Centro Legal de la Raza has media staff in Oakland, CA to handle inquiries from local, national and international journalists.
To schedule an interview please contact Centro’s communications manager Mariana Phipps at mphipps@centrolegal.org

Latest Press Releases and Statements

Groups File Lawsuit Against Trump Policy Forcibly Returning Asylum Seekers to Mexico

News from: ACLU

SAN FRANCISCO — The American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Center for Gender & Refugee Studies filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the Trump administration’s new policy forcing asylum seekers to return to Mexico and remain there while their cases are considered.

“The Trump administration is forcibly returning asylum seekers to danger in Mexico,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.“Once again, the administration is breaking the law in order to deter asylum seekers from seeking safety in the United States.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 individual asylum seekers forcibly returned to Mexico, and organizational plaintiffs Innovation Law Lab, the Central American Resource Center of Northern California, Centro Legal de la Raza, the University of San Francisco School of Law Immigration and Deportation Defense Clinic, Al Otro Lado, and the Tahirih Justice Center.

“This policy severely impedes asylum seekers access to counsel, effectively denying due process to people fleeing persecution,” said Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Immigrant Rights Directing Attorney of Centro Legal de la Raza.    

“This is no longer just a war on asylum seekers, it’s a war on our system of laws,” said Melissa Crow, Southern Poverty Law Center senior supervising attorney.

“This misguided policy deprives vulnerable individuals of humanitarian protections that have been on the books for decades and puts their lives in jeopardy.”

The lawsuit cites violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, as well as the United States’ duty under international human rights law not to return people to dangerous conditions.

“This new policy severely undermines the very purpose of our asylum system, endangering rather than safeguarding the lives of our individual plaintiffs and others fleeing persecution,” said Bookey, co-legal director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies.

The case, Innovation Law Lab v. Nielsen, was filed in federal court in San Francisco. 

The complaint is here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/innovation-law-lab-v-nielsen-complaint

More information is here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/innovation-law-lab-v-nielsen

February 14, 2019

Statement on Trump’s State of the Union Address and Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s Response

Trump’s State of the Union message was full of divisive language and fear mongering rhetoric. Centro Legal stands for truth and justice, while firmly opposing any additional resources for the detention of immigrants or further militarization of our border. Instead, we call for investments that will bring us closer to safety, unity and healing, by providing critical resources such as legal counsel, education and advocacy for all immigrants facing deportation, stigma and inhumane treatment.

We are heartened by Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s declaration that California will continue to fight Trump’s manufactured state of emergency at the border as it is both immoral and illegal. At Centro Legal we strive to provide comprehensive representation and due process for those in our local communities and statewide, this includes families fleeing violence in their countries of origin. Centro Legal demands that additional local, state and national representatives stand in solidarity with us and take action. We must ensure access to justice and resources for our most vulnerable children and families. Together, we can effectively resist this administration’s inhumane, unlawful and dangerous anti-immigrant actions.

February 5, 2019

Statement: Centro Stands with Asylum Seekers

With an estimated 5,800 military troops already at the US border, yesterday Donald Trump gave them the authority to use lethal force against 500 unarmed families. This directive and the resulting acts of violence are nothing less than U.S. terrorism, and reflect the administration’s lack of a moral compass. Trump has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in military resources for the purpose of dehumanizing and re-traumatizing vulnerable children and families.

Centro Legal de la Raza condemns these actions and believes resources should be devoted to ensure these families are met with appropriate shelter, food, and advocacy, not tanks and tear gas. Families at the border are seeking asylum, safety and refuge after a treacherous journey, fleeing violence from their homelands and experiencing continual violence along the way.

Centro will be at the border in December and January working with Al Otro Lado, a partner legal organization, to provide free legal services to children and families seeking asylum.

“It is essential these families have access to legal representation,” said Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Centro Legal Immigration Program Director. “The right to seek asylum is fundamental to who we are as a nation. Our team will continue to do everything in its power to protect that right.”

As California’s largest provider of deportation defense, Centro Legal is devoting its time and unique legal expertise to help immigrant families. Join us in the #FightforJustice!

November 26, 2018

Centro Legal de la Raza Welcomes Theresa Gonzales, M.S. as its New Executive Director

November 19, 2018

Oakland, CA – The Board of Directors of Centro Legal de la Raza today announced that Theresa Gonzales, M.S. has been chosen to lead the organization as executive director.

“On behalf of the board, I am delighted to welcome Theresa as Centro’s new executive director,” says Centro’s Chair of the Board Rosanna Marrero Neagle. “We are very excited to have Theresa assume the role of executive director at Centro Legal. Theresa brings to Centro exceptional leadership, passion and dedication to the community we serve. We expect Theresa to not only continue Centro Legal’s excellent programs, but to work with partners and funders to help expand Centro’s programs to more people in need.”

