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When it comes to the Empowered by the Spirit podcast with host Deacon Steve Greco, you always know that you’re going to meet fascinating people.

On today’s broadcast, we’re delighted to introduce you to a man of faith who has certainly undergone his fair share of adversity and challenges.

His name is Dr. Sean Tobin, and he is the co-founder of the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. He is also a gifted singer and songwriter; and, we will be sharing some of his music on today’s show.

Be sure to SHARE this important and timely podcast with others.





Originally broadcast on 4/5/2020


BALTIMORE (CNS) — The executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, told U.S. Catholic bishops Nov. 13 that the government is violating international and U.S. law when it denies asylum-seekers at the border entry into the U.S.

Yet, some 60,000 men, women and children are forced to wait in Mexico for months, said Anna Gallagher in addressing the bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore.

Gallagher spoke of her experience as the daughter of immigrants from Ireland who arrived, much like those at the border, “with next to nothing.” Even so, she told the bishops, “my parents arrived with many resources: hard work, faith, resilience, and a deep respect for family and community.”

But today, she sees a different U.S. than the one her parents entered, she said.

When she took a trip to the border prior to starting her new position at CLINIC, “I saw a world that is hard to understand and accept, given our country’s resources and values,” she said.

She spoke of an experience at the border seeing crowded shelters without adequate food and sanitary services and meeting migrants who had faced a variety of travails, including beatings and abuse and one who almost had a child kidnapped in a street in Tijuana, Mexico.

“Even with my long experience, I had never seen misery and desperation like that experienced by the thousands of migrant men, women and children asylum-seekers living at our southern border,” she said.

She thanked the bishops for having the “foresight and wisdom to create CLINIC,” the nonprofit, legal services corporation founded by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1988 to serve as a national support and resource center for dioceses in providing immigration services.

Gallagher urged bishops to visit local CLINIC affiliates, saying “your presence will lift their spirits as they continue swimming against the tide,” and to speak out in favor of migrants so that “your community knows that you are there to accompany them in their often-agonizing immigration struggle.”

She also told of a new project by the organization called “Estamos Unidos Asylum Project,” or “We Are United Asylum Project,” which seeks to respond to the “urgent legal needs of those stranded in Mexico, due to a U.S. policy that keeps asylum-seekers there.”

She also informed them that CLINIC, along with HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, were the only organizations “providing ongoing U.S. asylum assistance” to migrants in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, Texas, and of an effort to build a volunteer corps.

“Our work is just a drop in the bucket,” she said, adding that “without skilled counsel, thousands of migrants will lose their cases, be deported and face grave danger, even death in their home countries.”


WASHINGTON (CNS) — President Donald Trump’s appointment of Ken Cuccinelli to a top immigration position violated federal law and therefore certain actions undertaken by his office are not legally valid, a federal lawsuit argues.

The complaint was filed Sept. 6 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and challenges three directives from Cuccinelli, who has served as acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) since June.

Filing the lawsuit were seven asylum-seekers and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., Democracy Forward Foundation, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services and Proskauer, an international law firm.

Bradley Jenkins, federal litigation attorney at CLINIC, said the directives in combination have the effect of curtailing an asylum-seeker’s access to a lawyer or someone else to prepare for the first government screening interview after arriving in the U.S.

This so-called “credible fear” interview determines if an asylum-seeker will be able to formally file an application for asylum.

“This is an hour of any asylum-seeker’s life that will change their life forever. If they pass this interview, they get the ability to submit an asylum application. If they fail it, they immediately get deported,” Jenkins told Catholic News Service.

The lawsuit argues the USCIS directives reduce the time between arrival at a detention facility and the interview from 48 hours to the next calendar day, almost completely bar continuances that would allow more preparation time, and end legal orientations for immigrants.

The directives also post difficult obstacles for disabled asylum-seekers and violate the federal Rehabilitation Act, the lawsuit said

“All we’re asking for is what the law allows. The reason they want to do it is they want to deport people quickly and without adequate process,” Jenkins said.

