English and More: Services for Immigrants in the DC Area

DC has a huge immigrant community, and we’re lucky to have a number of dedicated organizations offering services to newcomers. Of course, Language ETC is special. We serve the entire metropolitan area; we offer a large and vibrant ESL program; and we have a high level of community involvement, with hundreds of volunteers. But we are not alone. Our friends and colleagues in partner organizations throughout the area are working in different ways to enhance the lives of immigrants — through education, housing assistance, legal aid, citizenship preparation, and more.

Here are some key organizations worth knowing about. It’s a partial list, including just a few of the local nonprofits whose mission is to serve immigrants. Of course, immigrants can also access services from city and state agencies and from nonprofit organizations that serve the community at large. Language ETC holds a resource fair every term to introduce our students to some of the services available in the community.

Citizenship class at the Central American Resource Center. Photo: CARECEN.

CARECEN (Central American Resource Center)

CARECEN was founded in 1981 to assist refugees fleeing conflict in Central America. It’s one of the organizations that emerged from the local solidarity movement in which Central Americans and North Americans organized together to oppose US support to repressive regimes. Today CARECEN has a large citizenship preparation program that has helped many immigrants become US citizens. It also provides immigration and housing services, as well as some ESL classes. Originally located in a ramshackle house on Mt. Pleasant St. NW, CARECEN now has its own spacious building in Columbia Heights. The organization was led for 20 years by Saul Solorzano, a respected and beloved community activist who passed away in 2011.

Saul Solorzano, longtime director of CARECEN, greets a client in the organization’s offices. Photo: CARECEN, courtesy of Washington Hispanic.

CASA de Maryland provides employment training and placement for workers like these men in Baltimore. Photo: CASA de Maryland.

CASA de Maryland

CASA de Maryland also has roots in the Central American solidarity movement of the 1980s. It originally operated out of the basement of the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, one of the “sanctuary” churches that sheltered Central American refugees. Since then, CASA has grown into the largest Latino and immigrant organization in Maryland. Catering especially to low-income women, workers, and tenants, CASA has programs in job training and placement, financial literacy, ESL, Spanish literacy, citizenship preparation, and legal, social, and health services. They operate three workers’ centers and a community education center, and plan to open two more workers’ centers, a vocational training school, and a multicultural center in Langley Park. There is also a strong advocacy dimension: an affiliated organization called CASA in Action promotes electoral engagement by Latinos and immigrants in Maryland. CASA director Gustavo Torres was recently profiled in the Washington Post.

A CASA delegation visits Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Through CASA, Latinos in the state have become active in organizing on issues important to workers and families. Photo: CASA de Maryland.

Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School

Carlos Rosario is a large adult education program in Columbia Heights, serving some 2,000 immigrants each year with daytime and evening classes. Classes range from basic English literacy and life skills to career-level English and certificate courses in technology and culinary arts. Carlos Rosario also offers job placement, health referrals, immigration counseling, and citizenship preparation. Students hail from some 78 countries, speaking more than 35 different languages, and most of the staff and faculty are bilingual. Students must be DC residents to enroll.

Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in Columbia Heights is a large adult education program for DC residents. Photo: Mr. T in DC.

ESLIM (English as a Second Language and Immigrant Ministries)

ESLIM is a consortium of Northern Virginia churches that offer English classes to immigrants. In 1989, three churches in the Arlington District of the United Methodist Church formed a Hispanic Ministries Task Force. English classes began in the basement of Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church, with 30 students and five volunteer teachers. Today, classes are taught by trained volunteers in thirteen locations in Arlington, Ashburn, Centreville, Clifton, Crystal City, Fairfax, Falls Church, and Manassas. ESLIM is a ministry of the United Methodist Church, but membership is open to churches of all denominations and the organization welcomes students and volunteers of all faiths.

English classes at ESLIM in Northern Virginia. Like Language ETC, ESLIM uses volunteer teachers from the community. Photo: ESLIM.

La Clínica del Pueblo

La Clínica del Pueblo was founded in 1983 to serve the medical needs of Central American refugees arriving in DC. For many, cultural and language barriers made getting access to health care very difficult. La Clínica was started in a one-room clinic, one night per week, by a volunteer doctor. Today, it operates out of a state-of-the-art clinic in Columbia Heights, with a staff of 80. La Clínica offers a wide range of culturally appropriate services to the Latino community, from pediatric to adult to geriatric care, including mental health, substance abuse, and HIV/AIDS services. Services are provided on a sliding scale and no one is turned away for inability to pay.

Outside La Clínica del Pueblo on National Latino Awareness Day, October 15, 2011. Photo: La Clínica del Pueblo.

Spanish Catholic Center

The Spanish Catholic Center is part of Catholic Charities, the social ministry outreach of the Archdiocese of Washington. It provides medical, dental, education, employment, legal, and social services to Latinos and immigrants. There are several locations in DC, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County, including a clinic in Mt. Pleasant that provides medical and dental care. Catholic Charities also provides other services for immigrants, including legal services and Spanish-language training for construction work.

A patient receives dental care at a Spanish Catholic Center clinic. Photo: Catholic Charities.


Ayuda offers legal and social services for low-income immigrants in the areas of immigration, human trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Clients can consult with an attorney or paralegal on immigration cases and obtain legal assistance with protection orders, divorce, child custody, and child and spousal support. Long located in Adams Morgan, Ayuda recently moved into new offices in Takoma Park.

Ayuda booth at the National Council of La Raza Latino Family Expo in July 2011. Photo: Ayuda.

CAIR Coalition (Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights) 

CAIR Coalition assists immigrants detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in local jails in Virginia and Maryland. The coalition partners with over 40 DC-area law firms that provide thousands of hours of free legal assistance to detainees. Detained immigrants served by CAIR Coalition include long-term residents of the United States, some of whom fled violence in Central America decades ago; asylum seekers, many of whom are survivors of torture; women who are pregnant or have just given birth; unaccompanied immigrant children; and people who are physically or mentally ill. Trained volunteers accompany staff on visits to the detention centers.

LEDC (Latino Economic Development Corporation)

LEDC provides services in small business development and lending, homeownership and foreclosure counseling, and affordable housing preservation. Participants in their programs learn how to buy and stay in their homes, take control of decisions affecting their apartment buildings, and start or expand small businesses.

Latino Economic Development Corporation helped José Ugarte and his family keep their home in Silver Spring through a modification of their home loan. Photo: LEDC.

This entry was posted in Community Resources, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Bookmark the permalink.

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