Gonzales is a proven community leader with a depth of knowledge and leadership in nonprofit organizations. She most recently served as Deputy Director for Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, where she worked closely with the founding executive director to sustain and build program excellence while assuming direct responsibility in critical areas, including finance and infrastructure development, organizational performance and staff culture. During her career, Theresa has received several awards and honors, including the Jeanne Gauna Social Justice Spirit and Women of Influence in the Nonprofit Industry Awards.

Theresa is a graduate of the University of New Mexico, she received an MS in Health Education and a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration.

“I am honored for this opportunity to lead Centro Legal de la Raza,” says Gonzales. “I look forward to working with the board of directors, the staff and all the community partners to build upon and expand Centro’s impressive legacy.”

Centro Legal de la Raza is a nonprofit founded in 1969 and for almost five decades has protected the rights of low income communities in the East Bay and throughout Northern and Central California. The nonprofit combines quality legal services with know-your-rights education in the areas of immigration, tenants rights, and employment. Centro Legal will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.

November 19, 2018

Statement: In response to the passage of Measure Y

“Centro Legal de la Raza applauds Oakland voters for passing Measure Y on the November 6th ballot, which provides crucial eviction protections for tenants living in two- and three-unit owner-occupied buildings. This measure will help prevent homelessness and tenant displacement by protecting low-income families, mothers and children, immigrants, and historic Black residents.


After representing individuals and families affected by the “Just Cause” exemption, we are proud to have worked with local officials to put Measure Y on the November ballot. Throughout our fifty-year history, Centro has seen first-hand the rising need for stronger legal protections for Oakland tenants and through our Tenant’s Rights Program, we have provided legal services to those facing eviction, unaffordable rent increases, unsafe housing, harassment and discrimination.


We will work closely with Councilmembers Kalb and Gallo, community advocates, and tenant organizations to ensure Oaklanders understand the expanded protections passed under Measure Y, and we will continue to support efforts that prevent unjust evictions and displacements across Oakland.”

November 7, 2018

Centro Legal settles lawsuit alleging sick leave and minimum wage violations on behalf of low-wage immigrant housekeepers. The settlement includes compensation for former housekeepers.

News from: Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker

Friday, November 2, 2018

OAKLAND, CA – City Attorney Barbara J. Parker and Centro Legal de la Raza have secured a settlement with the owners of an East Oakland hotel that systematically violated state and local labor laws, including Oakland’s Minimum Wage and Sick Leave Ordinance.

The City Attorney and Centro Legal sued the owners of the Quality Inn on Enterprise Way in January 2017 for refusing to pay overtime, failing to provide sick leave, retaliating against employees who called in sick, refusing to provide rest breaks and engaging in other illegal conduct over a period of at least four years.

The settlement secured on October 1 with owner Hemant Investments, LLC includes an injunction ordering the hotel to improve working conditions, provide required sick leave, properly train supervisors and compensate former housekeeping employees for the alleged violations. Choice Hotels International, Inc., the Delaware-based franchiser of the Quality Inn brand, also signed the settlement agreement.

“Oakland’s Minimum Wage and Sick Leave law entitles every Oakland worker, regardless of their profession, race, gender or immigration status, to basic rights including sick leave and a minimum wage,” City Attorney Parker said. “We will continue to hold employers accountable for wage theft, exploitation and abuse of workers; these actions not only violate state and local laws, they undermine Oakland families well-being and stability.”

Centro Legal and the City Attorney jointly filed the lawsuit – Centro Legal on behalf of eight plaintiffs who worked as housekeepers at the Quality Inn, and the City Attorney on behalf of the City of Oakland and the People of California.

The City of Oakland, The People of the State of California, Matilda Cortez et al. v. Choice Hotels International, Inc. et al., Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17847671

The agreement to improve working conditions also provides for creating a break room for meal and rest periods, and ensuring that no housekeepers are required to fumigate the hotel rooms. The agreement allows the City of Oakland to conduct spot inspections to ensure full compliance and requires the hotel to allow any current employee to talk with City representatives free from retaliation.

The employee plaintiffs were separately compensated under the terms of a confidential settlement.

“I am grateful for the help of Centro Legal and the City of Oakland in reaching this important agreement,” one of the plaintiff housekeepers said after the settlement. “I am especially proud of the protections for the new housekeepers who currently work at the hotel.”

“We are very proud of what we achieved with the City of Oakland in this groundbreaking case,” said Centro Legal Workers’ Rights Attorney Deylin Thrift-Viveros. “Fear and retaliation permeate the housekeeping industry and allow employers to exploit their low-wage and immigrant workers. It is very important that other employers understand that they must comply with local and state laws protecting workers.”

