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.
We are a coalition of immigrants, refugees, and allies working to lift up fundamental American freedoms and human rights and build a strong, welcoming, and inclusive Tennessee. We envision a society in which: immigrants are powerfully engaged as leaders in the civic, political, and cultural life of the community; the human rights and dignity of all people are respected, and diversity is welcomed and valued; people are free from discrimination and oppression, and immigrants are joined with others in a broader movement for religious freedom and social, racial and economic justice.
We believe that real and lasting change must be led by those directly affected by injustice, and for this reason community organizing and leadership development are the core strategies we use to realize our vision. We bring together diverse immigrant communities throughout the state to examine root causes, find common interests, and organize for better conditions. We strive to lift up the voices of directly affected people and invest in leaders at the grassroots level, and to ensure our theory of change is reflected in the way we make decisions, in the work we undertake today, and in the course we set for the future.
Our advocacy, civic engagement, and communications strategies position our leaders to speak for themselves, engage in the civic process, and advocate for policies that make it easier for everyone to fully participate in public life. Actions like New American Day on the Hill create opportunities for our members to learn about legislation and interact with lawmakers. Educational programs like the Welcoming Tennessee Initiative bring together our allies and the broader community in dialogue to foster a welcoming atmosphere in which all Tennesseans are recognized for their positive contributions.
Our direct services help individuals and families overcome specific obstacles, access key opportunities, and become active citizens. We partner with local nonprofits and legal service providers, coordinate referrals, and offer targeted assistance to meet critical needs, all with the strategic purpose of building capacity and promoting a culture of civic participation in New American communities. Our Become a Citizen Now program assists permanent residents with the naturalization process and seeks to engage new citizens in our organizing and advocacy work. Our community resources team provides intensive support to those eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a recent policy change that enables undocumented youth to adjust status and obtain work authorization, opening the door to higher education, meaningful employment, and leadership for the next generation.
History & Accomplishments
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.
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.