Thursday, June 30, 2011

Change takes courage Mr. President!

Today the change takes courage campaign is taking action across the nation urging the Obama administration to use its power and take action. We urge you to join us in this campaign and sign the Petition!
Deportations under President Obama have reached record levels. It’s a moral outrage that families are being separated, young people are being robbed of their future and public safety is being threatened by a system the president knows is broken. This must stop.

Too many families have been broken up thus far. It's time to change, time to show courage:
The Change Takes Courage Campaign is urging President Obama to keep families together by:

1. Keeping families together.

  • End the deportations of parents of U.S. citizen children. Separating parents from children is a morally reprehensible act. It’s violation of America’s core values.  Consider the plight of Raul Cardenas of Denver who has been married to a U.S. citizen for more than 8 years and has a young daughter who is also a citizen and now faces deportation.
  • End the deportations of military veterans. Our nation must not turn on the very people who serve it and help preserve it. That is exactly what our broken immigration system is doing. Consider Muhammad Zahid Chaudhry, who served the Army National Guard and sustained injuries that left him in a wheelchair and now faces deportation.
  • End the deportations of DREAM-eligible young people.   In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama said: “Let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses and further enrich this nation.” He was right, and he could end the practice right now with a stroke of his pen. Here are two students to whom he should be true to his word: Jackie and Jaime, high school seniors in Maryland, have been fighting to gain in-state tuition that will allow them to continue their education.
  • End the deportations of immigrants who have families, jobs and deep roots in America and are contributing to their communities.  Our economy and our communities are made stronger by immigrants and immigration. We need look no further than the story of Mauricio Bautista who has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, works at a bilingual school and is beloved by his community.
  • Provide protection for all immigrants who are vulnerable to deportation simply because their paperwork is currently in process, and they are trapped in a bureaucratic backlog. It’s intolerable that our broken system is punishing people who have legitimate and legal claims to be in this country. For example, Saad Nabeel was deported unfairly to Bangladesh last year but should have been allowed to stay to give time for his case to run it course.

2. Discontinue ICE programs that undermine the public safety of all communities

Making local police the agents of the Federal government contributes to civil rights violations, terror in communities and makes our neighborhoods less safe.
  • ICE should immediately clarify that states and municipalities are indeed allowed to opt out of Secure Communities.
  • It is clear that programs such as 287g, Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien program increase the likelihood of civil rights violation. The aggressive promotion of these programs should end immediately.
  • Where agreements already exist, ICE should defund/reduce funding.
  • Secure Communities should only be used for its intended purpose, to remove only those convicted of Level 1 offenses.
  • The Justice Department should immediately repudiate the memo from 2003 that purported to recognize the inherent authority of local and state law enforcement to enforce immigration law.

3. Protect all our workers

We must recognize the importance of those who live and work in our midst. No economic recovery can be achieved by our nation without respect for worker rights as a key element.
  • Moratorium on I-9 audits by ICE and SSA no-match letters
  • Protect workers’ rights to organize
  • Prevent unscrupulous employers from using any ICE and other federal resources to break up unions.
  • End use of E-Verify

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stop Anti-Immigrant Amendments!

During last year's State Senate budget debate, a package of harmful amendments were passed that became the most severe blow to immigrant rights by the Massachusetts legislature in recent memory, the core effects of which eventually defused by the conference committee.

They are back.

Senators Tarr, Hedlund and Knapik filed a number of anti immigrant amendments in the FY2012 budget: from a 24 hour hotline to report suspected undocumented workers anonymously, to E-verify mandate and barring in-state tuition.

Please contact your Senators to let them know that you are against these amendments!

Sample call:

Hello, my name is _______ and I live in (city). I’m calling to strongly urge the Senator to vote NO on all anti-immigrant amendments to be debated in the Senate budget.

(If you would like you can list specific amendments by number, which are summarized below)

To find out who your Senator is please visit -

Here is a summary of the amendments:


Basically bars US citizen children from state public housing if their parents do not have, do not yet have or cannot prove a lawful immigration status.


