The Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) is a membership-based alliance which seeks to expand the rights and opportunities of vulnerable immigrants in Mississippi–and by example and extension inform the national policy debate over immigration reform. MIRA works to support immigrants in the exercise of their rights through providing legal services, organizing, advocacy and public education. MIRA was formed in the Fall of 2000 in response to the needs of the rapidly growing, largely Latino immigrant population in Mississippi. Through constant vigilance and activity, MIRA members have successfully advocated the defeat of anti-immigrant legislation introduced in Mississippi, including English-only bills and other oppressive measures.
In the arena of education, MIRA has successfully educated the Legislature and helped pass a bill to uphold Plyler v. Doe, guaranteeing the enrollment in public schools of immigrant children regardless of status. We have also successfully advocated for a framework for bilingual education in Mississippi, and for the opening of the teacher licensing process to credit immigrant teachers for their education and experience. We have organized successful responses to attempts to penalize immigrant workers whose employers receive “Social Security No-Match” letters, including helping to negotiate SSA response policies with major national employers. MIRA has successfully initiated and sponsored meetings with local law enforcement agencies regarding treatment of immigrants, including racial profiling, jail and detention conditions, and securing of bilingual court reporters and other support personnel. We assist our constituents through our Legal Project to obtain temporary and permanent residence and citizenship in the United States, and we defend selected individuals in the immigration courts.
In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, MIRA was in the forefront of advocacy for the rights of immigrants impacted by the storm and immigrant workers who came to rebuild coastal Mississippi. Over 10,000 flyers were distributed in immigrant communities with MIRA’s toll free number. MIRA’s organizers confronted landlords attempting to evict immigrant tenants, advocated for benefits from FEMA, the Red Cross and other agencies, and confronted wholesale evictions and abuse of Latinos by Red Cross shelter directors. Through the funding of a national community partner, MIRA distributed at least $25,000 in emergency transportation, housing, food, clothing and medical funds. We met with hundreds of immigrant workers abused by unscrupulous contractors and helped the workers demonstrate in the streets and file claims for unpaid work. By the end of FY 2006, MIRA had helped immigrant workers recoup more than $1 million in back wages and unpaid money judgments.
The work of MIRA to educate and organize our constituents to confront employers, to file EEOC claims, and to solicit the assistance of the U.S. Department of Labor as well as other cooperative government and community agencies strengthens the immigrant and working poor community. Not only does MIRA initiate advocacy for immigrant workers and their families, but we also support initiatives by low-income and working poor families, identifying and helping emerging leaders to understand their rights and the proper channels by which to pursue a just result. Immigrant leaders, in particular, are identified by regularly-scheduled house meetings and during canvassing efforts. They inform MIRA of internal and external challenges to the immigrant community, as well as proposed solutions within the general community, and make recommendations that are brought back to our Board for consideration and implementation.