Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR)

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR)


* Has played an instrumental role in shaping immigration policy in its home state
* Promotes immigrant access to taxpayer-funded public benefits such as food, healthcare, childcare, and financial assistance
* Supports the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would establish a path-to-citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors
* Has registered many thousands of new immigrant voters throughout the state of Illinois
* Is opposed to permitting state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws

Founded in 1986, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) is “dedicated to promoting the rights of immigrants and refugees to full and equal participation in the civic, cultural, social, and political life of our diverse society.” Toward that end, the Coalition “educates and organizes immigrant and refugee communities to assert their rights; promotes citizenship and civic participation; monitors, analyzes, and advocates on immigrant-related issues; and informs the general public about the contributions of immigrants and refugees.”

A co-founding member of the We Are America Alliance, ICIRR runs the Illinois operations of the national Reform Immigration For America campaign. All told, ICIRR consists of more than 100 partner organizations, including some of the most powerful and influential progressive groups in the United States—e.g., Amnesty International, the Arab American Action Network, Citizen Action/Illinois, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Mosque Foundation. For a comprehensive list of ICIRR’s partner organizations, click here.

Former ICIRR partner organizations include such notables as the American Friends Service Committee, the American Immigration Lawyers Association,  the Center for Community Change, the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, Human Rights Watch, the Immigration Policy Center, the Immigration Project, the Immigrant Solidarity Network, Loyola Academy Chicago, Make the Road New York, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Migration Policy Institute,  the National Immigration Forum, OneAmerica, the Service Employees International Union, and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

At one time, ICIRR also operated as the fiscal agent of the Mexican-American Coalition for Immigration Reform, another open-borders network.

ICIRR’s major immigration programs include the following:

1) The Immigrant Family Resource Program is ICIRR’s longest-running operation. Through this initiative, the Coalition partners with immigrant-serving agencies in the state of Illinois, particularly the Illinois Department of Human Services, to support immigrant access to taxpayer-funded public benefits such as food, healthcare, childcare, and financial assistance.

2) The Uniting America Program “builds connections between immigrants and their non-immigrant neighbors.” Among this program’s major components are the following:

  • The New Americans Initiative, which ICIRR launched in 2004, partners with the state of Illinois to help both legal and illegal immigrants attain U.S. citizenship. Said then-ICRR executive director Josh Hoyt in 2010: “[This] unique partnership has led to a 56% increase in applications for U.S. citizenship in Illinois. Since 2005 ICIRR and its partners have assisted over 32,000 immigrants fill out [sic] their citizenship applications; conducted over 565 citizenship workshops; and responded to over 183,000 requests for citizenship assistance.”
  • The Americorps Fellows Program enables Americorps workers to partner with ICIRR for a one-year period.
  • The Youth Civic Leadership Academy trains young people to become proficient in promoting “immigrant civic engagement” (e.g., voter-registration), community organizing, and “community building.”

3) The Organizing Program, rooted in the premise that “community organizing is at the heart of ICIRR’s work and mission,” uses grassroots activism to promote the passage of legislation that benefits illegal immigrants. Toward that end, the Coalition strives to influence and mobilize not only lawmakers but also religious institutions, community organizations, labor unions, chambers of commerce, and ethnic associations.

4) The DREAM Relief program seeks to help young illegal immigrants in Illinois take advantage of President Barack Obama‘s June 15, 2012 executive order which made illegals who came to the U.S. as minors, and who are still younger than 30, eligible for work permits. ICIRR also supports the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would allow illegal aliens who came to the U.S. as minors and are still younger than 30 to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents, and to earn conditional permanent residency and a path to citizenship.

5) The New Americans Democracy Project (NADP) has registered many thousands of new immigrant voters throughout the state of Illinois (more than 56,000 from 2004-08, and another 80,000+ from 2008-12). Under the auspices of this project, ICIRR also created a new non-partisan 501(c)(4) sister organization, Illinois Immigrant Action, to train and place activists with likeminded groups across the United States. According to NADP, “a much more prevalent problem than voter fraud is violations of the Voting Rights Act that suppress the immigrant vote.”

6) ICIRR’s Family Support Network & Hotline is designed to connect immigrant “families in crisis”—i.e., those facing deportation—with “reliable and immediate information, referrals to legal, ministry, and social services, while also providing a long-term connection to someone who can help them locally.”[1]

In 2006, ICIRR led efforts to organize two Chicago “mega-marches”—on March 10 and May 1—for immigrant rights. These rallies drew some 300,000 and 700,000 participants, respectively. ICIRR political director (and SEIU union activist) Jose Artemio Arreola was a key player in organizing these events. In addition, Arreola helped to re-establish national May Day protests by organizing marches in more than 100 cities across the United States. Through ICIRR, Arreola coordinated the Illinois operations of the Center for Community Change‘s Reform Immigration For America campaign.

During the George W. Bush administration, ICIRR derided “enforcement-first” policies as “immigration grandstanding that destroys families.” With the emergence of a new Democratic administration in 2009, ICIRR championed President Barack Obama as an ally but subsequently became impatient with Obama’s failure to aggressively push immigration-reform legislation. Notwithstanding its mild criticism of Obama, however, ICIRR reserved it strongest condemnations for Republicans.[2]

With the 2010 passage of SB 1070, an Arizona law authorizing state police to look into the immigration status of criminal suspects, ICIRR declared that this “anti-immigrant law is the worst example of the racial reign of terror surging across the U.S., destroying hundreds of thousands of families and allowing local ‘cow-boy cops’ to hunt whoever they think looks like an immigrant.”

On July 8, 2012, ICIRR hosted an “Electoral Organizing” training session for “people who are planning to run electoral or issue campaigns in 2012.” Also participating in this event was ICIRR’s close ally, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, which works closely with the Islamic Circle of North America.

ICIRR is a strong supporter of Lambda Legal, a gay/transgender rights organization.

ICIRR’s former (2002-2012) executive director, Joshua Hoyt, collaborated with Barack Obama and Bill Ayers during the 1990s and early 2000s on issues related to the Woods Fund of Chicago, as the latter dispensed large sums of money to radical groups such as ACORN. Moreover, Hoyt has been associated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, created by Saul Alinsky.

ICIRR’s current executive director is Ahmed Rehab, who is also a high-ranking official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.


[1] Explaining that “the crisis of family separation is not only moral and emotional, [but] also legal and financial,” ICIRR laments that “1,100 families are wrecked by deportation every day in the United States,” including “approximately 20-40 every day from Illinois.”

[2] As then-executive director Joshua Hoyt said in March 2010:

“We expect the Republican Party to join the President [Obama] as partners in the process of passing the comprehensive reform our country badly needs. The GOP is sadly mistaken if it believes it can cater to anti-immigrant Tea Party extremists by blocking immigration reform and then blame the Democrats.”

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