Meet the MSC staff Dorothy Balser, Danna Johnson,Amelia McGowan and Matthew Young.
Known widely as a thriving metropolitan city with charming, small town vibes, Jackson, Mississippi, is also home to one of the most successful immigration legal services programs in the CLINIC Fellows Program.
As part of the Archdiocese of Jackson, the Migrant Support Center specializes in providing family-based immigration services to individuals and their families who are seeking legal status in the United States.
One of the first clients we interviewed, Claudio Louis, cheerfully described CLINIC Fellow Matthew Young as an angel fallen from heaven. He noted the detailed and caring approach Young takes with all of his clients, many of whom attend the same church as Louis and his family. Louis’ wife shared that they trust Catholic Charities significantly, and often offers to drive their friends to get a consultation from Matthew or his supervisor, Program Director Amelia McGowan.
Together, McGowan and Young have made some impressive connections with various law enforcement offices throughout the region. Most recently, they drove more than an hour into rural Mississippi to advocate for a client who was the victim of a crime. By speaking directly to the law enforcement officer, educating him on the client’s case and how he directly could help someone in need, the client’s life was changed, as was Catholic Charities relationship with that agency.
As an attorney and immigrant-rights activist, McGowan is often the first call for anyone working on Hispanic Ministry outreach for the Archdiocese of Jackson. For example, when Danna Johnson learned how uninformed members of her parish were regarding the immigration system, she and McGowan immediately organized an education event. Johnson went out of her way to invite every farm-owner in the area so that they could learn more about the challenges their employees faced.
McGowan is also an adjunct professor at Mississippi College School of Law where she teaches an immigration law clinic. Frequently, the clinic partners with Redemptorists in Greenwood, Mississippi, to reach undocumented people in underprivileged areas.
Perhaps the biggest testament to the strength of the immigration program has been their ability to sustain their caseload despite a reduction in staff and funding. McGowan and Young are strategic about the cases they take and rely on a strong pro-bono network for referrals. Volunteers from McGowan’s law clinic get hands-on experience assisting with cases, and a strong partnership with Catholic Charities Diocese of New Orleans allows the small two-person team to meet the needs of the community. MSC’s third team member, Parish-Based Ministries Director Dorothy Balser, also works tirelessly to find funding to help the program to grow.
Migrant Support Center has demonstrated resilience, commitment and resourcefulness at every step of the Project over the past two years. When they encountered a problem, they didn’t just throw up their hands and lament their situation. They took steps to fix it. As a result, they are improving the lives of Mississippians from all walks of life. Their work is an epitome of the standards CLINIC seeks to uphold and their dedication is an inspiration to all face opposition.