“The moves to cut lawyers out of the process really abandons all pretense of having a protection-oriented system as opposed to having a deportation-oriented system,” he added.

The legal filing also challenges Cuccinelli’s appointment within USCIS, saying it violates the appointment clause in the U.S. Constitution that requires Senate confirmation of principle officers within a presidential administration.

Jenkins said the appointment also violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act,

“Acting director Cuccinelli is not currently confirmed by the Senate and he didn’t come from a Senate-confirmed position,” Jenkins said.

As a result, Jenkins said, Cuccinelli’s directives hold no force or effect.

Jenkins said that the directives from Cuccinelli’s office have not gone through the established process of public notice and a comment period. “They just put them out there without justification,” he said.

The lawsuit also argues that Trump created the position of principle deputy director at USCIS to establish a different order of succession at the agency and to get around the Fedral Vacancies Reform Act so Cuccinelli could be appointed to head USCIS without Senate approval.

Cuccinelli has been a vocal supporter of the Trump administration’s hardline stance on immigration. Since his appointment June 10, he has been widely criticized by immigrant advocates and members of Congress for some of the agency’s actions.

The lawsuit proposes that Mark Koumans, a longtime Department of Homeland Security employee, should be the agency’s acting director under federal law. The USCIS website page for Koumans lists him as the agency’s acting director. Another website page also lists Cuccinelli as acting director.


WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Catholic Legal Immigration Network joined three other organizations in filing a lawsuit against the federal government over a memo that the groups say changes the rules retroactively for unaccompanied immigrant minors seeking asylum.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern Maryland July 1, the day after the new policies outlined in the memo took effect. CLINIC announced the filing of the suit in a July 8 news release.

The plaintiffs in the case are four “unaccompanied alien children,” known in immigration shorthand as UACs. All are male. Two are from Guatemala and two are from El Salvador. The suit seeks class-action status for all such UACs in their situation.

Named as defendants in the suit are the federal Department of Homeland Security and its acting secretary, Kevin McAleenan, as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and its acting director, Ken Cuccinelli.

“This class action challenges a federal agency’s sudden shift in policy that retroactively strips plaintiffs of critical, statutory asylum protection,” the suit says.

It cited the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which “relieves unaccompanied immigrant children of two procedural hurdles to accessing the asylum system, providing a more child-appropriate way for the government to process their claims to protection under U.S. and international law fairly.”

However, a May 31 memo, called in the suit “the 2019 Redetermination Memo,” scuttles the policy of the law. The memo was only posted on USCIS website, and not published in the Federal Register, “and the agency did not invite public comment on any of the new directives set forth in the memorandum,” the suit said.

The policy outlined in the memo, it added, “will be implemented retroactively — applying to individuals who already had asylum applications pending before USCIS, even those whom USCIS already interviewed, as of June 30, 2019, as well as to others who have relied upon USCIS’ 2013 policy.”

Moreover, the new policy “profoundly undermines plaintiffs’ rights, and the rights of other unaccompanied children who have filed for or plan to file for asylum in the United States,” the suit said.

One benefit of the 2008 law, the suit noted, was that “instead of having to be cross-examined in an adversarial courtroom by trained government lawyers — without the right to appointed counsel — a UAC applicant is seen by USCIS asylum officers trained to conduct non-adversarial interviews and apply child-sensitive and trauma-informed interview techniques.”

However, “under the new policy, they will be deprived of their right to seek asylum before USCIS, and will face an adversarial process in which a DHS prosecutor subjects them to cross-examination and advocates for their deportation. Further, plaintiffs may lose their eligibility to seek asylum entirely by retroactive imposition of a filing deadline that was inapplicable to their applications at the time they were filed.”

This represents “significant and harmful policy changes that undermine the purpose of and inconsistent with the TVPRA,” the suit said.

