Mission and History
La Raza Centro Legal is a community-based legal organization dedicated to empowering Latino, immigrant and low-income communities of San Francisco to advocate for their civil and human rights. We combine legal services and advocacy to build grassroots power and alliances towards creating a movement for a just society.
History of La Raza Centro Legal
La Raza Centro Legal (Centro Legal) is a multicultural community social justice center based in the Mission District of San Francisco. 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. It was born out of the civil rights and Chicano movements of the 1960's and 1970's. 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, where they will find advocates willing to fight for them and with them.
In our early years, Centro Legal focused on providing high quality legal services. We began with an active Immigration Law Practice. Over the years, we expanded our Immigration Law Practice due to the increasing need 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. Along with the immigration practice, we also focus assisting low income immigrants who are eligible become United States citizens.
While we began with an Immigration Legal practice, we expanded over the years to include other areas of the law. Our Employment Law practice was founded in 1991, and shortly thereafter 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, over the years, Centro Legal recognized that it was equally important to challenge the root causes of injustice in our communities. Thus, we added advocacy and organizing efforts to our organization's work. In the 1990's, Centro Legal 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, to form a community response to the conditions faced by immigrants and Latinos through policy advocacy and community organizing we started our first community organizing project-INS Watch. INS Watch organized to respond to a series of raids targeting undocumented immigrants in the Bay Area. Throughout this Project, Centro Legal worked very closely with day laborers in addressing the abuses targeting immigrants.
Because of our close working relationship with San Francisco's day laborer community, when the San Francisco Day Labor Program sought a new agency to call it's home, Centro Legal adopted it in 2000. Centro Legal's goal was to make it 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.