Allows police to seize your car if they suspect you are undocumented and to keep it and sell it if you are deportable


Increases penalties for using or creating false documents


· Requires any business providing any service to the state including subcontractors to use E-Verify

· Requires the state to investigate any tip relating to a violation of immigration law

· Increases the amount of times the state must verify immigration status

· Fine for fraudulent driving learner’s permit

· Most benefits programs would have to document legal status

· Bars instate for undocumented

· Limits the receipt of all medical benefits to lawfully present residents including emergency Medicaid, Healthy Start and the Health Safety Net


Poll workers may ask for state ID from anyone before voting


Requires all health services applications to be verified via federal database


· Creates 24 hr AG hotline to anonymously report suspected undocumented workers

· Implement E-verify for all state contractors and vendors, and any subcontractors working with them


Requires a license or state ID to register a vehicle

increases the penalties associated with using, creating, selling, or distributing an altered or false ID


Increases penalties for driving without a license


Requires a Social Security number for ALL medical applications

Thursday, April 28, 2011

House Votes to Restore Health Care for Immigrants

Last night, the House voted to fund the Commonwealth Care Bridge program (see previous post for details) at $25 million for at least six months of FY2012, with further funding down the road.

MIRA is grateful for its allies at the ACT Coalition, MLRI and others, and thanks the Governor Patrick's commitment since 2009 when the legal immigrant population was excluded. We are also thankful for Rep. Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford) for his leadership on the floor year after year, for Rep. Tim Toomey (D-Cambridge)'s amendment effort, and for the House leadership.

After the 150-4 vote at 10:00PM, which also included funding for Adult Day health services, Patrick said in a statement: "I am grateful that Speaker DeLeo and his colleagues in the House have recognized the vital importance of restoring funding that provides health care for legal, taxpaying immigrants here in Massachusetts. All of the Commonwealth's residents deserve access to quality and affordable health care, and by protecting this program we can continue to do just that.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Protect Health Care Coverage!

On April 15, Massachusetts’ House Ways & Means Committee eliminated the Commonwealth Care Bridge Program, threatening health care coverage for thousands of immigrants.

CommCare Bridge is a temporary, affordable and basic health care program that covers approximately 25,000 low- to moderate- income legal permanent residents, still under the 5-year residency waiting period for federally-funded coverage, like MassHealth.

MIRA, MLRI, ACT Coalition, and other allies are working closely with the Governor's Office and several State Representatives to amend the current House Budget to continue to fund the program at $50 million for FY 2012.

Two amendments are filed to restore the program: #715 (submitted by Rep. Cabral) and #750 (submitted by Rep. Toomey).

Without this coverage, these individuals can only rely on the over-burdened Health Safety Net program, adding cost prohibitive expenses to underfunded hospitals and health centers.

Cost issues aside, MIRA feels it is fundamentally wrong to disadvantage a sub-section of society based on their immigrant status.

Background on the Bridge program:

The Commonwealth Care Bridge Program is a state-subsidized health insurance program for “special status” legal immigrants who lost their Commonwealth Care coverage on August 31, 2009 because of changes in state law. The Bridge Program was created by the Massachusetts State Legislature to provide coverage for the individuals left uninsured by these changes. Bridge offers most of the benefits of Commonwealth Care, but does not include dental, vision, hospice or skilled nursing care.

Call your Representatives now (617-722-2000), and ask them to:

Support budget amendments #715 and #750 to continue the Commonwealth Care Bridge program at $50 million for fiscal year 2012.

House votes to restore health care for immigrants

Last night, the House voted to fund the Commonwealth Care Bridge program (see previous post for details) at $25 for at least six months of FY2012, with further funding down the road.

MIRA is grateful for its allies at the ACT Coalition, MLRI and others, and thanks the Governor Patrick's commitment since 2009 when the legal immigrant population was excluded. We are also thankful for Rep. Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford) for his leadership on the floor year after year, for Rep. Tim Toomey (D-Cambridge)'s amendment effort, and for the House leadership.