One plaintiff’s parents were murdered before the plaintiff fled to the United States. Another left after being subjected to violence due to the plaintiff’s “perceived sexual orientation,” according to the suit.

The minors “sought safety in the United States without understanding the legal options that exist, including asylum,” it said.

During debate on the bill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said: “I believe we have a special obligation to ensure that these children are treated humanely and fairly. Unfortunately, without this legislation, there would be no procedure to make sure that happens. Currently, when a child is apprehended by immigration authorities, that child usually knows nothing about U.S. courts or immigration policies and frequently does not speak English.”

A May 20 memo from USCIS “confirmed to public stakeholders that the asylum policy and procedures set forth in the 2013 Kim Memorandum remained in effect.” The Kim Memorandum — named for Ted Kim, acting chief of the USCIS Asylum Division — was a response outlining USCIS policy changes after a 2012 ombudsman’s report detailing implementation problems after the 2008 law was passed.

But the May 31 Redetermination Memo — not made public until June 14 — reversed virtually everything that had been said in the May 20 memo, noting it would take effect June 30, 30 days from the date of the new memo.

“The directives in the 2019 Redetermination Memo establish a binding norm and leave asylum officers with no discretion,” the suit charged.

The suit noted the “defendants’ failure to promulgate regulations despite the TVPRA’s mandate to do so,” adding: “The agencies have not published a notice of proposed rulemaking, and have made no progress toward promulgating regulations implementing the UAC provisions of the TVPRA.”

The suit spells out the consequences for each of the plaintiffs if the May 31 Redetermination Memo is implemented.

“The 2019 Redetermination Memo is arbitrary and capricious because, for example, it does not address, nor acknowledge, any of the reasons for adopting the asylum policy in place since 2013,” the suit said. “Defendants have failed to provide any explanation, much less a reasoned explanation, of how the 2019 Redetermination Memo addresses the issues leading to the adoption of the 2013 Memorandum.”

“Defendants violate plaintiffs’ due process rights by retroactively applying the asylum rules,” it added. “The 2019 Redetermination Memo will actually penalize the plaintiffs’ past conduct taken in reliance on USCIS policy in place since 2013.”

The suit said, “The asylum rules set forth in the 2019 Redetermination Memo are legislative rules, not interpretive rules, because, for example, they effect a substantive change in existing law. The 2019 Redetermination Memo is not a statement of policy that is exempt from public notice, including because it establishes binding rules on all asylum officers without leaving room for any exercise of discretion.”

Joining CLINIC in filing the suit are Kids In Need of Defense, Public Counsel and the Boston-based Goodwin Procter law firm.


PITTSBURGH (CNS) — Almost every American has a story to tell about how their ancestors came to this country. It’s often a tear-stained tale of hardship, desperation and sacrifice. 

Similar scenarios are playing out today along the U.S.-Mexico border and other entry points across the land. As with the harrowing stories of generations ago, many of the current situations have the real possibility of violence and death if those emigrating choose to stay home. 

Members of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network shared stories of success and heartache during their May 29-31 Convening 2019 in downtown Pittsburgh. 

The faith-based network, which is known by its acronym CLINIC and based in Silver Spring, Maryland, partners with 373 affiliates to provide a wide range of services including advocacy for low-income immigrants, technical assistance and pro bono legal representation. 

The annual CLINIC gathering offers intensive legal training, and professionals who attended certain sessions received continuing education credits. 

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, gave a keynote speech May 29 and concelebrated a morning Mass May 30 for the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. 

He was joined at the liturgy by Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh; Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, a CLINIC board member and founder of CLINIC when he was head of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, from 1985 to 1991; Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, California, CLINIC’s board chairman; and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, a CLINIC board member. 

In his keynote speech, Archbishop Pierre echoed Pope Francis in saying that migration is a global issue that “must be addressed, not in a hostile, confrontational way, but in a prudent and just way that respects the dignity of each person and that allows for a mutual enrichment of peoples and cultures.” 