In 2014, Oakland voters overwhelmingly passed Measure FF establishing the Minimum Wage and Sick Leave Ordinance. The law requires that employers in Oakland provide paid sick leave to their employees, and that hospitality employers who collect service charges from customers pay all service charges to their hospitality workers.

More information about Oakland’s Minimum Wage law.

For a PDF version of the City of Oakland Press Release, please click here.

November 2, 2018

Judge orders Hugo Mejía release on bond

November 21, 2017

San Francisco — This morning, before a courtroom packed with supporters, an immigration judge ordered the release of Hugo Mejía, a beloved Bay Area construction worker detained by ICE six months ago when he showed up to work on a construction project at Travis Air Force base.

Supporters are currently working to post Hugo’s bond and he may be released as soon as today. He will continue to fight his deportation case with the support of his legal team and community.

In response to this news the following organizations — California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Centro Legal de la Raza, The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), IUPAT District Council 16, California Immigrant Policy Center, SF Labor Council and Labor Center for Immigrant Justice/WE RISE SF — released the statement below:

“This Victory is due to the courage of Hugo and his family and the solidarity of supporters from coast to coast. We are overjoyed that Hugo, his wife and their children will be reunited in time for Thanksgiving.

We thank every person and every group who raised their voice for justice. Hugo is a beloved part of his family, his community, and his union, and his story reminds us that we are all in this together. The fight to free Hugo is part of a larger fight to build a better world for all.”

Hugo lives in San Rafael with his wife, Yadira, and his three young children. His elder two children have been granted DACA, and his youngest is a U.S. citizen. He volunteers at his children’s school, Venetia Valley, which is connected to a local synagogue, Congregation of Rodef Sholom.

Hugo’s detention caused widespread outcry among labor, faith, and community groups, with extensive organizing in his San Rafael community and protests held from Elk Grove to New York City. Members of Congress and state and local officials have urged ICE to free Hugo, and in an op-ed which ran in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Archbishop wrote that Hugo’s deportation case raised the question: what kind of society are we?

November 22, 2017

Northern CA Rapid Response Network calls for coordinated response to targeting of sanctuary cities

October 3, 2017

The Northern California Rapid Response Network (NCRRN) is aware of an increase in immigration enforcement actions throughout the region. This includes an increase in reports of arrests in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as surrounding regions, including at least 167 arrests in Los Angeles. NCRRN is continuing to gather information and reports from local rapid response networks.

“It is critical for community members to report ICE activity as soon as it takes place in order for local networks and attorneys to respond effectively. Time is of the essence in these cases and early reporting can potentially mean the difference between deportation and due process. The best way for community members to assist is to reach out to local rapid response hotlines,” said Hamid Yazdan Panah, the attorney coordinator for NCRRN, housed at the Justice & Diversity Center of The Bar Association of San Francisco.

These large scale enforcement actions are the latest example of a policy of terror separating families and fostering fear and mistrust in the social fabric of our communities. The NCRRN in partnership with local rapid response networks asks that affected families reach out to local hotlines to report enforcement actions and obtain assistance.

It is important to stand together and coordinate a united response to actions that are meant to inflict fear in our communities in general and sanctuary cities in particular.

There are currently a number of local rapid response networks in Northern California that can be contacted to report ICE activity and enforcement actions. These include:

Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership (ACILEP)

Region covered: Alameda County
Contact information: 510-241-4011

SF Rapid Response Network
Region covered: San Francisco City
Contact information: 415-200-1548

Santa Clara County Rapid Response Network
Region covered: Santa Clara County
Contact information: 408-290-1144

Monterey County Rapid Response Network
Region covered: Monterey County
Contact information: 831-643-5225

San Mateo Rapid Response Network
Region covered: San Mateo County
Contact information: 203-666-4472

Fresno Rapid Response
Region covered: Fresno County
Contact information: 559-206-0151

Sacramento Rapid Response
Region covered: Sacramento County
Contact information: 916-245-6773

Santa Cruz County Rapid Response
Region covered: Santa Cruz County
Contact information: 831-239-4289

Marin Rapid Response Network
Region covered: Marin County
Contact information: 415-991-4545

Services, Immigration Rights and Education Network (SIREN) Rapid Response Text Platform
Region covered: Northern & Central CA
Community Members: 201-468-6088
Allies: 918-609-4480

October 3, 2017

The Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership Decries End of DACA Program and Will Fight Together with Immigrant Community

September 5, 2017

The Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership (ACILEP) joins its voice with millions of others across the country to decry the Trump Administration’s announcement this morning ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program which provided temporary protection from deportation to approximately 800,000 immigrant youth nationwide.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that ending the DACA program would enable Congress to put forth a legislative solution in the next 6 months. We know that the move is mere political posturing and condemn the callous disregard that this decision will wreak on our community.

