In 1983, the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) was founded by Salvadoran refugees determined to secure legal status for the thousands of Central Americans fleeing civil war. Over the last 30 years, the organization has grown to provide advocacy, education and low-cost immigrant legal services for the community at large. The Los Angeles-based organization recently expanded with an office in San Bernardino.

The San Bernardino office opened in 2019 to meet the needs of increased detainees in Adelanto ICE Processing Center who needed assistance with deportation. Offering primarily legal services, CARECEN plans to expand, supporting local organizing as well as policy and advocacy work.

“As we’ve gotten to know the region better and work with sister organizations, we know that it was a good move to expand to serve the Inland Empire,” Martha Arevalo said. “The region is changing, growing and evolving and this is an issue we need to tackle everywhere and do more education.”

The work the organization does saves lives, Arevalo said. The refugees and unaccompanied children CARECEN assists are often survivors of violence and trafficking. The organization strives to educate the public about these stories to humanize the issues of immigration.

“We often forget that these are human beings that have suffered a lot and are looking for safety,” Arevalo said. “We need to educate the public that these are often their community members.”

The San Bernardino office has a deportation staff unit and a college legal service unit, serving 8 to 10 new clients a month. These cases are often lengthy, and the defense attorneys are currently carrying 150 cases.

The San Bernardino office of CARECEN represented a mother and daughter who had arrived from Nicaragua and had lived in the region for over 10 years. The mother was detained at Adelanto and had been representing herself for two years. Having an attorney made the difference in her case and she was freed from detention,” according to Ruth Calvillo, the managing attorney at CARECEN’s San Bernardino office. CARECEN also represented the woman’s 16-year-old daughter as a juvenile at court in San Bernardino and she is now a permanent legal resident.

My mission and goal are to keep families together,” Calvillo said. “They are now living in Colton and thriving.”

While CARECEN is a major player in Los Angeles, the organization is not well known in the Inland Empire and the satellite office is an unfunded investment. This is challenging as it takes time to connect with funders, and compounded because the office opened right before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,  Arevalo said.

Recently, CARECEN received a grant from the CIELO Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The organization feels it is starting to connect funders and hopes it will be able to grow with more support. This will support CARECEN’s vision of including organizing, advocacy and policy work, complementing and amplifying the work of local partner organizations.

Further funding would help CARECEN make sure that the Inland Empire continues to grow and evolve, while focusing on data instead of rhetoric. The data shows that immigrants are not detrimental to the economy and the organization wants to continue to spread those messages, Arevalo said. The organization supports many children, and those children usually return to the community and give back, creating a more prosperous region.

“If people can come out of the shadows to live, it benefits all of us,” Arevalo said. “Immigrant families are our ideals as a country exemplified. They are a significant part of our communities, economies and the state.”

More information: or (213) 385-7800

This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise May 2023.

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