Founded in 1986 by activists who opposed the newly passed Immigration Reform and Control Act (which barred employers from knowingly hiring illegal aliens), the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) describes itself as “a national organization composed of local coalitions and immigrant, refugee, community, religious, civil rights and labor organizations and activists.” Its mission is manifold:
Depicting itself as an active participant in the “global movement for social and economic justice,” NNIRR condemns America’s “brutal system of immigration control and policing that criminalizes immigration status, normalizes the forcible separation of families, destabilizes communities and workplaces, and fuels widespread civil rights violations.” Further, the Network accuses the U.S. of targeting immigrants with a “deliberate and distinct form of ‘collective punishment,’” “widespread violations of basic constitutional and human rights,” and a host of “repressive policies” that impose “a draconian form of social, economic and political control from the womb to the workplace.”
NNIRR literature refers to foreigners residing unlawfully in the U.S. as “undocumented,” rather than “illegal,” immigrants. Refusing to draw a moral distinction between legal and illegal immigration, the Network declares that “protection, fairness, equality, and benefits should be extended to all immigrants, without sacrificing the rights of some for the rights of others.” NNIRR also aims to incrementally implement mass amnesty that ensures “legalization” not only for “current undocumented immigrants,” but also for those who will arrive amid “future migration flows.” Advocating the abolition of virtually all legal checks on immigration, the Network asserts: “Future immigrants should … be able to come here legally and safely, have access to permanent residency, and not fear criminal prosecution for unlawful entry or exit.”
By NNIRR’s reckoning, the rights of “immigrant workers”—whether they are in the U.S. legally or not—should be fully “promoted and protected” by law. Arguing that “employer sanctions and the criminalization of work must be ended,” the Network contends that all immigrant workers “should have the freedom to join unions to improve wages and working conditions.”
Opposing any reductions in government benefits to low-income immigrants, NNIRR denounced the 1996 passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which imposed a work requirement on people receiving certain forms of welfare. According to the Network, that legislation “undermined the economic well-being of poor immigrant women and their families by eliminating or undercutting access to benefit programs for those in need.” NNIRR continues to maintain that “all immigrants [legal and illegal] should have access to all public services and benefits including driver licenses, higher education, and health care.”
Three days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, NNIRR lamented that in an allegedly racist America, “certain groups, particularly in the Arab and Muslim communities, are already experiencing incidents of [retaliatory] harassment or violence.” Later that month, NNIRR’s Report on Anti-Immigrant Racism in the United States called on the American government to “affirm the right of workers to cross international borders” and to “demilitarize the U.S.-Mexico border to end law enforcement and human rights abuses.”
By NNIRR’s telling, American bigotry has been a longstanding, ugly tradition. The lead editorial in the Fall-Winter 2002/2003 issue of the Network’s newsletter, for instance, charged that U.S. “militarism” and “racism” in the post-World War II era had repeatedly led the nation to “hel[p] overthrow legitimate governments” and launch “direct military attacks on governments that inconvenience[d] U.S. interests—stretching from Latin America to the Pacific Island, Asia and Africa, all lands of color.”
* HURRICANE, an acronym for Human Rights Immigrant Community Action Network, is an “abuse documentation initiative” featuring a “100 Stories Project” that tracks, monitors, and documents accounts of human-rights violations “as part of a community organizing strategy to get the changes we want.”
* The Advocacy & Urgent Action Network focuses on cases that require “immediate action to get someone out of detention, stop the separation of a family, stop a deportation, or get behind a worker-led campaign for workplace justice.”
* The LGBTIQ Outreach and Leadership Development Project seeks to “develop the leadership of LGBTIQ members in the immigrant rights movement.”
* The Raising Women’s Voices for Immigrant Justice program aims to focus attention on “the impacts of restrictive and discriminatory immigration-enforcement policies and practices on immigrant women, and strengthen alliance-building with key groups in the women’s movement.”
* The Education and Capacity-Building Program works to “create a multiracial, multiethnic, multilingual and anti-oppression movement led by those bearing the brunt of the effects of injustice and oppression: low-income immigrant and refugee communities themselves.”
NNIRR has received funding from a number of charitable foundations, including the Akonadi Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Currents of Change, the Ford Foundation, the Grousbeck Family Foundation, and the Public Welfare Foundation.
On occasion, NNIRR has collaborated on certain projects with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
For additional information on NNIRR, click here.