Enacted under former President Obama on June 15, 2012, DACA was established in response to Congress’ then failure to act and provide a comprehensive overhaul to what continues to be an inhumane immigration system. Immigrant youth were promised that if they came forward they would be allowed to live and work without fear of deportation.

Today, that promise has been broken. Trump who assured immigrant youth there was no need to worry, has put an end to all new DACA applications. Individuals whose DACA expires between now and March 5, 2018, can apply to renew their work authorization by October 5, 2017.

For California, the end of DACA will affect over 200,000 individuals and their families who have benefited from the program. As of 2016, Alameda County is home to at least 17,000 DACA eligible individuals. These longtime residents and their families are an integral part of our community. An attack on them is a threat to us all and we will vigorously defend their rights.

We call on all residents of our cities, counties, and state to stand with immigrants. We call on Congress to act swiftly. However, we will not support a legislative solution that increases immigration enforcement and mass deportation in exchange for keeping immigrant youth and their families safe.

Following is a statement from Jackie Gonzalez, immigration policy director at Centro Legal de la Raza:

“The DACA program would not have existed but for the fierce tenacity of young people who took to the streets to share their stories. They worked to shine light not just on themselves but the struggle and plight of the entire immigrant community. Today, we will invoke their vision and courage as we work to support those most deeply affected.”

Luis Serrano, Communications Director from California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, added:

“Just as we have been there for one another to celebrate our victories, we must also be there for one another during times of grief. So while we take the time to recollect, let us all be reminded that DACA was victoriously achieved through community organizing and base building. We have the power within all of us to organize and fight back, not just for the 800,000 DACA beneficiaries, but for all 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership (ACILEP) is a partnership of Centro Legal de la Raza, Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Causa Justa/Just Cause, The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Oakland Community Organizations, Street Level Health, and Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay.

ACILEP responds to the critical need for legal services, know your rights education and rapid response services when there is an immigration enforcement action in Alameda County. It operates a 24-hour multi-lingual emergency hotline for individuals to call to report ICE enforcement activity and to request support for people facing the immediate threat of deportation. ACILEP’s hotline is 510-241-4011.

September 5, 2017

Civil Rights Groups File Amicus Brief As SCOTUS Scrutinizes Workers’ Rights

August 16, 2017

The Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership’s Response to ICE activity in Oakland

August 16, 2017


The Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership (ACILEP) responded to an emergency hotline call in the early morning of August 16, 2017, regarding United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activity at an immigrant family home on the 700 block of 27th Street in Oakland. Several ACILEP rapid responders and an immigration attorney arrived to document the incident and provide legal support. In addition, dozens of immigrant rights activists and community members showed up in solidarity to protest the enforcement action.

One individual was detained by ICE and is currently in custody. The detention appears to be a collateral arrest incident to the execution of a federal search warrant of the family’s home. The Oakland Police Department, who was present at the enforcement activity, has alleged the action is part of an ongoing human trafficking investigation by ICE and not a civil enforcement action but those claims have not been substantiated.

Following is a statement from Jackie Gonzalez, immigration policy director at Centro Legal de la Raza:

“ACILEP is steadfastly committed to investigating the details surrounding today’s enforcement action both to preserve the safety of our community and ensure Oakland exercises its role as a sanctuary city. The Partnership will also specifically continue to provide legal support and services to the affected family and individual.”

Malena Mayorga, ACILEP rapid response coordinator from Mujeres Unidas y Activas, added:

“ICE enforcement activity tears our communities apart. ACILEP will continue to fight for justice and to uphold due process rights for individuals and families affected by the devastating impact of our inhumane immigration system.”

Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership (ACILEP) is a partnership of Centro Legal de la Raza, Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Causa Justa/Just Cause, The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Oakland Community Organizations, Street Level Health, and Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay.
ACILEP responds to the critical need for legal services, know your rights education and rapid response services when there is an immigration enforcement action in Alameda County. It operates a 24-hour multi-lingual emergency hotline – where this action was reported – for individuals to call to report ICE enforcement activity and to request support for people facing the immediate threat of deportation. ACILEP’s hotline is 510-241-4011.

August 16, 2017

New Coalition Brings Voice of Low-Income Consumers to the Capitol

May 15, 2017

SACRAMENTO – The California Low-Income Consumer Coalition (“CLICC”), launched this year, is already at work keeping the interests of low-income consumers front and center in policy debates in Sacramento. When legislators are debating bills that would change debt collection practices in the state, or would make it easier to offer predatory payday loans, or would remove safeguards on used car sales, they hear from industry and other “experts” – but too often they don’t hear from the people whom the laws would actually affect.