After the 150-4 vote last night, which also included funding for Adult Day health services, Patrick said in a statement: "I am grateful that Speaker DeLeo and his colleagues in the House have recognized the vital importance of restoring funding that provides health care for legal, taxpaying immigrants here in Massachusetts. All of the Commonwealth's residents deserve access to quality and affordable health care, and by protecting this program we can continue to do just that.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Applauding Refugee Resiliance

As Boston sloughs winter, its streets fill with athletes logging the final miles for the spring running of the Boston Marathon. This year marks the 115th annual race, which boasts a history much in line with the changing dynamic of life in the United States.

At the race’s inception, it was merely a local event, attracting a homogenous crowd of runners. Over the years, the race has grown in popularity and notoriety, becoming one of the worlds’ most recognized marathons. Owning a coveted race bib holds a great sense of accomplishment for runners from Boston to places as far reaching as Ethiopia or Mongolia. The field is composed of a hodge-podge of athletes from across the globe, a diverse event joining individuals from many nations with a single goal: to finish, and finish strong.

‘Marathon Monday’ is a celebration of human resiliency, the ability to rise, overcome physical limitations, and push oneself to new, physical (and mental) limits. The marathon is also a celebration of cultural diversity, during the event it does not matter what passport you hold, language you speak, where you were born—all that matters is how fast can you run?

For the world’s 25million refugees, everyday is ‘Marathon Monday,’ minus the crowds, the celebrations, or pomp and circumstance. Yet, the refugee experience is no less grueling, requiring more resiliency and dedication than shown by the fastest marathon runners.

Often, the cultural diversity attained through refugee resettlement is not openly celebrated. It still matters what passport they hold, language they speak, place they were born. Lost is the realization of, these things aside, all that truly matters is how much can we—all of us—do within our individual, contextual situations?

This display of the personal, human desire to overcome odds and accomplish great feats exists within each refugee. It, too, deserves celebration.

So, to the countless million refugees worldwide, today—and everyday—we applaud you.

Dani Grisby, MIRA Intern and marathoner, contributed to this post.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Immigrants' Day at the Sate House: State House News Service report


By Kyle Cheney

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 6, 2011…..Urging diverse minority groups to unite and exert their influence on policymakers in Massachusetts and across the country, the head of a prominent interfaith group quoted scripture and drew cheers and applause at a State House rally Thursday with calls for “a pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants in America.

“When William Bradford and the Mayflower pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620, they did not bring any immigration papers. When John Winthrop arrived in 1630 with the next wave of New Englanders … they were not met with a wall built to keep them out,” said Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. “Just as undocumented immigrants from Europe in the person of John Winthrop and William Bradford and undocumented immigrants from Africa … helped to build the old America in the then-New World, undocumented immigrants today are needed to build a new America in this new global world, and we need to say yes to that.”

Hamilton offered the keynote remarks at the foot of the capitol's Grand Staircase during the 15th-annual Immigrants’ Day on Beacon Hill, pounding the podium and raising his voice to a loud rasp as he equated today’s climate on immigration issues, punctuated by a years-long divide on reform plans in Washington, to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan, who rescued a man who had “fallen among thieves.”

“You have recently fallen among thieves,” he told the crowd. “Some of them are Republicans and some of them are Democrats on Capitol Hill. I say that the rest of us, African Americans and all the rest of us, have to be, for you, your good Samaritans. If we do not stop [to help], what will happen not only to you but what will happen to our country? We need your diversity, we need your capacity to help us to compete. We need you. Not just the other way around.”

Hamilton’s call landed on a receptive audience that included Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) and Rep. James O’Day (D-Worcester) who spoke in support of programs for immigrants, like English as a Second Language courses, adult education, and anti-domestic violence programs.

