What is Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service?

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) was founded in 1939 by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people during World War II. LIRS has since grown into an internationally recognized leader known for innovative services for refugees, asylum-seekers, unaccompanied migrant children and families, migrants in detention, and other vulnerable populations. In partnership with community-based legal and social service providers nationwide, LIRS has helped over 500,000 migrants and refugees rebuild their lives in America. The history of LIRS reflects American Lutherans’ deep immigrant roots and passionate commitment to welcoming newcomers, especially those most in need among us. With our partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (LELCA) and more than 6.2 million Lutherans across the country,  we will continue to pursue our mission to witness God’s love for all people, including migrants and refugees, and transform communities through ministries of service and justice.

Ensuring Protection for All

LIRS strongly believes that our faith and our nation’s values require us to respond compassionately to the worst refugee crisis in history since World War II. We must not turn our backs on the 21 million refugees, 51% of whom are children who are seeking safety and protection. We know refugees and migrants enrich our communities and our churches. Through our services, unaccompanied children, refugees, and migrants obtain access to protection, integration, justice, and stability. LIRS believes in the Long Welcome – the process by which newcomers are received and integrated into their communities.


Refugees are people who cannot return home … 

People whose own government cannot or will not protect them.
People who are persecuted for their religious or political beliefs.
People who flee war or genocide.
People who are brutalized by a military regime.
People for whom escaping to another country is the only means of survival.

Refugees are people…and every person has a story. Stories of family and friends. Stories of love and loss. Stories of rebuilding hope and establishing self-sufficiency in a new land.

When refugees arrive in the United States they immediately begin the process of putting roots down and establishing themselves in their new communities. 

They enroll their children in school. They learn the local transit system. They sign up for English or computer classes. And they are eager to find employment to be able to provide for themselves and their families. As they work their way to self-sufficiency, refugees prove to be some of the most dependable, hardworking and committed members of our communities, congregations and workplaces.

Self-sufficiency is key to successful integration into American society. LIRS helps newcomers by engaging local churches and communities in the resettlement process and by promoting employment and providing training and support to local job developers.


Children are often orphaned or torn from their parents as a result of conflict or persecution around the world. Others, desperate to escape violence or poverty, risk everything to go in search of safety and opportunity.

When unaccompanied migrant children are released to a guardian, need an advocate, or would benefit from a loving adoptive family, LIRS is there to help. We are experts in serving and advocating for the best interests of refugee and immigrant children. We promote family unity and reunification when it is a viable, safe option. And we actively partner with other domestic and international organizations to advance the best interests of all separated and unaccompanied children, within the United States and globally.


Every day, the United States government incarcerates approximately 34,000 men and women for civil violations of immigration law in 250 facilities across the country. This massive detention system comes at an enormous cost— a projected $1.755 billion for fiscal year 2016 (FY16 Department of Homeland Security “Budget in Brief”) — to taxpayers, immigrants, and communities throughout the country. Survivors of torture, human trafficking, and violent crimes are amongst those held while their immigration case is processed and the very real potential for deportation lingers indefinitely. Detention can be deeply re-traumatizing, and it separates families, inflicts unnecessary suffering, and exacerbates a human and economic crisis in this country. LIRS believes detention is both an inhumane and fiscally irresponsible response to migration in the U.S. We believe the government can meet its humanitarian and enforcement obligations if and when it properly utilizes community-based alternatives to immigration detention (ATD’s).