Monday, February 6, 2012

ADVOCATE: TENNESSEE IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE RIGHTS COALITION



Advocates are underrated. Each of us had an effective advocate those first few, critical years of our lives. We each should still have someone who "watches our back" as it were. 







I was going through old mail on Super Bowl Sunday and saw that I missed an opportunity to donate towards the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) for their 2011 end-of-the-year donation drive. 

I sat down to read their newsletter, a summary of their efforts for one year. There they are helping people from nationalities as various as there are colors. The TIRRC is the American father or mother who makes sure they have shelter, food, and water. And that they are protected from the injustices of principled pedantry, scientifically-manufactured doctrine, and collective prejudice.

I was stunned when I finished reading. Stunned that I had done nothing this past year to contribute to the cause other than to read their emails and listen to a few NPR specials.

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"The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to develop immigrant leadership, build the capacity of its immigrant-led member organizations, help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society. In just a few years TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States. TIRRC conducts its work through four major program areas:

Base Building / Leadership Development
TIRRC aims to empower immigrant and refugee communities by organizing around common issues, providing training and technical assistance for emerging and established immigrant-led organizations, and developing immigrant leaders capable of sustaining a growing movement and effecting real change.

Grassroots Civic Engagement / Policy Change
Engaging immigrants and refugees in the civic process is one of TIRRC's core missions. TIRRC strives to help immigrants and their new communities use their voices to defeat anti-immigrant legislation and pass proactive, pro-integration legislation at the local, state and federal levels.

Defense of Civil Rights / Civil Liberties
TIRRC educates immigrants and refugees about their rights and subsequently, increases the capacity of immigrant-led organizations to address abuses.

Public Awareness / Ally Building
Educating the public about the contributions of immigrants and building relationships with key constituencies in order to shift momentum around the immigration debate and build broad public support for pro-integration policies are also key TIRRC initiatives.

Key recent accomplishments include the following:

Defeat of the “English-only” referendum
TIRRC contributed substantially to the defeat of the "English-Only" referendum, upholding Nashville’s image as a welcoming, world-class city. As part of a two-year effort, TIRRC conducted a media campaign in response to Nashville’s proposed “English-only” ordinance in the city council, drawing attention to the personal testimonies of Somali, Sudanese, and Kurdish refugees and helping public figures understand the negative impact such a policy would have on all immigrants and refugees in Nashville. In all, TIRRC mobilized more than 10,000 New American voters and helped lead the largest city-wide coalition in history.

Mobilization/ Engagement of New American Voters
TIRRC has engaged thousands of new American voters in the civic process and raised the profile of the immigrant vote. To date, TIRRC has registered more than 5,000 new Americans and contacted over 20,000 as part of two successful voter registration and get-out-the vote campaigns.

Welcoming Tennessee Initiative
Conceived and implemented by TIRRC,  the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative (WTI) has produced a measurable shift in public opinion on the subject of immigration: As a result of WTI more Tennesseans are engaged in dialogue about immigration, informed about its positive effects, and motivated to stand up to intolerance and challenge punitive and mean-spirited legislation.

Southeast Immigrants Rights Network
TIRRC co-founded the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, and as a direct result, emerged as a model and mentor for immigrant rights organizations forming in “new destination” states. TIRRC held three successful annual conferences, building the organizing and leadership capacity of over thirty organizations in the region.

Education for Immigrant Children
TIRRC was instrumental in securing funding for educating immigrant children through advocating for and helping to pass a bill to increase statewide funding for English language learner (ELL) programs in public schools by $30 million. As a result, ELL student-teacher ratios were reduced from 50:1 to 30:1.

Establishing Better Access to Drivers Licenses for Immigrants
TIRRC increased access to driver licenses for new immigrants. TIRRC's campaign to increase the number of language translations available for Tennessee’s written driver’s license test was successful; The organization secured a commitment from the state Department of Safety to provide translations in Chinese and Arabic in early 2009, supplementing Spanish, Japanese, and Korean."


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