That’s about to change. Eleven legal services and advocacy groups from across the state have come together to speak as one on behalf of those vulnerable Californians.

According to Ted Mermin, CLICC’s founder, low-income Californians are too often left out of discussions that will directly affect their financial well-being. “Poor people get plenty of attention from predatory lenders,” Mermin says, “but not enough from the legislature.”

That’s why CLICC has turned to established public interest lobbyist Jith Meganathan to lead its advocacy work in the Capitol. Meganathan worked for five years on behalf of low-income consumers at Central California Legal Services in the heart of the Central Valley before joining the Western Center on Law & Poverty, where he continues to represent low-income tenants on housing policy.

CLICC’s members have had some notable legislative successes in recent years, including the Fair Debt Buying Practices Act, laws easing wage garnishment and default judgments, and last year’s AB2819 (Chiu), which relieved tenants of the Kafkaesque burden of having an eviction proceeding show up on their credit reports even if they won the case, unless that victory was officially entered within 60 days of receiving the eviction notice. Informal coalitions helped get those bills through. Now those groups are making it formal.

Meganathan praises the Coalition. “This is a dedicated group of legal services organizations from all around the state,” he says, “and I could not be prouder to represent them in the Capitol.”

Coalition members include Bet Tzedek Legal Services and Public Counsel in Los Angeles, the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley, the Public Law Center in Orange County, Riverside Legal Aid, the Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino, Watsonville Legal Aid, the Justice & Diversity Center in San Francisco, the Center for Responsible Lending in Oakland, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley in San Jose, and Centro Legal de la Raza.

May 15, 2017

City Attorney and Centro Legal de la Raza sue hotel chain and local affiliate over violations of labor laws and Oakland’s minimum wage ordinance

February 28, 2017

Legal Service Organizations and Community Groups Have Joined Forces to Create the Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership (ACILEP)

February 8, 2017


OAKLAND, CA – More than ever, immigrants and families will need experienced and qualified attorneys to fight against the Trump administration’s executive orders and policies of deportation and detention. Simultaneously there is an urgent need for a meaningful rapid response network to make sure the community is aware of their rights and can access counsel. Several East Bay organizations have joined together to form the Alameda County Immigration Legal & Education Partnership (ACILEP). The partnership will house removal defense immigration attorneys at both Centro Legal de la Raza and the Alameda County Office of the Public Defender. These attorneys will work closely with rapid responders at the following community based organizations: Black Alliance for Just Immigration, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Causa Justa/Just Cause, The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Oakland Community Organizations, Street Level Health, and Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay.

Yesterday, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $750,000 to the efforts of ACILEP. Last week, the City of Oakland finalized a vote to allocate $300,000 to ACILEP. The San Francisco Foundation is matching both the city and county funding. We thank the City of Oakland, the County of Alameda and The San Francisco Foundation for their leadership and quick response of solidarity in support of immigrant communities and families. “The practices announced in the executive orders, including a focus on additional immigration detention, will result in the increased separation of families and unlawful abuses against immigrants. ACILEP will challenge these practices and we will protect our community,” said Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Immigration Director at Centro Legal de la Raza.

ACILEP will provide critical legal and support services to Alameda County families facing the immediate threat of separation due to deportation. As stated by Raha Jorjani, Immigration Defense Attorney, Office of the Alameda County Public Defender, “This commitment to helping fund removal defense efforts is a critical step in defending access to Due Process for immigrant communities who have become direct targets of the new administration. An investment in the rights of the most vulnerable amongst us, is an investment in all of us.”

A hotline to access ACILEP legal and other rapid response services for anyone in Alameda County impacted by enforcement actions as well as information on weekly legal rights and education presentations throughout Alameda County will follow in the coming weeks.

February 8, 2017

Oakland’s Centro Legal Urges Governor Brown to Prioritize Immigrants’ Legal Representation in State Budget

January 13, 2017

OAKLAND – In response to Governor Jerry Brown’s unveiling of his proposed 2017-18 budget, Centro Legal de la Raza (Centro Legal) issued the following statement on behalf of Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Immigration Program Director:

“We are heartened that Governor Brown mentioned working with the legislature to find a careful and thoughtful approach to protecting California’s immigrants. When questioned about funding for legal representation for California immigrants, Governor Brown appeared open to building on existing resources for immigrant integration to address future challenges, such as the likelihood of mass deportation under the Trump administration. With the Due Process for All Act introduced in December, California has the opportunity to lead the nation in ensuring that everyone receives fair treatment in our courts and no one is forced to face permanent exile from the U.S. without competent legal counsel.

As the governor and legislature move forward with budget planning, we urge them to prioritize legal representation for immigrants facing deportation and protect fundamental rights of the many immigrants that call our great state home.

