The national Catholic Legal Immigration Network has given a $180,000 grant spread over four years to Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon’s SOAR Immigration Legal Services.

The network was established in 1988 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. SOAR is an affiliate of the network operated by Ecumenical Ministries, of which the Archdiocese of Portland is a part.

The funding allows SOAR to hire a full-time community organizer and provide a stipend for one member of the local immigrant community as a community liaison. Together, the two will help low-income immigrant communities and their supporters try to create social change.

The funding is made possible by a multiyear grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, itself created in 1970 by the bishops to break the cycle of poverty by empowering low-income people to participate in decisions that affect their lives, families and communities.

SOAR’s community organizer will support the development of leaders from Washington County, home to the largest number of Latinos in Oregon.

Washington County also is where some of the archdiocese’s largest parishes exist. St. Alexander in Cornelius is the archdiocese’s 10th largest parish; St. Matthew in Hillsboro is 11th largest; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Aloha is 17th. Each parish is heavily Hispanic. St. Alexander ranks first among all 124 parishes in western Oregon with the highest percentage of parishioners who are Hispanic.

The network’s grant allows SOAR to collaborate with two Washington-county focused organizations currently receiving Catholic Campaign for Human Development funding: MACG and Bienestar.

Matt Cato, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Life, Justice and Peace, said each organization and his office are “focused on empowering and protecting the Hispanic immigrant community.”