The dream that built the United States is best symbolized by the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty. Those iconic lines of Emma Lazarus—”give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”—referenced the millions of Jewish refugees exiled from Russia in the 1800s. However, they also speak to the timeless values of a nation founded on immigration. Now, those same values are under attack. Today’s refugees face widespread xenophobia and discrimination, all at a time when they try to rebuild their lives on strange shores.
Helping refugees in Massachusetts, and across New England, requires that everyone gets involved. That’s where the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) comes in. First founded in 1987, MIRA is an organization devoted to giving refugees and immigrants the services, training, housing, and legal services they need in order to integrate into their new environment. In a political climate that is increasingly hostile toward diversity, MIRA’s mission is more important now than ever before.
The Origins of MIRA
Historically, the entire concept of “illegal immigration,” as an accusation, has always been a cloak for racial and/or ethnic resentment. As explained by History, immigrants from all over the world have faced discrimination when coming into the United States. In recent times, this xenophobia has been focused on the Latinx and Muslim populations.
MIRA was founded in 1987, a year after the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 granted amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants. MIRA’s initial goal was to stand up for the rights of these now-authorized immigrants of Massachusetts and to help them integrate into society. Since then, that mission has broadened to include all immigrant and refugee populations across New England. In 2012, they opened up a sister office in NewHampshire. MIRA has expanded from a tiny operation into what is now New England’s largest coalition for promoting immigrant rights, as well as one of the most prominent immigration services Boston has to offer.
What MIRA Does Today
When it comes to American values, immigrants and refugees aren’t outliers; the diversity and multiculturalism that immigrants bring to the table are a key part of our nation’s fabric, empowering this country’s greatest strengths. In the past few decades, New England has seen sharp growth in this area: today’s Massachusetts boasts a population where one in six residents were born in another country.
Since its founding, MIRA has publicly endorsed policies that support immigrants and fought against policies that attempt to tear their rights away. Meanwhile, MIRA is devoted to assisting thousands of green card holders become voting citizens. They provide English learning services, legal assistance, and voter registration help. Their work is made possible by numerous member organizations from across the region, including the Immigrant Learning Center, Amnesty International, and the Muslim American Society of Boston. Since 2011, MIRA has also run the AmeriCorps New American Integration Program (NAIP), which funds compassionate advocates who are willing to devote 11 months to help local immigrant populations. MIRA also offers numerous volunteer opportunities, making it easy for anyone to pitch in for the cause.
The Current Climate
Today, MIRA’s primary focus is on the 2018 elections—change is needed and it happens at the ballot box.
The debate surrounding immigration has become increasingly toxic. Underrepresented groups of people such as refugees and immigrants face social, economic, and systemic struggles. New anti-immigration laws are also being initiated, and even the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census is being threatened by a proposal to ask selected individuals about their citizenship status. Because federal funds are determined based on the census, the results of such discrimination could be catastrophic. Meanwhile, countless families wait in camps across the world—their homes destroyed and their children starving, unable to be resettled due to vicious, prejudiced bans.
In eras like this, organizations such as MIRA need you to start helping refugees in Massachusetts and the rest of New England. If the 2018 elections can get out the immigrant vote—as well as the general pro-immigrant vote—some of today’s anti-immigration politicians and laws can be overturned. The time is now.
If you want to fight for the rights and liberties of immigrants and refugees in the New England area, volunteer with MIRA.