The Due Process for All Act, introduced by Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), is the last line of defense to prevent the unjust deportation of immigrants who are deeply rooted in our lives and communities.

While immigration law has been compared to the tax code in its complexity and the government has a prosecutor representing it in every case, it remains one of the only areas in American law where individual liberty is at stake, yet people are forced to navigate a grueling legal maze alone.

At Centro Legal, the largest provider of free deportation defense in Northern California, we are frequently reminded of the positive impact that competent legal counsel has on immigrant families. Just ask 27-year-old Rosendo, who has been living in California’s Central Valley since he was a young child. Rosendo was released in late December after Centro Legal took on his case pro bono earlier last year. Rosendo is now finally reunited with his family and community, having been detained by ICE for over 3 years. Without high-quality legal representation Californians like Rosendo would be robbed of their basic due process rights.

We look forward to working with the legislature and the governor to make due process for all a reality.”

January 13, 2017

Workers for popular Burma Superstar restaurants file class action over wages, breaks, sick pay

September 9, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — Current and former employees of Burma Superstar filed a lawsuit today on behalf of about 100 kitchen staff at its chain of restaurants on both sides of San Francisco Bay. They allege the owners failed to pay many workers the minimum wage and routinely denied workers overtime pay, breaks, and sick leave they were due.

“We are their workers, but we are also people,” says Mong Tsai Ma, a cook at Burma Superstar in Oakland. “We just want to be treated fairly, and we want them to change their practices.”

“These brave workers have overcome cultural and language barriers to join together in bringing this case, not just for themselves, but also for workers who are too scared to step forward,” says Palyn Hung Mitchell, an attorney with Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus. “We are proud to stand with them in pushing for much-needed reforms in the restaurant industry.”

The allegations fit into an unfortunately widespread pattern of restaurants taking advantage of immigrant workers with limited English skills who are unaware of their rights — or who fear retaliation if they assert their rights. Most or all of the workers the lawsuit aims to cover are immigrants who speak Spanish, Chinese, or Burmese.

“This case specifically alleges wage violations at Burma Superstar, but these allegations reflect a business model that Centro Legal has seen at far too many other restaurants across the Bay Area,” says Jesse Newmark, litigation director at Centro Legal de la Raza. “Especially in increasingly affluent Bay Area neighborhoods, it is unacceptable to boost profits by underpaying low-income workers.”

“Back-of-the-house workers are too often unseen and forgotten,” says Carole Vigne, an attorney and director of LAS-ELC’s Wage Protection Program. “We hope this case brings visibility to the hardworking kitchen staff who feed thousands each week.”

“Burma Superstar kitchen workers work very hard to make the restaurants so successful,” said William Navarrete, a former dishwasher, kitchen helper, and cook at three of the restaurants. “We believe they did not pay us what we were owed. We’re bringing this case to finally get the wages we think are owed to us.”

The lawsuit also claims that the restaurants failed to keep accurate time and pay records or provide accurate wage statements, and that it violated the state’s unfair competition law. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status for their lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court.

Centro Legal de la Raza, The Asian Law Caucus, and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center are representing the workers.

September 9, 2016

Centro Legal Stands in Solidarity with Detained Immigrant Mothers Fighting for Freedom from Family Detention

August 18, 2016

OAKLAND — Centro Legal de la Raza (Centro Legal) stands in solidarity with the 22 immigrant mothers who are currently on the eighth day of a hunger strike at the Berks County Residential Center. These women, along with their children, are being held in detention while they seek asylum in the United States. The women have been held from 60 days to over a year, despite having meritorious claims for release and relatives in the United States who are willing to receive them.

Centro Legal applauds the courage of these women, and calls on the Obama administration to end its draconian policy of detaining families seeking protection here in the United States. Last month, Centro Legal attorneys were once again on the ground at the family detention center, in Dilley, Texas. As we saw firsthand, the women and children being held in detention have nearly all experienced horrific violence in their home countries: sexual abuse by family members, violence at the hands of a partner, or extortion and threats of death by violent criminal gangs. These families have come to the United States seeking protection from this violence, and present absolutely no security risk.

Detaining these families is unnecessary, inhumane, and in violation of the United States’ international legal obligations to asylum seekers. As the hunger strikers wrote in an open letter to Secretary Jeh Johnson:

“We left our homes in Central America to escape violence, threats and corruption. We thought this country would help us, but now we are locked up with our children in a place where we feel threatened, including by some of the medical personnel, leaving us with no one left to trust.”

Centro Legal is committed to representing these women and children. In the past two years alone, our immigration attorneys have represented over 566 families – women and children recently released from Berks, Dilley, and other family detention centers.

