The Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) was originally known as the Central American Refugee Center when it was founded in 1981. The organization initially functioned as a direct legal-service agency to “protect the rights of refugees arriving from conflict in Central America”—specifically, the civil wars and widespread popular strife that afflicted El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras during the ’80s.
In 1985 CARECEN played a formative role in the early development of CASA de Maryland, a group that provided emergency clothing, food, immigration assistance, and English instruction to new U.S. immigrants hailing from Central America. In 1987 CARECEN, through the new Nicaraguan Review Program, helped Nicaraguans re-apply for asylum if they previously had been denied. Ten years later, CARECEN’s national advocacy efforts helped bring about the passage of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, which allowed Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans to apply for changes in their deportation and residency statuses.
In 2005 CARECEN opposed Congressional Bill HR-4437, which called for the criminalization of federal immigration-law violations, reaffirmed states’ “inherent authority” to assist with immigration-law enforcement, and mandated an increase in America’s border-security and employee-verification measures. The following year, CARECEN actively participated in the massive “comprehensive immigration reform” rallies that swept across the United States. Moreover, CARECEN has long supported the DREAM Act, legislation proposing a path-to-citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors.
CARECEN’s mission is to “foster the comprehensive development” of low- and moderate-income Latinos in the Washington, DC area by “providing direct legal services, housing counseling, citizenship education, and community economic development.” Further, CARECEN seeks to equip its clients—the vast majority of whom are originally from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—to articulate their “collective needs” and lobby for legislation that “protects and advances the civil and human rights of Latino immigrants, locally and nationally.”
To advance these objectives, CARECEN administers 4 major programs:
The Immigration Legal Services program helps community members “navigate the confusing and intimidating immigration process” by offering them free or low-cost assistance with such concerns as naturalization, family visa petitions, consular processing, deportation defense, asylum applications, U Visa filings, Temporary Protected Status applications, Lawful Permanent Residence applications, and employment-authorization documents. In addition, CARECEN periodically conducts “Know Your Rights” forums on immigration-related topics, and provides referrals of complex immigration cases to pro bono and low-cost attorneys.
The Housing Services program offers individual counseling and educational workshops on such topics as foreclosure prevention, credit and financial management, tenant rights, homeownership, and “asset creation.” The program also helps immigrants to: “build a collective voice” by means of “tenant organizing”; gain “improved access to affordable housing”; “access financial and legal resources” more effectively; and negotiate successfully with landlords regarding matters like evictions, “abusive practices,” or necessary home repairs.
The Citizenship and Civic Participation program accompanies citizenship candidates throughout their entire naturalization process, initially by helping them file their applications and prepare for the requisite exam. To increase the odds that its clients will pass that exam, CARECEN offers group classes in civics and English-as-a-Second-Language, and provides individual tutoring for those who need extra assistance. The organization also encourages new immigrants to become involved in political organizing, advocacy, and voter-registration campaigns.
The Community Support Services program helps Latino immigrants to access job-training programs, low-cost healthcare clinics, free tax-preparation services, and numerous other benefits. It also helps them “navigate the complex world of governmental agencies” by providing assistance in completing the necessary forms and offering translation/interpretation services and referrals as needed.
CARECEN has received funding from more than three-dozen organizations, including the National Council of La Raza and SEIU Local 32BJ. Among CARECEN’s numerous community partners are the American Immigration Lawyers Association and CASA de Maryland.
For additional information on CARECEN, click here.