Assisting immigrants to become full members of our nation

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network is one of the best kept secrets of the Church.

By Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI

   The Catholic Church in the United States has taken center stage in the debate over how to reform the U.S. immigration system. The Church does not support illegal migration. Instead, it supports comprehensive reform, including anti-poverty measures to allow would-be migrants to remain in their countries of births, expanded avenues of legal migration to the United States, and a way for undocumented persons to “earn” legal status through their labor, good character, and payment of a fine. The Church teaches that those fleeing persecution and inhuman poverty have a right to migrate, and that we have a responsibility to welcome newcomers as our “brothers and sisters.”
   How can we meet this Gospel imperative? In the nation’s last era of great migration from roughly 1890 to 1920, the Church responded to the needs of its newest members by establishing or expanding all of its defining institutions, including charities, parishes, schools, hospitals, religious communities, and fraternal and sororal groups. We face a similar challenge today and must be equally responsive. As the U.S. and Mexican bishops put it in their historic pastoral statement, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope: “Faith in presence of Christ in the migrant leads to a conversion of mind and heart, which leads to a renewed spirit of communion and to the building of structures of solidarity to accompany the migrant.” One of the Church’s principal “structures of solidarity” with immigrants today is its network of charitable legal programs, which are linked nationally to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC). More than 160 dioceses now offer legal services to immigrants, many out of multiple offices. In the diocese of  San Angelo we have contact persons in each deanery who have been trained and who provide valuable legal service to immigrants. They help families to reunify, persons at risk of violence to secure protection, lawful permanent residents to become citizens, and qualifying immigrants to work. Catholic immigration programs, which serve more than 400,000 newcomers each year, make up the nation’s largest network of charitable legal programs.
   His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick has referred to CLINIC as “one of the Church’s best kept secrets.” CLINIC advocates on behalf of low-income and at-risk immigrants on a national level, and provides local immigration programs with training and technical support. Recently, CLINIC launched a project to prepare for anticipated legislation that could provide legal status to a significant percentage of the nation’s 12 million undocumented residents. As with the last legalization program in the 1980s, the Church’s deep connections with immigrant communities will make it a central resource for immigrants in need of assistance. In order for a program of this magnitude to succeed,
   The Church must mobilize all of its resources. Immigrants who do not receive quality information and services may fall victim to predatory immigration services, or notarios. CLINIC also provides invaluable legal service for so many of our international priests.
    During the last legalization program, many fly-by-night offices charged excessive fees for shoddy services that sometimes prevented their clients from gaining legal status. CLINIC’s legalization webpage www.cliniclegal.org/Legalization.html offers a useful collection of resources for immigration programs, parishes, and immigrant communities. It features instructions, articles, reports, guides, training slides, presentations, and fliers.
   Our diocesan immigration program and CLINIC are doing their best to live up to the demands of Catholic Social Teaching. As American and Mexican Bishops stated: “We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.” Assisting newcomers to obtain legal status, a pre-condition to full membership in our nation, is among the most important work that we can do.

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