El Rescate

Identification: Nonprofit resource center providing free legal and social services

Date: Founded in 1981

Location: Los Angeles, California

Significance: By providing free legal and social services to Salvadorans and other Central American immigrants, as well as refugees and immigrants from other Latin American countries living in Los Angeles, California, El Rescate has been an important force for social justice and human rights.

When a civil war began in El Salvador in 1980, refugees arrived in the United States in great numbers; by the early twenty-first century, more than two million Salvadorans were living as exiles, mostly in the United States. To ease their transition, Los Angeles church organizations and members of the Santana Chirino Amaya Refugee Committee formed El Rescate (the rescue) in 1981. Its first project, the Monsignor Romero Clinic, provided free health care to refugees. Soon the group provided basic housing and free legal assistance to help refugees complete the paperwork necessary for achieving legal immigrant status, represented refugees seeking political asylum, supported victims of discrimination and abuse, and offered other forms of legal aid.

During the 1980’s, it was difficult for Central American refugees to obtain legal refugee status because President Ronald Reagan’s administration argued that its Central American allies protected the human rights of their citizens. El Rescate opened a secret office in El Salvador in 1985 to document human rights abuses in that country. The information was broadly disseminated and helped El Rescate persuade U.S. legislators that Salvadorans deserved refugee status.

When the civil war ended in 1992, many Salvadorans decided to settle in California, but most retained strong ties to those back home. Approximately one million Salvadorans lived in the United States at that time, compared with a population of about six million in El Salvador. El Rescate shifted its focus from refugee services, expanding to offer financial services for immigrants and permanent residents, including credit cards, phone cards, payroll services, and the Comunidades Federal Credit Union; assistance with sending money to relatives in Central America; and small loans and workshops to help immigrants become financially secure. The group also provided literacy tutoring and helped clients gain access to health care services. Its primary beneficiaries were Salvadorans, but refugees from other parts of Central America and other Latino immigrants in the Los Angeles area were also served.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), which provided immigration benefits and relief from deportation to certain Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, and Guatemalans, as well as refugees fromthe former Soviet Union. A year later, El Rescate campaigned successfully for amendments that allowed more Salvadorans and Guatemalans to receive assistance. During the twenty-first century, El Rescate also sponsors community and social events, and it has joined with other Salvadoran organizations to sponsor an annual International Convention of Salvadoran Communities Residing Abroad. It hosts weekly charlas (public presentations) on legal issues and sponsors aWeb site promoting community events.

Cynthia A. Bily

Further Reading

  • Coutin, Susan Bibler. Legalizing Moves: Salvadoran Immigrants’ Struggle for U.S. Residency. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003. 
  • Hamilton, Nora, and Norma Stoltz Chinchilla. Seeking Community in a Global City: Guatemalans and Salvadorans in Los Angeles. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. 
  • Howland, Todd. “How El Rescate, a Small Nongovernmental Organization, Contributed to the Transformation of the Human Rights Situation in El Salvador.” Human Rights Quarterly 30, no. 3 (August, 2008): 703-757. 
  • Ruíz, Vicki, and Virginia Sánchez Korrol. Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. 

See also: California; Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.; Guatemalan immigrants; Health care; Latin American immigrants; Los Angeles; Nicaraguan immigrants; Refugees; Salvadoran immigrants.

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