USCCB - Migration & Refugee Services
The Catholic Church in the United States has been assisting immigrants and refugees adjust to their new lives since the founding of this nation. Until the early twentieth century, these efforts were organized at the local diocesan and parish levels and, typically, involved the provision of pastoral care, social services, and education. In 1920, under the auspices of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC), the bishops established a Department of Immigration at the national level. Between 1920 and 1930, the Immigration Department, which had a presence at Ellis Island, had assisted more than 100,000 immigrants in their efforts to immigrate.
Following World War II and the passage of the Displaced Persons Admissions Act of 1948, the Church assisted in the resettlement of more than 100,000 European refugees. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Catholic Committee for Refugees coordinated the provision of resettlement services. Throughout the 1950’s, the NCWC Department of Immigration assisted in the preparation of documentation for visa applications for prospective immigrants and helped newcomers with their immigration processing necessary to remain in the country and to become naturalized U.S. citizens. The NCWC Immigration Department also provided the bishops with technical assistance regarding public policies affecting immigrants and refugees. This included monitoring and advising on legislative activity in Washington, DC; analyzing and communicating immigration law changes; and assisting the bishops to develop and advocate public policy positions.
When the bishops established the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) in 1965, a new department called Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) was created within the USCC to be responsible for several functions, including refugee resettlement activities previously administered under the auspices of CRS, public policy development and advocacy, and the provision of legal immigration services. Since its beginning, MRS has administered an office in Miami to work with migrants and refugees arriving directly to the U.S. from Cuba and Haiti.
Since 1975, MRS has coordinated the resettlement of more than 800,000 refugees through dioceses throughout the country
In 1987, the bishops delegated to MRS the responsibility for administering national programs of pastoral care for ethnic and mobility apostolates, designed to encourage and support linkages between these communities and the local church. Consequently, the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees was added to MRS.
In 1990, MRS divested itself of its legal immigration services functions with the incorporation of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC).
In 1998, MRS established four offices to carry out its mandate from the bishops: Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, Office of Migration and Refugee Policy, Office of Refugee Programs, and Office of the Executive Director.
Since 1999, MRS has expanded its work with unaccompanied refugee and alien children and in 2002, began working with the victims of human trafficking, which includes a number of unaccompanied minors requiring specialized placements and services.