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Refugee center would rise from INS site's rubble.

LOS ANGELES -- Ah, the sweet irony of it. The Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, is set to buy the former Immigration and Naturalization Service detention center on Alvarado at Olympic to build a community center and low-cost housing.

The plan, essentially, is to house in comfort the Central Americans that the INS, la migra, wanted to house only uncomfortably, temporarily, and then deport.

Less sweet was a recent blow from a waning Bush administration that reneged on a promised postriot $1.5 million in antidrug social services money -- to a consortium of which CARECEN was a key member and instigator.

The blow was particularly brutal because it struck at the solar plexus of a unique "they-said-it-couldn't-be-done" across-ethnic-lines group: 10 prominent Latino and Asian nonprofit associations that had coalesced as the Pico-Union/Koreatown Consortium (see accompanying story).

The Central American Refugee Center -- there are three others, all independent, in Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco -- came into being a decade ago during, in the words of Los Angeles CARECEN executive director Madeline Janis, the "enormous explosion" as the first wave of Salvadorans, then Guatemalans fled the brutal persecutions in their native countries.

By far, the majority of the refugees headed for Los Angeles. They quickly ran into a U.S. policy that refused to recognize the atrocities in Central America and was focused on deportation.

As CARECEN formed by Salvadoran refugees it was for refugee defense and class-action litigation to stop the U.S. government's abuses.

As Janis explained, however, by the mid-1980s CARECEN began to metamorphose into something quite different. "By about 1986," she said, "refugees were more stabilized. Their needs began to change. Then came temporary protected status." TPS, which granted many Central Americans temporary legal status, expired in October. Refugees must apply for Deferred Enforced Deportation Program waivers, which are good for a further 12 months.

The darker side to all this, she said, "was the superexploitive nature of the underground economy, particularly the sweatshops of the garment industry and in the hotel and restaurant trade." One element of the economy the Central Americans had brought with them was the propensity for street trading -- hundreds, then thousands were selling everything from tacos to bracelets in a city that forbade their existence by ordinance.

CARECEN has been drawn into the broader Hispanic community's issues. Looking ahead, CARECEN joined its support to those who were organized the street vendors and unionizing janitors and hotel workers. Looking over their shoulders, CARECEN's staff continued to battle the Los Angeles Police Department and the INS over immigrant sweeps and rapid deportations -- as happened during the April riots.

The City Council is slowly moving toward the likelihood that street vending has to be legalized in certain city neighborhoods, and there have been strong union gains in the janitorial and hotels industries. (One by-product of the changing economy and subsequent organizing: Many blacks have been replaced by Latinos.)

Meanwhile, CARECEN knows that whatever comes out of El Salvador's peace process, 80 percent to 90 percent of the Salvadorans in Los Angeles will remain here. The message that might help their legal status is one CARECEN particularly has been peddling in Washington and Central America: El Salvador cannot afford to have them return.

"We traveled to El Salvador and had lots of press conferences there, arguing for the extension of TPS" said Janis. The argument: Victims of U.S. economic exploitation or not, Salvadoran refugees in the United States are repatriating $1 billion a year back home, the largest income component of the Salvadoran economy.

Lobbying has to begin again on TPS, said Janis, who thinks another extension is possible, given a Clinton administration. She would like to see TPS made permanent. In any event, because most will stay and now because of the April riots, CARECEN's change is accelerating into that of a social service agency/center.

"We thought that with the peace accords, originally, we'd just dwindle down to one desk as a sort of travel agency as everyone went back," said Janis, half-seriously. "Now we're in it for the long run, thinking more about economic development and community and leadership development."

Postriot, CARECEN has been thrust into the center of the action, battling inaction. Carlos Vaquerano, CARECENs community relations director, is the only immigrant on the board of Rebuild LA, the high-profile, big-name organization beaded by Peter Ueberroth that is saddled with making sense of a now riot-prone city and its needs. (Details about Vaquerano and Rebuild IA however, must wait for another report.)

And CARECEN must wait a while longer for funds before it can begin tearing down the old INS center. But the CARECEN Salvadorans and the energetic Janis have the sort of gleam in their eyes that says it better happen.

Washington reneges on |weed and seed'

LOS ANGELES -- The news was grim at an October CARECEN-sponsored press conference (see above picture) but "about par for the response to social problems during the Bush administration," commented one attendee.

After the Los Angeles riots in April, nearly a dozen groups representing Latino and Asian organizations, in an unusual endeavor, had combined to apply for funds under the federal government's "weed and seed" antidrug program.

The amount available, according to Health and Human Services director Louis Sullivan, was $1.5 million. The Pico-Union/Koreatown Consortium applied for half of it, with the understanding that a second consortium in South Central, which included African-American groups, would receive the other half.

In the blaze of postriot promises and publicity, the federal government was assuring all concerned that it was a done deal. In October, with no one watching, Washington, D.C., quietly reneged on the promise.

Consortium members already were wary over the fact that "weed and seed" programs, although financed through HHS, had the Justice Department sitting in an oversight position. The concern was that the Justice Department might "militarize" HHS presence in the community by displaying a greater interest in weeding out dealers than in seeding programs to deal with basic social needs.

At the press conference, consortium members deplored the administration's broken promise but expressed "deep concern over the growing involvement of the highest law-enforcement agency in the nation (the Justice Department) in human services programs . . . such) involvement has a great potential to compromise the programs."

The members lamented that the hard work in bringing together an Asian-Pacific Islander/Latino consortium had gone for naught but left the impression that such cooperation might be possible in future projects.

Consortium members represented at the press conference included CARECEN, the Asian American Drug Abuse Program, the Korean Youth Center, El Rescate, the Pacific Asian Consortium on Employment, Jovenes Inc., the Search to Involve Pilipino-Americans and United Cambodian Communities. --AJ
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Title Annotation:Central American Refugee Center, Los Angeles, CA; includes related article on underfunded 'weed and seed' program
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Dec 4, 1992
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