Skip to main content

Immigration and Refugee Services of America (IRSA) records

Identifier: IHRC1013
These records contain rich textual documentation of the work of the IRSA's predecesors and the people they served. The collection contains extensive correspondence with related service agencies, state and federal government officials, International Institute offices nationwide, writers, leading public spokespersons, and many more. Also included are voluminous files on social cultural, and political issues associated with immigration, race, and ethnicity as well as resource materials on the full panorama of America’s ethnic groups at the time.

The collection is arranged chronologically into “Record Groups” according to the contemporary name of the organization, and then further divided into “Series” which represent internal divisions. Many of the internal divisions within the IRSA and its predecessors span most of its existence and changed relatively little except in name.

For further details, please see the Scope & Contents notes under each Series listing.


  • 1918-1986

Language of Materials

multiple languages


The collection is open for research with the exception of the Cuban Refugee Case Files (Record Group 5, American Council for Nationalities Service, Cuban Resettlement Project, Series 2 - Case Files). Access to the Cuban Refugee Case Files is restricted. Please contact the IHRCA to learn how to gain permission to view these files.


This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.

For further information regarding the copyright, please contact the IHRCA.


259 Linear Feet


Records (1918 - 1986) of the predecessors of the Immigration and Refugee Services of America organization, including the Foreign Language Information Service, the Common Council for American Unity, the American Federation of International Institutes, and the American Council of Nationalities Services (New York City). The collection provides information on the activities of the organization, which throughout its history was interested in all aspects of immigration and resettlement, including educational services, ethnic presses and radio, social services, and immigration legislation.


The Immigration and Refugee Services of America (IRSA) is a national, nonsectarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting immigrants and refugees who have left their homes due to forced or voluntary migration. It builds awareness of the problems faced by such people, advocates for fair and humane public policies, and provides services to them and to the communities that receive them. IRSA carries out its mandate through national and international programs in cooperation with its network of participating community-based organizations across the United States.

IRSA was founded in 1918, as the Foreign Language Information Service Division (FLIS) of the United States Committee on Public Information. Intended as a resource to educate the foreign-born population on their responsibilities during World War I, the FLIS Division distributed over 800 daily releases to foreign language newspapers from the War, State, Navy, Treasury, and Labor Departments, the Food and Fuel Administration, the United States Shipping Board, the United States Railroad Administration and the Council of National Defense. The Foreign Language Information Service Division’s ability to provide accurate, impartial information was hailed from within the government as well as the foreign language groups themselves.

The U.S. Government terminated its relationship with FLIS at the end of the war, in 1919, but the Service had demonstrated its value in cultivating constructive assimilation, and foreign-language groups and government agencies alike demanded its continuance. The Foreign Language Information Service endured as an independent organization.

Over the next 60 years, the Foreign Language Information Service continued it work to disseminate information to the foreign language and American press and provided educational and advocacy services for the foreign-born population, though their formal identity has changed. In 1934, FLIS dissolved and was re-born as the Common Council for American Unity (CCAU). As the CCAU, the organization began to focus on racial and ethnic discrimination toward immigrant communities and addressed the “second generation” problem of individuals caught between their foreign-born parents’ culture and mainstream American culture. The Council launched a new quarterly periodical Common Ground, which dealt with intercultural and interracial problems under the guidance of Louis Adamic. They also restored a Washington, D.C. representative and took an active role in lobbying on immigration legislation.

In 1959 CCAU merged with the American Federation of International Institutes (AFII) to form the American Council for Nationalities Service (ACNS). The AFII started as a committee within the YWCA and became an organization with the goal to encourage the development of self-reliant, loyal, and articulate citizens, who would participate intelligently and critically in the civic and social life of their communities. The ACNS continued the services of its two parent organizations, and the combined organization was better able to relate national services to local need and bring local experience to bear in shaping of national policy.

The ACNS participated in the sponsorship and resettlement of many migrants to the United States, including the foreign-born children of American fathers, Cuban refugees, Polish nationals, and refugees from Indochina. Through these programs, the ACNS because affiliated with the United State Committee for Refugees (USCR). The ACNS merged with the USCR in January 1, 1982**, in part to help educate the American public on the plight of refugees worldwide. On December 6, 1993 the organizations consolidated their programs and offices and the ACNS adopted the name Immigration and Refugee Services of America (IRSA) – though the United States Committee for Refugees continued to use its own name as well (for example, the website in the early 2000s for the organization was*)

According to the finding aid first written in 1985, IRSA and its predecessors have played an important role in shaping America’s immigration policy and legacy. The organization has shown its resilience and adaptability throughout its many organizations, mergers and financial crises. Their mission of interpreting America to the immigrant and the immigrant to America continues today, not only through IRSA’s programs but also through the records left behind by the FLIS, CCAU, AFII and ACNS. It has and continues to be a dominant force in aiding and protecting America’s immigrants, refugees, foreign-born and their descendants.

On May 17, 2004, USCR changed their name to United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI). As the name change implies, at this time IRSA fully merged with USCRI. Information on their current activities can be found at their website:

* Potocky-Tripodi, Miriam, "Best Practices for Social Work with Refugees and Immigrants" (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 109-110. [accesssed 13 February 2017] **Exact dates for the ACNS/USCR mergers and name changes were provided by a USCRI historian in March, 2017


Donated by the Immigration and Refugee Services of America.

The bulk of the material arrived in thirteen separate shipments. Each shipment contained material from all four predecessor organizations in no discernable order. The material was arranged to closely resemble the infrastructure of each organization, as the way each organization kept its files is revealing in comprehending the history of the organization itself.


In 2002-2003, the Gale Research Group microfilmed significant portions of the collection. This microfilm is available for purchase from Gale; you can download an inventory of the microfilmed contents (.rtf file) at

For IRSA's successor and modern day organization, the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants' records, please see (IHRC2640).
IHRC Archives
Description rules
Language of description
Finding Aid in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Immigration History Research Center Archives Collecting Area