Centro Presente: Helping Immigrants Survive the COVID-19 Crisis

Centro Presente has been fighting for Latin American immigrant rights and social and economic justice since the early 1980s. In the age of COVID-19, they have their work cut out for them.

April 9, 2020

B&W photo from the 80s of Centro Presente members
Centro Presente has been helping Central American immigrants since the early 1980s. (Photo by Richard Howard)

Evelyn, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, her husband and three children are sharing a two-bedroom apartment in East Boston with a family of four. That’s a total of nine people using one kitchen and one bathroom. Evelyn’s partner lost one of his jobs in a restaurant and has been cut to halftime at his other job. All of the breadwinners of the other family have lost their jobs. While Evelyn first came to Centro Presente for help with getting her son out of a detention center in Texas, today the nonprofit is helping her and those she’s living with survive the COVID-19 crisis by securing food and financial assistance from a variety of sources as they become available.

Established in 1981, Centro Presente is a member-driven, state-wide Latin American immigrant organization dedicated to the self-determination and self-sufficiency of the immigrants it serves. Led primarily by Central American immigrants, the nonprofit struggles for immigrant rights and for economic and social justice.

Immigrants without residency or work authorization are some of the most desperate of those served by Centro Presente. According to the best estimates, Massachusetts is home to about 250,000 undocumented immigrants. A large majority of them (about 190,000) were working and contributing to our state economy before the crisis hit; most in low-wage service and hospitality jobs. There are growing reports about the fact that many of them are losing their jobs now. Even though they pay a range of state and local taxes, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any benefits under the federal government’s economic stimulus plan. Undocumented immigrants often lack health insurance and will have an even harder time receiving necessary COVID-19 testing.

“A crisis like this is no time to be parsing immigration status,” says Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente. “We all have a stake in ensuring universal access to testing and health care at this critical time. By extending some basic forms of economic assistance to undocumented immigrants, we can also reduce suffering and help ensure that as many people as possible can afford to socially isolate until the virus subsides.”

This is one in a series of stories about grantees of the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. These Greater Boston nonprofits are on the front-lines of our community's response to this crisis. While we are all struggling to cope with the hardships of the coronavirus, these organizations, their leaders and their staff are serving the most vulnerable among us. Boston Indicators, the Boston Foundation’s Research Center, is providing valuable data and analysis for these stories. Visit tbf.org for more on the COVID-19 Response Fund.