In 1988, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) established the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) as a tax-exempt subsidiary to “support a rapidly growing network of community-based immigration programs.” At its inception, the Network administered a total of 17 immigration-related programs. By the end of 2012, that figure had increased to 201. Today, CLINIC has 290 field offices in 47 U.S. states, and employs approximately 1,200 representatives and attorneys who, each year, serve some 600,000 low-income immigrants “without reference to their race, religion, gender, ethnic group, or other distinguishing characteristics.”
“Embracing the Gospel value of welcoming the stranger,” CLINIC’s mission is to “promot[e] the dignity and protec[t] the rights of immigrants in partnership with a dedicated network of Catholic and community legal immigration programs.” Citing principles rooted in “Catholic social teaching,” the Network explains that its “Catholic identity” infuses every aspect of its work—how it is governed, who it serves, how it treats its clients, the way it works, and why it does the work that it does.” Says CLINIC: “The Church recognizes that all goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.”
Contrary to what its name implies, CLINIC focuses heavily on the rights of illegal, as opposed to legal, immigrants. In June 2004, for instance, the Network’s board of directors joined the USCCB’s Committee on Migration in voting to make “comprehensive immigration reform” a major public-policy priority within the Catholic Church. The result was the creation of Justice for Immigrants, a nationwide campaign by the Church to “create political will for positive immigration reform” featuring a path-to-citizenship for illegals currently residing in the United States.
In a similar spirit, CLINIC in 2009 helped pressure Minnesota’s legislature to amend a state law preventing “undocumented immigrant couple[s]” from obtaining marriage licenses. CLINIC also supports the DREAM Act, legislation that would allow illegal-immigrant students to attend college at the reduced tuition rates normally reserved for in-state legal residents, and to earn conditional permanent residency and a path to citizenship.
In its effort to advance public policies favorable to illegal immigrants, CLINIC commonly conflates such immigrants with those who are in the U.S. legally—and refers to the two groups as though they represented a single, monolithic entity. Quoting a 2010 San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank study, for instance, CLINIC states that “immigrants expand the U.S. economy’s productive capacity [and] stimulate investment,” while “there is no evidence that immigrants crowd out U.S.-born workers in either the short or long run.”
CLINIC currently administers five major programs:
1) The Center for Citizenship and Immigrant Communities “seeks to develop capacity for lasting change” by working with a cross-section of national and regional groups that could help immigrants in “under-served communities” to “understand and … exercise their rights.”
2) The Center for Immigrant Rights (CIR) collaborates with USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services to use advocacy, education, pro bono representation, litigation, and media campaigns to tackle problems faced by low-income immigrants and “vulnerable asylum-seekers” who “attempt to navigate our nation’s complex immigration laws and policies.” At the national level, CIR focuses on administrative advocacy with officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office for Immigration Review. At the local level, the Center supports the efforts of advocates who actively “combat state and local anti-immigrant measures”—a reference to laws that seek to enforce existing immigration laws.
3) The Center for Religious Immigration and Protection assists more than 250 dioceses, archdioceses, and religious institutes to bring foreign-born religious workers to the U.S. for purposes of education or ministry.
4) The Communications and Marketing program coordinates CLINIC’s media relations. In addition to responding to reporter requests for interviews on immigration-related matters, this program issues press releases; drafts opinion pieces and letters to the editor; and offers seminars, presentations, and workshops. Most significantly, it emphasizes that “Catholic teaching calls us to befriend the alien and sojourner and to work on behalf of the most vulnerable members of our society,” irrespective of immigration laws.
5) The National Legal Center for Immigrants works to expand the availability of professional, low-cost immigration services by providing legal expertise, training, and technical assistance to CLINIC’s member agencies and constituents. One such service—the Attorney-of-the-Day Hotline—makes CLINIC lawyers available to answer substantive legal questions on a wide range of immigration-related topics. Since its launch, the hotline staff has responded to more than 5,000 calls annually. Another service—the Enforcement Response and Preparedness Project—aims to serve “the needs of immigrants affected by an enforcement action, such as a raid, in their community.” A third service—the Immigrant Worker Justice Project—offers training, technical assistance, and advocacy to immigrants on issues like wages, working conditions, and verification systems in the workplace.
CLINIC is governed by a board of directors composed primarily of bishops from various parts of the U.S. A notable non-religious member of the board is John Wilhelm, president of the labor union UNITE HERE!
Over the course of its history, CLINIC has received a number of awards from left-wing organizations. These include an Excellence in Advocacy Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (2003), and a Human Rights Award from the United Nations‘ Association of the National Capital Area (1998), for service to detained immigrants.
For additional information on CLINIC, click here.
 Rejecting the claim that the DREAM Act is a form of amnesty, CLINIC maintains that it is a much-needed “investment in the future workforce of the U.S.” Moreover, the Network has applauded President Barack Obama‘s suport for the Act.