Reflections on NNIRR’s 35th Anniversary

NNIRR March to the U.S.-Mexico border at San Diego, May 1986.

June is a big month for important civil rights celebrations—Gay Pride, Immigrant Heritage month, Juneteenth, World Refugee Day, the anniversary of DACA, and…the founding of NNIRR!

This month we celebrate NNIRR’s 35th year, and we couldn’t have gotten here without you! Thank you for supporting us over the years—we hope you will continue to invest in our future.

Reflections on our history

In 1986, a diverse group of grassroots community groups and faith, labor and civil rights leaders who had been organizing and protesting proposed restrictive immigration reforms—that would eventually pass as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, or IRCA—formed the National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights. While the compromise bill provided welcome legalization for millions of undocumented, it also enhanced the criminalization of undocumented immigrant workers and the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border—that we have continued to fight ever since. Refugee protections for hundreds of thousands of Central American and Haitian refugees fleeing repression, war and violence in their homelands were also the issues of the day, then as now. And so we became the network for  “immigrant and refugee” rights.

From the onset we were grounded in the defense of the rights of all immigrants and refugees, giving rise to a mission statement that unequivocally stated:

We work to promote a just immigration and refugee policy in the United States and to defend and expand the rights of all immigrants and refugees, regardless of immigration status. The National Network bases its efforts in the principles of equality and justice, and seeks the enfranchisement of all immigrant and refugee communities in the United States through organizing and advocating for their full labor, environmental, civil and human rights.

We were very clear that immigration and immigration policy were not just “domestic” issues, but were framed and affected by global geo-politics, and have worked to build a strong international migrant rights movement, contributing to the Recommended Guidelines and Principles for Human Rights at International Borders, the UN Global Compact for Migration, and a vibrant and vocal global civil society.

For more about our history and recent year wrap-ups, go here.

While we have revisited our Mission Statement several times over the years, the core elements have remained in place and our program continues to reflect this mission. We have championed the rights of border communities and fought against the further militarization of the border and criminalization of migrants and refugees. We have lifted up the local leadership of migrant communities and have brought these voices into national and international advocacy spaces.

We have long made the connection between environmental and climate justice, and migrant rights—an issue now taking center stage as climate change advances at an alarming pace, displacing communities and becoming a major driver of forced, global migration.

Working to build a future for human rights

As a center for human rights advocacy and education, our recent work has raised awareness towards a holistic human rights agenda, the “root causes” of migration, and the need for the social, cultural and political inclusion of all immigrants and refugees. The thread that runs throughout our history? We are grounded by these fundamental principles and commitments:

  • respect and support for migrant leadership
  • challenging racism and xenophobia
  • intersectional solidarity, grounded in the interconnected struggles of migrant women, indigenous people, LGBTQ+, black diasporas, and many others who are resisting historic oppressions against injustice
  • popular education, a participatory process for creating shared tools and analysis for community organizing and action

We affirm the right to mobility, that migrants’ rights are human rights, and that no international border can be a zone of exception when it comes to human rights protections. 

This year we launched Spotlight: Mapping and Documentation for Human Rights on the Borderlands, an initiative to map and document the landscape of human rights concerns arising from the interplay of poverty, social inequity, and immigration enforcement. Through digital mapping and an accompanying human rights report, we aim to elevate border voices and propel a broader dialogue on inclusion, justice, accountability, and human rights for the border region. The report release will dovetail with a community process to lift up recommendations for advocacy in national and international policy spaces.

At the international level, we work with global civil society organizations and international agencies to urge governments to fulfill their human rights obligations and provide for the safety and due process of all migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, and to actively take responsibility to save migrant lives, as a primary and urgent matter.

At the national level, with grassroots groups, racial and climate justice leaders, labor and faith-based organizations, we advocate for the urgent redress of the humanitarian crises fueled by factors driving forced migrations and by punitive and restrictive immigration responses created—and seek long term immigration policy reform—a reform that centers migrants’ human rights at the core of all policy interventions.

At the regional level, we are expanding our human rights praxis on the US-Mexico border by working with grassroots leaders and organizations to build collective platforms for capacity-building, knowledge-exchange, and political action, while strengthening ties with partners throughout the Americas region.

35 years is a long time, but we continue to be inspired by the collective commitment of groups and individuals who have traveled this long road with us. It certainly hasn’t been easy; these are values and objectives that are typically not “popular” or “fundable”, and progress is often slow. Yet, we have every basis to remain hopeful and determined, and we recommit ourselves to take on the daunting challenges in the days, months, and years to come.

We invite you to continue with us on this journey. 

With love and appreciation,

All of us at NNIRR

Support NNIRR’s work for human rights! 

️ ☀️ Consider becoming a monthly sustainer at $5, $10, $25 a month.

️ ☀️️  If you can’t give monthly, how about a one-time donation?

️ ☀️ If you are on Facebook, donate to and share our FB 35th Anniversary fundraiser with your friends.

Every dollar makes a difference. Your contributions support NNIRR’s work to:

  • advocate for immigration policy that centers human rights
  • lift up grassroots leadership, organizing and advocacy
  • spotlight human rights organizing at the US-Mexico border
  • advocate for international migrant rights and human rights at borders at the UN and other international agencies
  • organize at the intersection of climate justice and migrant rights


Oakland, CA | El Paso, TX | |

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