Daniels Fellowship Recipient Reflects on His Work and Ministry

Craig Mousin

By Sam Humphrey, Staff Writer

From practicing law to ministry to advocating for immigrants and refugees, Rev. Craig Mousin’s career has taken many turns. When Mousin (pictured left) received the Jonathan Daniels Fellowship to establish the Midwest Immigrant Rights Center, he was able to combine all three talents to work for justice in the immigration system.

While practicing law in the early 1980s, his brother Thomas gave him books on liberation theology, which spurred his interest in the subject and the prospect of working in the ministry. Mousin was also reading the autobiography of Will Campbell, a Baptist minister involved in the civil rights movement.

“Campbell had been active in the civil rights movement at the time, and he realized that even though he came at the civil rights movement from a faith perspective, he would have to try to change the laws and government,” Mousin explained. Reading Campbell’s story inspired him to pursue a master of divinity degree at Chicago Theological School.

At the same time, his church was exploring the possibility of welcoming Salvadoran refugees into sanctuary. As Mousin talked to the refugees he met about the crises in Latin America, he grew interested in their stories and their struggle to navigate America’s complex immigration system.

While in seminary, Mousin explored what God meant by saying “treat the stranger as the native,” which sparked his interest in immigrant advocacy.

“My bible class on the Hebrew Scriptures was taught by André LaCocque, one of the most inspirational teachers in my life. As I heard him open up the … understanding of who the stranger is in the biblical understanding, that coincided with this thinking about how citizens of the U.S. responded to the crises of refugees at the border,” he said.

His church brought in experts to guide their decision, like Rev. Sid Mohn, who directed Travellers & Immigrants Aid (TIA), which did legal work for refugees and immigrants.

Mousin developed a relationship with Mohn, who told him that TIA had a few staff attorneys, but there were too many refugees for them to keep up with. The two brainstormed ways to better address their needs, eventually coming up with an idea for a program to take on individual cases. When Mousin saw the announcement for the Jonathan Daniels Fellowship from Episcopal Divinity School, he applied, intending to use TIA as the place to start building what would become the Midwest Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC).

Mousin got the $1500 grant from the Fellowship and began forming MIRC in the summer of 1984.

“The Fellowship gave me three months of summer to work full time exploring what religious resources were available, and if we were to develop this program, what it would look like,” he said. The grant also proved there were institutions who shared his vision, and recognized that legal aid to immigrants and refugees was an unmet justice need.

“I’m very thankful that the Fellowship helped me not just to be a seminarian, but to be engaged in the struggle,” he said.

Mousin became director of MIRC part time in August 1984 while attending seminary, at Rev. Mohn’s request. He later led the organization full time until 1990. It took a full year to get resources ready and to put the program together. The organization had its first formal training for its attorneys in the fall of 1985, and began taking cases the next year.

“It was wonderful to get people with no knowledge of immigration law, who wanted to start winning cases. We didn’t win lots of cases at first, but we appealed each one we lost. People started getting their lives turned around; they were able to build new lives in the Midwest,” Mousin said of the immigrants and refugees he helped. He attributes their success to the many pro-bono attorneys, volunteers, and interpreters who joined and helped MIRC.

Mousin sees parallels between the mission of MIRC and Jonathan Daniel’s work, too.

“Through our work to help undocumented people be part of the system, they can be empowered to be advocates for themselves, which Daniels was doing in Alabama. Through his presence, he was helping African-Americans to be full members of society, allowing them to engage and work for the common good,” Mousin said.

As far as his advice for students looking to apply for the Fellowship, Mousin noted that issues like poverty and racism have not gone away, and there are still many issues that need to be addressed.

“We still need to find a way to act the gospel, as Jonathan Daniels did,” he said. “The Fellowship allows us to get out of our safe world and accompany those who are affected by the system. It encourages us to understand that the racism Jonathan Daniels struggled against continues today, and it permits us to accompany those deprived by constraints of laws, racism, and poverty.”

He said the Fellowship allows recipients to not just talk about these issues, but to figure out how to accompany those affected and to find ways to work for the common good.

Mousin is currently the University Ombudsman at DePaul University, where he is also on the adjunct faculty of the College of Law and College of Arts and Sciences.

MIRC later became the National Immigrant Justice Project. You can visit their website at immigrantjustice.org.

The Jonathan Daniels Fellowship is awarded annually to provide financial assistance to one or more seminarians seeking to strengthen their theological education through participation in a social movement concerned with important human needs. Applications for the 2015 Fellowship are due by April 15, 2015.