I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Highlander Research and Education Center, near Knoxville Tennessee. This center helped to found the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) which advocates for immigrants and refugees in this state. In speaking with some of the founders of TIRRC I was amazed at the broad number of things that this organization is involved with. Because they are not a resettlement agency, their work has a slightly different tenor than our own, but it really gave me a chance to see what things look like from a justice perspective in the refugee community. This organization does some exciting work with refugee and immigrant youth. They have developed teaching mechanisms that train young immigrants and refugees to address the issues facing their communities. They also participate in the Know-Your-Rights program, which is a program designed to provide individuals with the information they need to protect themselves under the law and from the law. They also work in a much broader sense on immigration and refugee policy reform.
Learning about this work was very eye-opening for me. I have often felt, throughout the course of this semester, that the stress of the immediate need often overshadows some of the broader issues facing the families that we work with. It is hard to worry about racial profiling by neighbors and law enforcement when the threat of hunger or homelessness is looming. But having opportunities to organize around issues in the refugee community can also be a source of community building, and can help in a more healthy integration process in my opinion. Another concept that TIRRC uses is mutual integration. This term refers to the idea that communities where refugees are present can take advantage of opportunities to integrate themselves into a culturally diverse community. I am so interested to see how that would look in our community. I will be returning from the South with a few new ideas about the work that we do!