“This is the story of the people of the United States,” the archbishop said. “People came to the New World, often fleeing poverty and religious persecution, in search of a better future, marked by the promise of freedom.” 

Anna Marie Gallagher, executive director of CLINIC, who has worked in immigration law for more than 30 years, is very familiar with the immigrant experience. 

Her parents came to America from Donegal, Ireland, when food and jobs were in short supply. She said her father understood the need to cross borders — even illegally — to make a better life for oneself and family. 

“When I look back, I feel how powerful my parents’ story was, just the way they raised us,” Gallagher said. “You just really never thought that people didn’t come into your house and stay, or you didn’t help people, or you didn’t give them a leg up. 

“I grew up with stories of forced migration,” she said. 

Gallagher is proud to be associated with CLINIC, which she calls a “sleeping giant” that is well-respected in legal circles. 

She has witnessed an alarming trend while watching the flow of migrants from Central America. Until four years ago, she said, it was almost exclusively men crossing the southern border. Then mothers began arriving at the border, sometimes with small children. 

The parents would send money home to grandparents who were taking care of their children back home. But with more powerful gangs and the increasing threat of violence, grandmothers began calling their children here and saying that they couldn’t protect their grandchildren. That’s when the surge of unaccompanied children occurred, Gallagher said. 

“And then when I was in Tijuana (less than two months ago), I was at a shelter there, and I interviewed two grandmothers. I had never seen that. Each had come up with three grands,” she said. 

There are many thousands of people in Mexico with no access to attorneys, Gallagher said. 

So we’re going over and talking with them, explaining their rights, helping them prepare their cases, things like that,” she said. “And that’s what CLINIC does. We go in, step in for a while, we set it up, and when things are going, we withdraw and go to other places with needs.”  


Cone is editor of the Pittsburgh Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.


Many people might not have noticed that Anna Gallagher took over Feb. 1 as executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC. 

If they hadn’t, they certainly would have March 8, when she called a Department of Homeland Security decision to not redesignate Temporary Protected Status for those fleeing war- and corruption-scarred South Sudan “morally reprehensible.” 

“Well, it was,” she declared during a March 27 interview with Catholic News Service at CLINIC headquarters in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring. 

Gallagher, 60, is herself the child of immigrants from Ireland. “They didn’t have a sponsor, because you didn’t need one back then,” she said. “When my parents came to the United States, the immigration system was more welcoming. They simply had to submit proof that they would not be a burden to the country and were granted immigrant visas. Things are much different today.” 

Raised in Philadelphia, she got a bachelor’s degree in political science and Latin American studies from Temple University in 1984. She earned her law degree at the Antioch School of Law in Washington three years later, and dove right into immigration law work — as well other matters — in the wake of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which had become law in 1986. 

She moved to Guatemala City in 1992 to take a job as deputy director for the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, known by its Spanish acronym as CALDH, which investigated many high-profile cases. 

“I investigated the Dianna Ortiz case,” Gallagher said, referring to the case of the U.S. Ursuline nun who was ministering in Guatemala when she was kidnapped, jailed, tortured and raped in 1989. CALDH also investigated the case of Jennifer Harbury, a U.S. human rights lawyer and activist whose husband, a Mayan guerrilla leader in Guatemala, was “disappeared” and later murdered. 

“I also came back with a child from Guatemala,” Gallagher said. While she was there, she adopted an 11-year-old boy who had been placed in an orphanage by his caretaking older sister, who had become sick and could no longer care for him. 

“He would come by, looking for something, a little money, a little something to eat. I made him a sandwich. I told him I wasn’t going to give him anything else until he started to learn English,” she said. “He returned for visits and I began to teach him English. After meeting his extended family, we agreed that I would care for him and my husband and I adopted him.” 

Even with Guatemala’s civil war having ended two decades ago, “the government’s as corrupt as it’s ever been,” she told CNS. Combined with gangs and a three-year drought, Guatemalans are leaving their homeland in greater numbers than ever. 

