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Cover story

CLINIC reports relates stories, facts, figures

NCR Staff
Newark, N.J.

Documents provided by the Catholic Legal Immigrant Network, sometimes known as CLINIC, describe the plight of immigrants, refugees, detainees and asylum seekers in a series of four recent reports. Excerpts reveal:

  • One in five U.S. residents is foreign-born.
  • 3.5 million family members seeking to join U.S. residents languish in backlogs of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
  • 41 percent of foreign-born U.S. households get by on less than 125 percent of the household income listed in federal poverty guidelines, yet 125 percent is the income level demanded before the families can bring in absent kin.
  • 10 percent of all U.S. children live in “mixed status” households. In such households, one parent might be a legal resident or citizen, another parent might be undocumented, while 75 percent of the children themselves are citizens. One consequence of the 1996 Immigration Act is that these families are being ripped apart.
  • In 1999 more than 177,000 immigrants and refugees were ordered out of the United States, many with lawful resident spouses and children. A further 72,000 departed “voluntarily,” meaning that they were threatened with deportation if they did not leave. In 1998, the INS detained 153,000 persons under mandatory detention laws. On any given day, about 20,000 immigrants and refugees are in U.S. immigration service detention centers. The figure has more than doubled in four years
  • Roughly 6 million undocumented persons live in the United States.

The Catholic network’s reports provide the following information about detention centers operated by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service:

  • Overcrowding, lack of privacy and despair have become endemic throughout the system.
  • The immigration service warehouses detainees in remote locations, jailed with criminals, bereft of pastoral and social services, interpreters and access to attorneys.
  • Thousands face long-term detention in facilities designed for short-term use.
  • Jailers fail to respect dietary restrictions and to provide culturally appropriate foods.
  • Jailers place severe restrictions on visits by family members.
  • Immigrants often abandon their legal claims to admission to the United States simply to avoid further detention.
  • The U.S. immigration service regularly transfers detainees without reference to attorney-client relationship or other support services.
  • Jailers use segregation punitively and often for transgressions that arise from language difficulties or mental illness.
  • Immigrants in civil custody face all the privations, inhumanity and violence of prison.
  • Locked up in a hodgepodge of “service processing centers,” for-profit prisons, federal prisons and local jails, the growing population of civil detainees includes unaccompanied children -- children separated from parents in custody elsewhere in the United States. Spouses are deliberately housed separately.
  • The 1996 Immigration Act, states the Catholic network, “has already caused untold suffering for thousands of persons, with no end in sight.”

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service “deserves abundant criticism for failure to exercise its discretion to release the immigrants it can under the agency’s operating code, and for its unconscionable failure to develop” low-cost alternatives to incarceration that are permitted under the U.S. regulations.

Naturalized citizenship

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, have five years lawful permanent residence (three if they have a U.S. citizen spouse), have good moral character, be literate in basic English, pass a U.S history test and take an oath of allegiance to the United States.

Traditionally, once citizenship has been obtained, it has been virtually inviolate.


  • 1996 regulations allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to conduct denaturalization proceedings. Previously only a federal court had the power to strip citizens of citizenship. “No recent development has done more to devalue citizenship” than this, states the Catholic Legal Immigrant Network.
  • Naturalization processes take two to three years in many INS offices.
  • INS improperly denies naturalization applications -- 251 percent more denials in the first six months of 1999 than in 1998.
  • Local INS district officials are free to administer the naturalization test as they see fit without oversight from INS headquarters.
  • After INS raised naturalization application fees from $95 to $225, filings declined by more than 50 percent.

National Catholic Reporter, September 29, 2000