Centro Comunitario CEUS (formerly Comité En Unión para Salvadoreños) is a non-profit formed in Hudson County, N.J., in 1993 by four Salvadoran refugees. They wanted to organize their fellow immigrants to push for legal immigration status, and help them integrate into U.S. society.
CEUS, as the group was known (from Comité En Unión para Salvadoreños), initially organized the community to take part in marches and protests, asking US Congress to grant them refugee status, due to the fact that many Salvadorans fled their country’s 12 year civil war that killed 75,000 people. The organization also recruited volunteers to teach English As A Second Language classes, and started a women’s empowerment group.
CEUS was incorporated with the State of New Jersey in 1995, and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service granted the organization tax exempt status (501 c 3) in 1997. CEUS also added Spanish literacy classes to its education program, for Hispanic immigrants who had not properly learned to read and write in their own language, and leadership training workshops. Lobbying congress to grant immigrants legal status and defending the rights of immigrants remained a central part of the organization’s mission.
In 1996, CEUS opened its first office, on 42nd Street, Union City, believed to be the first office to be started by Salvadorans for Salvadorans in the state. As the organization expanded, it moved to a larger office in 1998 on 45th St., Union City. That was shared with American Friends Service Committee, which provided immigration legal services to the community, offering legal services at a far lower price than regular attorneys.
When American Friends Service Committee in 2001 concluded it could no longer run the Union City office, CEUS decided that it needed to become more pro-active in helping immigrants secure legal status, and hired its first attorney, part-time.
While the group was originally founded to serve Salvadoran immigrants, CEUS changed the name of the office in 2010 to Centro Communitario CEUS, to reflect the fact that it offers its services to all immigrants, not just Salvadorans. The organization moved to a new, larger office in 2013, also in Union City.
The Immigration Legal Service program is now CEUS’s largest program, serving more than 1,000 people each year. The organization continues to offer Spanish literacy and English language classes, which have served more than 2,500 students over the years. The group has also sponsored women’s empowerment groups and cultural and social activities, and raised funds to assist people in El Salvador, especially after natural disasters, including the earthquakes of 2001.
The CEUS budget is largely funded by fees from its legal clients and language students, along with donations and fundraising events. The group has also received a number of generous foundation grants, from organizations that include the Presbyterian Church’s Self-Development of People program, the Mott Foundation, the Reso Foundation and RTS, a Brooklyn-based foundation.