As they journey northward, some Mexican gangs find more profit in kidnapping migrants than in trafficking drugs, Gallagher said. The gangs kidnap and hold refugees until their U.S.-based kin pay ransom. She added women traveling alone, and even with their children, are often subject to sexual assault. 

Despite the deprivation and depravity they’ve suffered, they are often reluctant to tell an immigration judge those details. When asked why they came to the United States, they tell the judge, “I want a better life,” which judges interpret as, “Oh, they’re just here to make money,” Gallagher said. 

She vigorously disputes the notion put forth by the federal government that the border situation is at a crisis. On March 27, the same day Gallagher was interviewed by CNS, The Washington Post published an interview Kevin McAleenan, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, who said the U.S. immigration enforcement system along the Mexican border was at “the breaking point.” 

Gallagher had attended a border summit the month before in El Paso, Texas. “A priest working with migrants in Saltillo (Mexico) as they travel north spoke during the summit. He said, ‘We can handle this. We can handle this. We can handle this.’ He said it three times. I was very moved by what he had to say. If they can handle it, why can’t we?” 

Immigration judges, she said, would appreciate more lawyers representing immigrants: “They can get the initial master calendar hearings done in five minutes. They know the procedure.” A judge having to explain each step of a hearing and the reason behind each question being asked to an unrepresented immigrant can easily take 15 minutes, thus creating bottlenecks in the system. 

“People who leave their homes are very desperate,” Gallagher said of immigrants. “But they are also very brave.” 

In her career, she has represented many seeking asylum. “Winning asylum for a client is a bittersweet victory,” Gallagher said. “Of course, I’m happy that the individual is safe. However, it is bittersweet because she has lost her country and her country has lost a brave and resilient citizen.”


TUCSON, Ariz. (CNS) — It’s not fair to vilify the administration of President Donald Trump for immigration woes, because the problems go back well before Trump took office, said Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California.

He made the comments in an interview with Catholic Outlook, Tucson’s diocesan newspaper, during CLINIC’s annual convening May 30-June 1 in Tucson.

Before taking the stage for a panel discussion on “30 Years of Defending the American Dream” at the national meeting, he spoke extensively about the state of immigration in the country today and what he thought could be done to make it more effective moving forward.

“It’s been 21 years and three administrations,” he said, tracing the government inaction — including congressional failure — back to the administration of President Bill Clinton.

The new era of U.S. immigration restrictions began with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which passed under the first Clinton administration and took effect April 1, 1997. Bishop Soto explained that every time legislation was offered to provide immigration reform, Congress declined to do it. “They just kicked the can down the road.”

When Temporary Protective Status, referred to as TPS, was provided for immigrants fleeing war or hardship in places such as Haiti, Honduras or El Salvador, nothing was ever done to provide a permanent solution for those entering the U.S. with that status.

“As bishops, this has been an issue for us for a long time,” Bishop Soto said, adding, “That’s a folly of political paralysis that Congress didn’t resolve that.”

CLINIC, short for Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., was founded in 1988 by the U.S. bishops hoping to create a network of loosely-affiliated diocesan immigration agencies. Bishop Soto has been a member of the CLINIC board of directors for 14 years, including service as board chairman from 2008 to 2010.

While the Trump administration has made headlines lately for policies such as travel bans and separating children from their families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the bishops have “shown prudence by not responding to everything this administration does,” Bishop Soto said. “The level of debate is reaching the level of hysteria.”

Having said that, “I don’t think there is anyone more active than the bishops” when it comes to advocating on behalf of immigrants and for comprehensive immigration reform, the bishop noted.

“Our churches need to continue to support the immigrant community,” he said, adding that parishes can effectively provide resources for advocacy and consistent delivery of accurate information to immigrants.