Centro Legal is also committed to representing asylum seekers detained in the Bay Area. Here at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield, CA, and at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, CA hundreds of asylum seekers are detained at any given time. Centro Legal represents as many detained individuals as possible. We also recently started the Mesa Verde Pro Bono Project in partnership with Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA) and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) to provide pro bono representation to these asylum seekers.

TAKE ACTION: To show your support for the Berks hunger strikers, please call Immigration and Customs Enforcement Field Office Director Thomas Decker at 215-656-7164 and ask him to release these families.

August 18, 2016

Centro Legal de la Raza Helps Secure Legislative Victory Against Displacement for Hayward Tenants

August 10, 2016

OAKLAND — In our efforts to prevent devastating tenant displacement throughout the Bay Area, Centro Legal de la Raza vigorously pursues all avenues for relief – from the courtrooms, to the halls of the legislature.

Like many places in the Bay Area, Hayward is gentrifying and poor families of color are getting pushed out by dishonest landlords looking to make space for wealthier tenants.  For almost two years, Centro Legal has been helping 61 low- and middle-income Latino and African-American tenant families living at an apartment complex in Hayward.  Although many of the families have lived in their homes for decades, a new owner began demanding rent increases of up to $300 or $400, or 20-30% of the tenants’ total rent.

The unscrupulous owner then filed eviction cases against two fixed-income families who couldn’t afford to pay the gigantic rent increases, including an immigrant family spanning three generations who had lived in their apartment together for over 30 years.  Centro Legal de la Raza’s Litigation Attorney Shira Levine and expert tenant attorney Chris Beatty of the Law Offices of Andrew Wolff immediately jumped to the tenants’ defense and have been representing them in the courts ever since.

Under Hayward’s local rent control laws, the massive rent increases would have been illegal and the eviction cases would have to be dismissed.  The owner argued, however, that he shouldn’t have to comply with the same laws as other Hayward landlords, because the property used to be subsidized by the federal government.  Unfortunately, a state court commissioner and trial judge both ruled in the owner’s favor.  But this didn’t stop Centro Legal’s Litigation Team or Mr. Beatty, who immediately filed a petition for writ with the appellate courts.

Not satisfied with waiting on the courts, Centro Legal also reached out to the City of Hayward itself.  Thanks to the efforts of the Hayward City Attorney’s Office’s, which believed that Hayward’s rent protections did apply, the City Council held a vote to clarify that their rent control law does protect Hayward tenants living at properties like this one.  The resolution would not only protect the tenants at this particular property, but hundreds of other tenants living at similar apartment complexes.

To help make sure the City made the right decision, more than 20 tenants from the apartment complex attended the Council vote, along with Centro Legal’s Litigation Director Jesse Newmark, Skadden Fellow Gillian Quandt, and volunteer intake specialist Nancy Jauregui.  The City Council unanimously passed the resolution and staff thanked the tenants for their participation in the political process.

As Litigation Director Jesse Newmark has explained: “The fight is not over, as we still need to enforce the rent law protections. But because Centro Legal and these brave tenant families are willing to take all roads to justice, including legal and political advocacy, we are hopeful that we can help them avoid displacement.” Please support Centro’s efforts to do so!

August 10, 2016

California Coalition for Universal Representation Calls for Lawyers for California’s Detained Immigrants

June 8, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO – California state and local governments should provide free lawyers for detained immigrants, a broad coalition of immigration groups said today. A new study by the group, known as the California Coalition for Universal Representation, found that immigrants detained in California who have an attorney succeed in their cases more than five times as often as those who don’t.

“Without guaranteed legal counsel, detained longtime California residents and asylum seekers fleeing severe persecution cannot meaningfully exercise their right to apply for relief from deportation,” said Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Immigration Program Director at Oakland’s Centro Legal de la Raza, a coalition member. “Forcing individuals to navigate the complex immigration system on their own violates due process.”

Antonio, a Salvadoran father of three United States citizen children was almost separated from his family because he could not pay for a lawyer. The 25-year old came to the US when he was 8 years old. Unaware that he had been ordered deported by a judge in Texas as a child, he was arrested for a misdemeanor and landed in a California detention facility where he was scheduled for imminent deportation. Luckily, the day before he was put on a plane, Antonio happened to meet an attorney from Centro Legal de la Raza who filed an emergency motion to stop his deportation and helped him obtain legal status to stay with his family.

The Coalition report, entitled California’s Due Process Crisis: Access to Legal Counsel for Detained Immigrants, shows that thousands of California children are at risk of being placed in foster care upon the detention or deportation of a parent or endure trauma with long-term health consequences, leading to poorer educational and health outcomes. Immigration-related arrests half household incomes on average, and leave many households without anyone earning wages. As a result, loved ones go hungry and struggle to remain in their homes.

