Founded in 1981 by lawyers Patricia Perillies and Joaquin Dominguez Parada, the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) got its start defending the legal rights of Central American immigrants in the United States. With a tight budget and small (mostly volunteer) staff, CARECEN workers took calls from border patrol, negotiated bond reductions, showed up for their clients in courtrooms, and helped immigrants complete asylum paperwork. The organization produced pamphlets to educate immigrants about their legal rights in their native language, foiled immigration raids, and tried to keep immigrants safe from abusive employers.
CARECEN became a pillar of the surrounding community through offering legal services, educational information, and individualized support. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, CARECEN remained at the center of political and social activism in the community, both protesting against U.S. intervention in El Salvador and advocating for domestic immigration reform. The organization also supported the founding of other community establishments such as La Clinica Del Pueblo.
Through consistent community organizing, a passion for service, and individual willingness to sacrifice comfort for a noble cause, CARECEN workers created a stable space of care for Hispanic immigrants in DC. The Center still operates today with the mission to “foster the comprehensive development of the Latino population by providing direct services while promoting grassroots empowerment, civic engagement, and human rights advocacy.”
Scallen, Patrick. (2019). "The Bombs That Drop in El Salvador Explode in Mount Pleasant": From Cold War Conflagration to Immigrant Struggles in Washington, DC, 1970–1995 (Order No. 27670053). Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.
Latinos in the Washington Metro Area by Maria Sprehn-Malagon, Jorge Hernandez-Fujigaki, and Linda Robinson (Charleston: Acadia Publishing, 2014).