Bishop Soto was unconvinced that public protests might act as a catalyst for immigration reform. “I am not sure how effective those actions are. Good political currency can be wasted on large public demonstrations.”

The most effective strategy for addressing the current immigration policy is to build community at the local level, said Bishop Soto, a former community organizer. That includes leaders from churches, social services and law enforcement.

“The more the local law enforcement community can relate to the local immigrant community, the less likely they are to do anything to jeopardize the fabric of the community,” he said.

“In America, people in small towns are very pragmatic in addressing these issues,” Bishop Soto said. “Local authorities are more accountable to local communities.”

The bishop shied away from pushing legislative agendas at the state level. In California, the state Legislature passed a bill declaring it to be a “sanctuary state,” which reinforced support for immigrants residing in cities that have declared themselves to be sanctuary cities, but that action had negative consequences too.

First, it made California a public target of the Trump administration. Second, it created wedges that had not existed in communities which had not made a “sanctuary city” declaration.

Internationally, a hallmark of American success has been its ability to integrate newcomers, the bishop said. People “are in awe in Europe over how the culture of America is more permeable, always recreating itself,” he explained.

Nationally, however, the political environment has become more partisan, making it difficult for all parties — residents, immigrants, politicians and municipal and other government leaders — to be mindful of the common good, Bishop Soto said. “Discussion on any issue has become more difficult. I am concerned that we have lost our ability to use the language needed to seek the common good.”

He wondered if core elements of Catholic social teaching, such as solidarity and inclinations toward sacrificing and compassion, have been lost. “Our paralysis on enacting immigration reform is a consequence of that.”

Bishop Soto urged Catholics to follow the lead of Pope Francis. “As challenging as the circumstances are, we have to be messengers of hope,” he said.

He cited a line from the pope’s 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Gospel of Joy”) — “time is greater than space” — as a strategy for continuing to work closely with the immigrant community. With so many attacks cluttering the space of public discourse over the immigration issue, “we can use time and hold on,” the bishop said.

Citing the pope’s emphasis on accompanying people in their realities, Bishop Soto said: “Realities are more important than ideas, and we are in a very ideological age.”

“We in the church have to stay committed to the works of mercy,” he said.

When he visits immigrant communities, Bishop Soto said, the people he encounters are “more scared than ever. But they are happy because they see me as a priest. They are happy because they know the church stands with them.”


WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Department of Homeland Security’s extension of Temporary Protected Status for 6,900 Syrians in the United States since 2016 leaves hundreds of more recently arrived refugees at risk, said the executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

CLINIC’s Jeanne Atkinson called the Jan. 31 decision by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to extend rather than re-designate TPS for Syrians an “arbitrary decision with life-or-death consequences.”

“Syrians living in the U.S. should not be expected to return to a dangerous war zone,” Atkinson said in a statement.

“Even in the unlikely event that Syria’s civil war was to end tomorrow, the country’s housing, roads, medical, education and social infrastructure is in tatters. It’s inconceivable that the country is able to welcome its citizens back to any semblance of normal life,” she said.

Nielsen’s announcement to extend TPS for Syria until Sept. 30, 2019, pertains to Syrians who have lived in the U.S. since Aug. 1, 2016, and have been physically present in the country since Oct. 1, 2016.

“It is clear that the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist, therefore an extension is warranted under the statute,” Nielsen said in a statement.

Syrians covered under the program must re-register to maintain their legal status to work.

About 2,000 Syrians who arrived since 2016 are not covered by the decision. A news release announcing Nielsen’s decision said they can seek other ways to remain in the country.

Atkinson called on the government to do more to protect Syrians.

In addition to re-designating TPS, she said the country “should resume accepting refugees at previous levels.”

“The well-established resettlement network operated largely by Catholic and other faith-based agencies stands ready to continue helping Syrians and other refugees, if only the United States would admit them,” Atkinson said.

Under TPS, protected immigrants can live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation for 18 months at a time if they pay hundreds of dollars for permits.