Migration and Refugee Services: A Brief History
The Catholic Church in the United States has been assisting immigrants and refugees adjust to their new lives since the founding of the 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. Since 1975, MRS has coordinated the resettlement of more than 800,000 refugees through dioceses throughout the country. It has also administered an office in Miami to work with migrants and refugees arriving directly to the U.S. from Cuba and Haiti.
An Historical Timeline:
- 1920 -1930. National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) establishes a Department of Immigration which assists more than 100,000 immigrants in their efforts to immigrate.
- 1948. Under the Displaced Persons Admissions Act, the Church assisted in the resettlement of more than 100,000 European refugees through Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Catholic Committee for Refugees.
- 1965. United States Catholic Conference (USCC) established and with it, a new department called Migration and Refugee Services (MRS). Responsible for several functions, including refugee resettlement activities, public policy development and advocacy, and the provision of legal immigration services.
- 1987. MRS Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees is created to administer national programs of pastoral care for ethnic and mobility apostolates.
- 1990. MRS divests its legal immigration service functions with the separate incorporation of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC).
- 1998. MRS establishes four offices to carry out its mandate from the bishops: the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, the Office of Migration and Refugee Policy, the Office of Refugee Programs, and the Office of the Executive Director.
- 1999. MRS expands its services to include work with unaccompanied refugee and alien children.
- 2000 - 2003, MRS provides support to the bishops in the development of three significant pastoral letters, including Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith, and Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, which was jointly issued with the bishops of Mexico
- 2002. MRS begins working with the victims of human trafficking, which includes a number of unaccompanied minors requiring specialized placements and services.
- 2005. Bishops launch the Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope campaign through MRSs to mobilize grassroots advocacy efforts, provide education and public outreach to Catholics and the larger U.S. population about the Church’s teaching on migration, and influence public policy to create a fair and just comprehensive immigration system.
- 2006-2009. MRS develops and implements a major reorganization plan resulting in the creation of five new or reconstituted offices to be phased in over several years: Management and Administration; Migration Policy and Public Affairs; Planning, Development, and Evaluation; Resettlement Services; and Special Programs.