The Power of Community: Building Justice Today
Centro Legal de la Raza’s Annual Report FY21-22

Dear Beloved Community,

Since 1969, we have been fervently working to protect and advance the rights of low income immigrants and Black/Latino communities living in the Bay Area, through bilingual legal representation, education and advocacy work. Our legal practices take on challenging cases, fight for our clients passionately, and ensure that everyone feels heard and represented.

This year has been no exception. In this new era of living alongside a pandemic we have pushed ourselves to not just return to normalcy but to excel even with COVID constraints still in place. Our work has not slowed down but has instead amped up to meet the emerging and existing needs of our community.

Let’s celebrate a few highlights of our collective successes from this past fiscal year.

Monique Berlanga, Executive Director

Immigrants' Rights

We believe access to basic legal information and representation is the foundation of a fair and equitable justice system. Our Immigrants’ Rights (IR) practice ensures that our clients are supported, heard, and fought for. In a society where families are separated, people are jailed simply based on the country where they are born in, and inhumane immigration policies prevent people fleeing incredible danger from seeking safety within our country, our IR team works hard to advocate for systematic change to fix a broken immigration system. 

We recognize that alone we can not ensure a just world for everyone. Guided by the needs and priorities of those who are directly impacted by our harsh immigration system, we work in partnership with our clients, community partners, and advocates to equip them with the necessary tools to bring about change. Together we change trajectories by advocating for policy change and better laws. With the help and support of our IR team, four of our clients advocated for their rights within detention, and are now free today. The Freedom Fighters as they are known, made up of Ivan Olivia Sierra, Edgar Sanchez, Enrique Cristobal Meneses, and Carlos Munoz are now all continuing the fight against inhumane conditions and laws alongside Centro Legal. 

Workers' Rights

All-too-often, the workers we represent share stories of dangerous working conditions, discrimination, sexual harassment, of employers failing to pay either minimum wages or anything at all. Centro Legal’s Workers’ Rights (WR) team serves low-wage workers who are employed in industries with serious workplace violations. In addition to providing essential legal representation, WR provides workers and other community members with the tools to address workplace violations through legal education efforts fostered here at Centro. 

This year, WR helped a victim of labor trafficking obtain a substantial settlement for damages he suffered. Federico immigrated to the United States after he was promised a decent living wage and free rent by someone claiming to own a security guard agency. From the moment he arrived in the United States, Federico was exploited. His employer forced him to work 80-hour weeks at below the minimum wage, threatened him, and wouldn’t provide medical attention for injuries he sustained at work. The employer even hid Federico’s passport so he wouldn’t leave. He learned of his rights after coming to Centro Legal and bravely fought against the unlawful exploitation. WR staff worked tirelessly until Federico finally obtained justice.

Youth Law Academy 

At Centro we believe that barriers blocking equal access to the legal system don’t just need to be addressed but also reformed. This starts by providing quality legal education and professional development opportunities to the youngest members of our community. Every year Centro staff welcomes a new cohort of Youth Law Academy (YLA) students to inspire and get excited about the law and even though the program only lasts 3 years, the relationships formed between Centro staff and the students last a lifetime. 

Over the last 6 years since graduating from YLA in 2015, Brenda Quintanilla has received invaluable mentorship from staff that have helped her achieve her dreams of becoming an advocate for our community. Last year, Brenda felt overwhelmed during the law school application cycle and after not receiving any initial letters she was disappointed. Upon graduating from YLA, professors and staff continued to provide her with guidance and support during this difficult and often complicated process. She persevered, continued to apply, and is now entering her 2nd year at UC Davis School of Law.

Affirmative Litigation

Centro Legal’s attorneys and staff are deeply committed to raising up the voices of members of our community, so that they are heard and their rights are protected. This means taking on challenging cases even when the odds are stacked against us. We make sure that the most vulnerable members of our community have access to the legal system and movement-based lawyering, and that starts with providing great counsel.

Earlier this year, alongside our amazing partners, our litigation team represented two of Centro Legal’s immigrant clients in a case argued in front of the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court. In the years prior, we had worked with our clients and co-counsel to secure bond hearings for hundreds of immigrant class members, through hard-fought legal wins and enforcement efforts throughout federal district courts and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While the Supreme Court unfortunately reversed those decisions, we will have the opportunity to continue fighting for our clients and the class on their remaining legal claims. Most importantly, through both the wins and losses, Centro’s impact and reach shines through in our tireless efforts and fervent commitment to our clients and community. We have the skills, expertise, and passion to take on the hard cases that continue our community’s fight for justice.

Tenants' Rights

No one should feel unsafe in their own home. Unfortunately, many low-income East Bay residents are at risk of being evicted because of the unfair power dynamics set in place and upheld by landlords over their tenants. Centro Legal’s Tenants’ Rights (TR) practice works with local partners and city and county officials to fight for the rights of some of our most marginalized community members. Our TR team also arms clients with “Know Your Rights” knowledge to prepare them for situations in which they need to self-advocate.

Earlier this year 17 year old Sofia was facing eviction from her subsidized apartment in Contra Costa County. With Centro Legal’s help she was able to stay in her home with a legal guardian. Through creative and holistic advocacy, Centro Legal guided and assisted Sofia in preserving her affordable housing.

Emergency Rental Assistance 

Over the last two years our Tenants’ Rights practice has taken on a leadership role in advocating for policies that push for systematic change. In response to this crisis our attorney’s drafted what is now known as the country’s most robust Eviction Moratorium, to help meet our communities needs. However, we didn’t just stop there. Soon after this success, we began working with Alameda County to make sure that rental assistance was distributed equitably and effectively to those who needed it most. Through this program we were able to administer over 81,891,065 dollars in aid to Alameda County residents experiencing COVID-19 related-hardships. 

“I don’t know what would have happened to me during these crucial times. Your assistance has given me a second chance. I prayed for your program, never realizing that you would come to my aide. With your gracious assistance, I was able to pay up to date my rent. The care you conveyed to me shall never be forgotten.”

– Elderly ERAP Beneficiary 

Our work is not possible without your support! 
Thank you to all of our donors, funders, and 
community partners!

Annual Report
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