Lawmakers in the House narrowly rejected plans last year to implement more stringent identity checks for people seeking state services, a plan opposed by immigrant groups as discriminatory but backed by lawmakers who argued that services were being abused by ineligible people. The Senate passed an even more sweeping plan that would impose sanctions on employers that hire illegal workers, but the proposal was largely scrapped during budget negotiations with the House.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, noted that immigrant groups had been buoyed in recent weeks by Census data showing that Latino and Asian American communities, in particular, had surged over the last 10 years

“The road has been rocky and we have traveled through dark valleys as well as through sunny hills,” she said. “We are organizing our shared growth, our shared interest, by making our theme, ‘sharing power together.’ ”

Immigrant advocates plan to press lawmakers to provide $50 million in funding for health care coverage for certain legal immigrants, $27 million for adult basic education and ESL programs, $15 million for an employment services program and $6.4 million for a refugee and immigrant safety program.

Gov. Deval Patrick has voiced his support for immigrants’ causes, touting his administration’s “New Americans Agenda” – a 131-point plan that he has promised to implement by the end of his term and includes hot-button proposals to permitting illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and access in-state tuition rates at state colleges, proposals the governor has said would require changes in federal law.

The issues have failed to gain traction in recent years, and there is little evidence of an appetite for them within legislative leadership.

All credit due to Kyle Cheney

Friday, March 4, 2011

Preserve Refugee Resettlement and America's Ideals

As Washington moves forward with largely symbolic cuts to the federal budget, with no substantive discussion on the biggest parts of spending (tax breaks for the rich, military, entitlements), many critical human services programs are being threatened.

In February, the House of Representatives approved drastic cuts to refugee services- including a 45% decrease for Migration and Refugee Assistance, which provides overseas assistance to refugees and funds the Reception and Placement (R&P) Grant for refugees resettled in the United States; and a 10.4% decrease for the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Although the Senate rejected them, the debate is to start all over again.

Call your Senator (John Kerry 202-224-2742and Scott Brown 202-224-4543) and urge them to support strong Fiscal Year 2012 funding for refugee accounts, Office of Refugee Resettlement and Migration and Refugee Assistance

Below is background information on the budget situation, talking points to use during the call, and directions on how to get in touch with your Members of Congress. Please take a minute to make this call to your Senators , it is very important that we make our voice heard!

What We Need to Do: Please call your Senators and urge them to not cut and support strong funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Migration and Refugee Assistance. Please call as soon as possible and no later than the end of next week.


- Hello, my name is [name] and I'm calling from [name of town/city]. I am the [position title] at [name of resettlement agency] in [name of city].

- I am calling to ask [Senator] to not cut and support strong funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement and Migration and Refugee Assistance.

- My agency resettles and provides services to refugees in [name towns/cities in the member's district]. [Describe what you and your community do to support refugees and discuss the impact of cuts on funding could have on refugees in your community]

- As a constituent, I deeply care about the fate of refugees in the U.S. and our humanitarian commitment to vulnerable people overseas. Cutting these accounts will have a devastating impact on refugees and the communities hosting them.

Additional Talking Points

- The current economic/fiscal context: we understand the current economic/financial situation and understand that Congress and the Administration have to make difficult decisions in relation to the budget. We believe that cutting current level of funding for refugees would have a devastating effect on refugees resettled in the U.S. and the communities that welcome them.

- Overall funding for ORR has been chronically insufficient: ORR funding has been stagnant for decades in many programs. That means that today ORR is serving an increasingly complex and diverse population with the same amount of resources that served a rather homogenous population several decades ago.

- Supporting the public-private partnership: one of the greatest characteristics of the URSP is the partnership between the U.S. government and private organizations. Voluntary Agencies, churches, local NGOs, community groups, etc. work together to welcome refugees across the U.S. We are committed to continue our support to refugees, but the work cannot be accomplished without strong support and financial follow-through on the part of the U.S. government.

- Federal funds release pressure on state and local governments: it is important that the federal government provides adequate resources for ORR, since severely cutting funding for the program would mean additional pressure for state and local governments to assist refugees with their already dwindling budgets.

- Smart investment: Providing adequate funding for refugees through ORR to fund employment services, case management and other upfront services will save resources in the long term, reduce reliance on welfare and promote early self-sufficiency. Refugees have proven that they will be successful and contribute back to their communities if given the proper foundation to rebuild their lives in the U.S.