Alfredo Flores, who lives with his U.S. citizen wife, daughters and granddaughter in Union City, was detained by immigration authorities for over a year, during which time his family was evicted and forced to seek public assistance for the first time in their lives because they couldn’t make ends meet without their primary breadwinner.

“Being detained sent my family into a terrible crisis,” Flores said. “There is no way I could have been released and won my case without legal representation.”

The overwhelming majority – nearly 70 percent – of detained immigrants in California go unrepresented in their deportation cases because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer, the study finds.

“The lack of counsel for immigration detainees has a huge impact on California communities causing family separation and straining city and state support networks,” said Jayashri Srikantiah, director of the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, a member of the Coalition. The Stanford clinic published a report in 2014 that found that Northern California immigrants who are locked up during their deportation proceedings are much more likely to be able to stay with their families and communities if they have an attorney.

Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants are not entitled to court-appointed attorneys even though a deportation order can have deadly consequences for those forced to return to countries where they are threatened by drug cartels, gang or gender-based violence.

“For those who have fled sexual and gender-based violence and other trauma, discussing their past experiences may be very difficult,” said Christine Lin, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies. “Legal representation is crucial to ensure that they can present their testimony, are afforded fair hearings, and are not being returned to face further violence or even death in their home countries.”

State or local publicly-funded programs to represent immigrant detainees are not without precedent and make up the beginning of a national movement to provide universal representation to all detained immigrants comparable to public defender programs, the Coalition said. The California proposal follows the example of New York City, which instituted such a program beginning with a pilot in 2013 and expanding to full coverage the following year. In 2014, the City of San Francisco funded the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative (SFILDC), a unique partnership of 13 legal service providers to provide representation at the San Francisco Immigration Court to unaccompanied children and families fleeing violence in Central America and Mexico.

“We’ve had extraordinary success with SFILDC,” said Avantika Shastri, the SFILDC’s Legal Director. “Our program shows that publically-funded representation of immigrants benefits everyone by not only protecting the rights of vulnerable populations, but also supporting family reunification and enriching the future of our entire community.”

The California Coalition for Universal Representation includes Centro Legal de la Raza, the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the Central American Resource Center, the California Immigrant Policy Center, the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, the Center for Popular Democracy, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Immigrant Youth Coalition, Interfaith Communities for Peace and Justice, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Immigration Law Center, Pangea Legal Services, Public Counsel, the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, and the Vera Institute of Justice.

June 8, 2016

Shackling of Asylum Seekers Interferes With Due Process, Causes Serious Health Problems

May 27, 2016

Oakland – According to a civil rights complaint filed by Centro Legal de la Raza (Centro Legal), Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, East Bay Community Law Center and the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative on behalf of 15 asylum seekers, GPS-enabled electronic monitoring devices – also known as ankle shackles – are negatively impacting their mental and physical health. The complainants describe how the shackles, along with burdensome and arbitrary reporting requirements, infringe on their liberty and on their right to seek protection in the United States.

The asylum seekers – primarily mothers with young children – fled their homes in Central America and Mexico to escape life threatening domestic abuse, gang and gender based violence.

According to internal agency communications released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has adopted a blanket policy of placing all adults with children on the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) and requiring asylum seekers to wear the ankle shackles. Initially conceived as an alternative to detention for those subject to mandatory custody under the law, the ISAP, which is run through a contract with a private prison company, has become the norm for asylum seeking families, even in the absence of alleged danger or flight risk.

In the words of DSG a Salvadoran mother who was shackled for 14 months, “When my attorney went to the ISAP office with me… they made her wait in the waiting room and told her she could not come into the back of the office where the officer spoke with me.” DSG and other women detail the physical harm they suffer due to the shackles which include, electric shocks, bleeding blisters, numbness, bone and joint pain and bruising.. “Ankle shackles and the other cumbersome requirements of the ISAP violate the due process rights of asylum seekers yet leave them with no recourse”, explains Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Immigration Program Director of Centro Legal, “because ICE prohibits the ISAP employees from speaking directly to attorneys.”

The complainants’s recommendations include the adoption of clear, consistent and achievable criteria for the removal of ankle shackles in individual cases. “There is absolutely no reason for asylum seekers to be shackled,” says Wolfe-Roubatis, “but, if ICE insists on continuing to work with a private prison company to issue these shackles, at a minimum, the process for removing them must be more transparent.”

The complaint demands that ICE stop prioritizing asylum seeking families for removal, eliminate the use of ankle shackles for asylum seekers and replace for-profit alternative to detention programs such as ISAP with community-based models. In the interim while these goals are achieved, the complainants urge ICE to apply clear, consistent and achievable criteria for removal of ankle shackles, increase training and oversight of the ISAP officers, require the ISAP officers to communicate with attorneys.

May 27, 2016