Established in 1979, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) describes itself as “the only national legal advocacy organization in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants and their families.” Among those rights, says NILC, is the right to access government-funded social-welfare programs in the same manner as legal U.S. citizens.
In its early years, NILC was a key player in the sanctuary movement, helping Central American refugees find asylum and jobs in the United States during the 1980s. A decade later, outraged by the “draconian restrictions on immigrants’ rights imposed by the 1996 welfare and immigration laws,” the Center doubled its staff and worked aggressively (with success) to help restore $12 billion in Supplemental Security Income and more than $800 million in food stamps for legal immigrants affected by the 1996 legislation.
In 2003, NILC was a sponsoring organization of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition, which sought to promote comprehensive immigration reform and expand the civil rights and liberties of illegal immigrants.
NILC condemned SB 1070 (Arizona’s 2010 immigration-law-enforcement statute) as well as HB 497 (a similar 2011 statute in Utah) as “far-reaching enforcement-only” bills that “promote racial profiling,” “discourage immigrant communities from reporting crimes or cooperating with investigations,” and ultimately “driv[e] immigrants from the state.
Today, NILC’s major programs include the following:
* Health Care and Public Benefits: NILC “works to prevent immigrant families from being excluded from vital health care and safety-net programs.”
* Immigration Reform: Calling for “just and humane immigration reform policies,” this program demands that “all people,” “regardless” of their “immigration status,” be given “equal access to justice, education, government resources, and economic opportunities.” “Immigration reform,” adds NILC, “must include a clear road to full citizenship for those currently living under threat of deportation, as well as for those seeking to reuinte with their families.” Moreover, the Center has strongly urged Congress to pass the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide young adults who first came to the U.S. as minors with a path-to-citizenship and access to discounted college tuition rates.
* Immigration Enforcement: Emphatically opposed to laws authorizing state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws, this program uses policy work and litigation to challenge “unjust, enforcement-related” statutes and practices whose “main targets are low-income immigrant workers and their families.” According to NILC, “These policies rip families apart, encourage racial profiling, and undermine due process.”
* Workers’ Rights: Through the use of “know-your-rights” trainings and policy analysis, NILC works to ensure that “low-income immigrant workers in this country” can be “free from fear that they will be underpaid or placed in a dangerous [work] environment.” In addition, the Center opposes employers’ use of E-Verify, an electronic verification system designed to quickly determine whether a job applicant is in the U.S. illegally (and thus ineligible to work).
* Education: Emphasizing that “a quality education can provide low-income immigrants with a pathway out of poverty,” NILC argues that “all children, regardless of status, have the constitutional right to attend our nation’s public (K-12) schools.” Toward that end, the Center has fought against “anti-immigrant laws that would chill access to school for immigrant families.”
* Driver’s Licences: “Denying certain immigrants licenses because of their immigration status is simply bad public policy,” says NILC. “It increases uninsurance rates and the number of unlicensed drivers, and it undermines effective law enforcement.”
* Taxes: NILC maintains that contrary to popular “misconceptions,” “immigrants without authorization to be in the U.S.” actually “pay taxes just as everyone else does”—not only because “they are required to do so by law,” but also because “they see it as an opportunity to contribute, to prove their economic contribution to the U.S., and to document their residence here.”
* Litigation: Often in conjunction with groups like the ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NILC engages in impact litigation “to defend the constitutional rights of low-income immigrants.” For instance, NILC attorneys have filed class-action lawsuits to block “anti-immigrant laws” in states like Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah. The Network also litigates to protect due-process rights for immigrants who are “caught by the immigration enforcement dragnet.”
* Community Education Materials: NILC publishes reference manuals and analyses for immigrants, their attorneys, and nonprofit agencies working on immigration-related issues. The materials cover such topics as Encountering Law Enforcement, Immigration Raids, Participating in Demonstrations, National Origin Discrimination, and Immigrant Eligibility for Disaster Assistance.
NILC’s work is funded by foundation and government grants; revenues from training programs and the sale of publications; attorney fees; and individual donations. Among the foundations that have supported NILC are the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Four Freedoms Fund, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the Mertz-Gilmore Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. For a list of additional NILC supporters, click here.
 In 2003, NILC was a signatory to a March 17 letter exhorting members of Congress to oppose Patriot Act II on grounds that it “contain[ed] a multitude of new and sweeping law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering powers … that would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights.” The Center also gave its organizational endorsement to the Community Resolution to Protect Civil Liberties campaign, which tried to influence city councils disobey the provisions of the Patriot Act. Further, NILC endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which was designed to roll back, in the name of civil-liberties protection, vital national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.