- Life saving assistance: Programs funded by the U.S. Government through these accounts are life saving. Without these programs, refugees will not receive necessary food, water, and medical assistance. The economic crisis has had a profound impact on the United States, but it has also had a devastating impact on extremely vulnerable populations supported by these life-saving programs. For many of these people, the assistance provided by the international community is their only source of support and last option for relief.

- Stabilizing assistance: Humanitarian assistance programs funded through this account support communities in countries of strategic importance to the U.S., such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. Funds go towards such programs as access to economic opportunities, keeping kids in schools, and protecting and empowering women. These all serve as a crucial stabilizing presence, giving people hope for the future and supporting broader U.S. foreign policy interests

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Worcester Immigrants Say No to "S-Comm"

"We blew it," said John Grossman on Saturday afternoon to a Worcester meeting room packed with 150 to 200 immigrants. "And I’m here to apologize."

As undersecretary for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Grossman was referring to the collective failure of the Patrick administration to consult with the state's immigrant community before signing onto a controversial new immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities. The Worcester meeting, held at the city’s public library and hosted by The African Council, was the first of ten gatherings across the state at which Patrick’s representatives will work to rectify that wrong. Grossman promised that community questions and concerns would all be considered, and then "the governor is going to make a decision [about signing onto Secure Communities] sometime over the summer."

Judging from the passion of the questions and concerns aired in the two-hour meeting, the governor will be making that decision having heard that immigrants across Massachusetts oppose Secure Communities loud and clear. Slated for national implementation by 2013, the federal program reports the fingerprints of all persons arrested by local police to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which then may ask local police to hold the immigrant until deportation proceedings can begin. ICE's stated intention is to catch and deport serious criminal offenders, but studies have shown that non-criminals are often ensnared in the program's huge net. Secure Communities has operated in Boston as a pilot program since 2006. According to statistics going back to November 2008, 53 percent of those deported through Boston’s operations have NOT been criminal offenders. The primary effect of the program, instead, has been to turn local police into de facto immigration officials.

Speaking on a two-person panel, undersecretary Grossman enumerating the most common concerns about Secure Communities -- concerns that the community reiterated throughout the afternoon. First, it breaks the bond of trust built between immigrant communities and local police, potentially making our towns and cities more insecure for everyone. Second, it could encourage zealous police officers to target those they suspect of being undocumented, therefore raising the ugly specter of racial profiling. Third, Secure Communities contradicts President Obama’s claim to support just and humane immigration reform. As the president well knows, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are otherwise law-abiding workers and family members. Given this country's antiquated and thoroughly dysfunctional immigration system, deportation is a punishment that far exceeds these immigrants’ violations, with reverberations that can decimate families and local communities as well.

The second panelist, MIRA Executive Director Eva Millona, elaborated on the program's problems in her portion of the presentation, offering charts showing the preponderance of non-criminal and low-level offenders actually deported in Boston and other municipalities. Millona also stressed the lack of transparency and complaint mechanisms in the system.

After the panel presentations, the audience stepped forward with questions and comments for the remainder of the two-hour meeting. In addition to numerous immigrants who spoke of their fears and concerns for loved ones, the commentators included a local Episcopalian Minister, a Worcester immigration lawyer, at least one domestic violence councilor, and a representative for Worcester Mayor Joseph O’Brien, who read a public letter asking Governor Patrick to reject the program. Most of the speakers addressed the governor’s delegation in English, though translators were on hand for those speaking Spanish and Portuguese.

Undersecretary Grossman stressed that legal confusion reigns about the governor’s obligation to sign onto the program, and he noted that it didn't need the administration’s approval to go forward. Grossman also offered some defense of the program itself, noting that the Ecuadoran mother and child recently killed in Brockton could possibly have been saved by Secure Communities. But others noted that mechanisms are already in place to catch dangerous criminals with immigration violations, and that Governor Patrick should listen to the concerns of the vast majority of law-abiding immigrants, just as he did during the hearings for the New Americans Agenda (NAA).

