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As an organization, LIRS originates from the response of American Lutherans in 1939 to the needs of Europeans displaced because of World War II, but the roots of the organization reach back to the 1860s when the New York Ministerium and the Pennsylvania Synod joined together to help and protect Lutheran immigrants in the US. Since then the organization's scope has expanded to include any refugees entering the US, support for asylum seekers and migrants, and services to unaccompanied children (UACs).