriding the anti-terrorism legislation as a “very troubling” assault on the civil liberties of immigrants. In 2003, MIRA was a prominent endorser of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition, a pro-amnesty, pro-open-borders initiative. And in 2007, MIRA helped lead the national movement for comprehensive immigration reform, backed by Senator Edward Kennedy.
Currently the largest immigrant-rights group in New England, MIRA today describes itself as a “multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalition” devoted to “mobilizing community groups and immigrant leaders to speak out with one voice about issues that affect them.” The Coalition is composed of more than 140 organizational members, including community-based groups, social-service organizations, ethnic associations, schools, refugee-resettlement agencies, health centers and hospitals, religious institutions, unions, and law firms. Among MIRA's member groups are Amnesty International, the Center for Community Change, the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network, and various branches/locals of the ACLU, the SEIU, and UNITE HERE! MIRA also has thousands of individual members, contributors, and allies.
MIRA's literature repeatedly uses the generic term “immigrants” when referring to foreign-born U.S. residents—without distinguishing those who are there legally, from those there illegally. On the relatively rare occasions where MIRA makes explicit reference to illegal immigrants, it calls them “undocumented.”
MIRA's foremost agenda priorities are as follows:
to grant legal status to all illegal immigrants currently living in the United States;
to promote the civic engagement of immigrants via increased state and federal funding for citizenship services;
to help immigrants exercise “the greatest privilege of citizenship, voting”;
to condemn the deportation of illegal immigrants with “non-criminal” records, and of “low-level offenders who pose no threat to their communities”;
to discredit immigration laws—such as SB 1070, a 2010 law deputizing Arizona state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of certain criminal suspects—as “anti-immigrant”;
to promote immigrants' “access to higher education” by supporting the DREAM Act—legislation that would allow many “undocumented youth” to attend public state colleges for the same reduced tuition rates that other Massachusetts residents pay;
to work with MIRA's members and allies to improve immigrant and refugee access to healthcare services in Massachusetts;
to work with legal service providers and others to “defend and strengthen” the rights of immigrants, who “do not share the same rights and protections under law as native-born citizens”; and
to advocate for an increased allocation of tax dollars to humanitarian relief services on behalf of foreign-born Massachusetts residents classified as “refugees,” “asylees,” and people with “Temporary Protected Status.”
To promote these agendas, MIRA tries to influence legislators and the media by: (a) providing them with its analyses and recommendations regarding immigration laws, policies, and budget items at both the federal and state levels; (b) disseminating strategic communications, via both traditional and new media outlets, to “educat[e] the public about the foreign-born”; (c) utilizing institutional organizing methods geared toward helping its member groups work collaboratively to “effect local change”; and (d) conducting leadership training sessions designed to cultivate a new generation of immigrant leaders and activists.
A number of MIRA's agendas find expression in the Coalition's 4 major campaigns:
(1) The Welcoming Massachusetts campaign uses educational and cultural activities, directed mainly toward non-immigrant audiences, to “undermine the anti-immigrant sentiment that has been spread throughout the country by divisive parties.”
(2) The English Works campaign calls upon business, labor, community, and government leaders to dedicate “public and private resources” to the creation of a “high-quality ESOL system for immigrant workers.”
(3) The New Americans Vote campaign uses voter-engagement, voter-registration, and voter-mobilization initiatives to maximize the number of immigrants who go to the polls on election day. During the summer season of 2011, MIRA registered over 1,500 new voters across the state of Massachusetts.
(4) The Redistricting campaign demands that congressional district maps be “drawn in such a way as to maximize the power of the immigrant community both at the state level and in Washington.”
 In short, MIRA favors the creation of voting districts wherein nonwhite immigrants, who tend to vote ovewhelmingly for Democrats,
constitute a solid majority of the voting population—so as to “give
minority groups a proper [political] voice,” “ensure representative
equality,” and “balance racial and ethnic representation.”
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