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CLINIC marks 35 years of giving legal help to migrants, representing asylum-seekers at border

Asylum-seeking migrants sit by concertina wire fence while waiting to be transported by U.S. law enforcement officers after crossing the Rio Grande river into the U.S. from Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, July 24, 2023. On Aug. 18, Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., best known as CLINIC, celebrated its 35th anniversary of making a difference in advocating for migrants. (OSV News photo/Go Nakamura, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., founded by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1988, marked 35 years of service Aug. 18.

In its mission to protect the legal rights of immigrants, CLINIC trains legal representatives who provide quality and affordable immigration legal services to low-income migrants, maintaining a network of nonprofit programs serving more than 500,000 immigrants every year.

The group said its work includes efforts to provide direct representation for asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border and educating them about their rights; reuniting formerly separated families; providing legal representation for those in removal proceedings and in detention; public education efforts on immigration law and policies; and advocating for fair and just immigration policies that acknowledge the inherent human dignity of migrants.

“Our hearts are full of gratitude as we celebrate this day,” Anna Gallagher, CLINIC’s executive director, said in a statement.

“CLINIC was initially run out of a back office and made up of a network of just 17 community-based organizations,” she said. “CLINIC’s founders could never have imagined the immense growth of the network, the scope of its work today, and the hundreds of thousands of lives it has touched over the years.”

The CLINIC network comprises over 450 organizations, the group said, and is now the largest nonprofit immigration law organization in the country. Amid complex legal and political debates over the issue of immigration, demand for CLINIC’s legal services continues to grow, it said.

“At CLINIC, we always come back to the why behind our work,” Gallagher said. “CLINIC’s founders saw the dignity and worth of immigrants in the United States who needed legal support to build better futures, in the wake of the 1986 immigration reform bill. Today, CLINIC continues to protect the rights of immigrants that are enshrined in national and international law and to advocate for more just policy.”

The bipartisan Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 implemented a multipronged system that provided amnesty for established residents, increased border enforcement, enhanced requirements for employers to hire migrants, and expanded guest worker visa programs. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established CLINIC as a legally distinct nonprofit organization soon after to support efforts to serve those migrants.

As it embarks on its 35th anniversary year, the organization said it has plans to “celebrate those who have shaped and driven CLINIC’s work and reflect on how we have and continue to pursue our mission to embrace the Gospel value of welcoming the stranger.”

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