Melissa George Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates | Webster University

Student Voices: Melissa George

Melissa's field experience at MIRA in Saint Louis, MO 

melissaMelissa George (HRTS '14) gained valuable experience by interning at Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA) in Saint Louis, Missouri. MIRA works towards comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and related issues in Missouri. It is a statewide coalition headquartered in Kansas City and Saint Louis that concentrates on legislation, community education and awareness, and advocacy. The internship at MIRA allowed Melissa to cultivate new community relationships and educated her in advocacy and how a nonprofit organization functions. She learned more about U.S immigration policy and how to communicated with community organizations to foster human rights dialogue and education, as well as how to improve the rights of immigrants and refugees. For instance, MIRA hosts "Know Your Rights" meetings at community centers to educate people on what rights they have if they are stopped by police, arrested, or if immigration officials visit their workplace. Packets of information are given out with emergency family plans, lists of immigration lawyers, forms to report police abuse, and other helpful information. MIRA also hosts meetings and other community events to educate people about immigration policy and to garner support for political action. Immigrants must know their rights so they can advocate for their needs and stand up for their families. 

At her internship, Melissa gained a wide range of practical skills to raise awareness of rights issues and help protect immigrants' rights. She used social media to keep people informed about what was happening at MIRA. She learned that social media such as Facebook is a channel to educate people, especially those who are not well educated  on immigration issues. While helping to plan art shows in Springfield and Columbia, Melissa contacted businesses, churches, schools and other organizations about making donations and to invite them to events. She also worked in outreach and did cold calling, which often made her feel uncomfortable but slowly got easier. She was involved in a social media fundraising campaign, which included facilitating communication with potential supporters and donors, and Melissa later conducted an evaluation of the overall campaign. Although some tasks pushed Melissa out of her "comfort zone," she believes these experiences helped her gain skills that she can use in future positions. Working at MIRA not only taught Melissa about immigration issues locally and nationally, it also taught her how a nonprofit organization functions. She learned about herself, too; she discovered that she does not fit well into an office setting and would rather spend her time working with people in the field.

Melissa's experience at MIRA made her question federal and state immigration policies, as well. She notes that some Missourians believe stereotypes about Latino immigrants, and harmful legislation is often the result. Through dozens of MIRA meetings, Melissa learned how difficult it is for different organizations to come together from different perspectives to agree on solutions. Religious organizations came into conflicts with organizations such as Planned Parenthood, for instance, and many compromises were necessary for local partners to support common causes related to immigrant rights. Melissa thinks the  most important tool that organization have for bettering the lives of immigrants and refugees is education; fighting stereotypes and finding common ground is key. Through all of its work, Melissa believes MIRA makes Missouri a more welcoming place for immigrants and refugees.  

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