Established in 1973 to provide legal services to the Bay Area’s Latino, low-income, monolingual Spanish-speaking and immigrant population.
Founded by leaders of the Civil Rights movement who personally experienced lack of access to the justice system due to financial, language and immigration status barriers as Latino law students who were children of immigrants or immigrants themselves.
Immigration Law continues to encompass our work. The Workers’ Rights Program was created in 1991 and the Senior Law program began in 1998. Soon we will revive our Housing Law Program.
From 1973 to today…
La Raza Centro Legal (Centro Legal) is a multicultural community social justice center based in the Mission District of San Francisco. Born out of the civil rights and Chicano movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Centro Legal was founded in 1973 by Latino law students to fill a gap in the availability of economically and culturally accessible legal services for the Bay Area’s Latino population. In its early years, the agency developed an immigration law practice to meet community needs and provided legal defense in some of the important political cases of the time. We later added a tenants’ rights project and a lawyer referral service in collaboration with a growing community of Latino lawyers. Since our founding, we have established a reputation of credibility in the community: as a source of trustworthy legal advice and referrals, as a place where clients will be treated with dignity and respect and where they will find advocates willing to fight for them and with them.
With the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, Proposition 187, the Patriot Act, and the more recent anti-immigrant enforcement activities of the federal government, we have expanded our Immigration Law Practice and now also assist low income immigrants who are eligible to become United States citizens.
Over the years we have expanded to include other areas of the law. Our Workers’ Rights Program was founded in 1991, when we began integrating organizing campaigns with legal efforts to redress abuses of low wage workers by unscrupulous employers. Both our Senior Law and Youth law Projects began in 1998 when we adopted them from Mission Legal Defense which closed its doors that year. Today our Senior Law Program is the only culturally competent free legal services program for Spanish speaking and Latino seniors in San Francisco.
However, Centro Legal has long recognized that it was equally important to challenge the root causes of injustice in our communities and we added advocacy and organizing efforts to our organization’s work. In the 1990’s, we joined forces with other civil rights and progressive organizations to fight against a series of conservative ballot initiatives in California, including anti-immigrant Proposition 187 (1994) and anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 (1996). By the late 1990’s, in response to the challenges faced by immigrants and Latinos, we started our first community organizing project, INS Watch, which was organized to respond to a series of raids targeting undocumented immigrants in the Bay Area.
Centro Legal has advocated for the most vulnerable to address abuses targeting immigrants and ensuring programs supporting this population thrive. In 2000 we adopted the San Francisco Day Labor Program, creating a worker-run center that combined job development and social services with organizing and leadership development. In 2001, we founded the Women’s Collective of the Day Labor Program, which provides an independent space for the social, economic and political empowerment of low income Latina immigrant women. In 2002, FairCare: Coalition for Fair and Caring Schools, was born out of the Youth Law Project with the goal of organizing parents and grandparents to reform the racially unjust discipline practices and policies faced by students of color in the San Francisco Unified School District.
In the past ten years we have continued to strengthen our Legal Services programs to continue to ensure that those who would not otherwise have access to an attorney receive high quality representation. We work with law firms to provide MCLE (Mandatory Continuing Legal Education) seminars on the advanced and cutting edge issues cases with the goal of receiving pro bono support. We work with many collaborations to enhance our work and take part in policy change.