“Two years ago, through the NAA Executive Order, the governor showed leadership in the nation,” said Dolores Thibault-Muñoz, director of the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, an organization that participated in the NAA hearings. “I ask the governor, instead of signing on to the Secure Communities program, that he implement the 131 recommendations he committed to in the NAA. If he signs onto Secure Communities instead, it’s like taking 131 steps backward.”

Friday, February 25, 2011

Congratulation to POSSE Recipient Rose Pierre-Louis

Annually, MIRA nominates up to ten students as candidates to a full four-year college scholarship, given out by the POSSE Foundation. The competition is fierce, and we understand that the chance of winning is slim. Nevertheless, in 2010 MIRA nominated seven students from different high schools. One young Haitian immigrant, Rose Pierre-Louis, was chosen to receive the award, which will fund her full education at an excellent school -- an achievement no less amazing than her whole life story. For all she has done, we congratulate Rose, and proudly relate her story.

Rose was brought from Haiti at age five by her parents, who hoped she would have a better chance at an education in the U.S. She was just starting first grade when she arrived, and were it not for her mother’s support, the transition would have been a major challenge. “Some afternoons she’d help me and explain the days in English, and help me count in English, " Rose says. "I knew basic things, but had a challenge when I started school”.

Rose also has three brothers living in Haiti, and one sister born in the US. The separation from her siblings was difficult, and made much harder later with the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Still, she looks to her brothers for inspiration, while doing the best to be an example for her younger sister.

In seventh grade, Rose was accepted at a prestigious public school in the city, and she underwent another transition. Having spent most of her education in Catholic school, where the ethnic composition was usually Haitian or West Indian, she found moving to the public school system a cultural and educational shock. She was able to maneuver herself around, and use her friendly, respectful persona to win new and lasting friendships.

As the college process began, Rose underwent the all-too-common experience of seeing the future almost slip from her grasp. “The college search is extremely stressful," she explains. "Everyone said do early decision, and so I did, but I started looking for how to pay first. I was looking at scholarships since sophomore year. At first, I’d get really excited and say ‘I can do this easily!’ But then at the very end of every scholarship application, there it was: 'You must be a U.S. Citizen or a Legal Permanent Resident.'"

As a Temporary Protected Status holder, she could not meet the scholarships' standard requirements (though TPS is a legal status, it has several limitations). “A lot of the colleges were expensive, and financial aid was always for citizens or residents," Rose continued. "Mom asked me to apply to schools she could pay for." But still, her dream was to attend "a small liberal arts school.”

MIRA had been in conversation with several schools, looking to nominate immigrant students who would otherwise struggle with access to higher education. A councilor from Rose's school mentioned her more than once as a top student, whose desire to succeed was evident in her work as a tutor and a peer adviser to her friends. While this nomination process was taking place, Rose told us that she and her family even came to the point of fighting over the schools she could apply to.

After being nominated and going through the process of selection, Rose was given the final interview date. She and another five Haitians were all trying for POSSE, altogether afraid that, because of diversity, the foundation would only pick one Haitian student. The day that all the interviews were done, Rose went home, not expecting to hear for some time about the results. “I got home at seven, and about an hour later they called me to say I would get it," Rose says. "From these kids I was with on the interview day, four of us got the scholarship.”

POSSE will send Rose to Bryn Mawr, her top choice. She is thinking of a double major in biology and English. The new school will once again be a complete change in environment. She's looking forward to being in a place where all the students are women, who will mingle with different faiths, different points of views, etc.

Her family has been very supportive, “I love them, they are just so great about it.” Her father is extremely happy. Her three brothers all have degrees, and now they can rejoice their sister will soon have one too. The feeling is simple and profound; there are several hands placed in her back supporting her, blessing her. She is becoming that exact role model for her younger sister who was born here in the U.S. Things may be simpler for her, but Rose continues to be the best person she can be; following by example, leading by example.

Congratulations Rose Pierre-Louis!
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and do not represent the views of MIRA's member organizations.