- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Officials with Montgomery and Prince George’s counties say the taxpayer-funded CASA of Maryland advocacy group has a constitutional right to picket outside the homes and businesses of members of the Minutemen, a group that photographs employers hiring day laborers and illegal aliens.

“What’s good for the Minutemen is good for the laborers,” said Prince George’s County Councilman Will Campos, a Democrat. “Let’s face it — don’t get mad because somebody’s doing the same thing you’re doing.”

CASA officials say that they are just reacting to “provocation” by the Minutemen and that the picketing protests would be like those staged in front of the homes of employers who don’t pay laborers.

“It’s proven to be an effective way of bringing publicity and ensuring that people pay their wages,” said Peter Shiras, who is on CASA’s board of directors. “This was not something that was instigated by us [and] I don’t think CASA is trying to pick a fight here.”

CASA is also training legal observers who would document but not protest the activities of the Minutemen while they monitor the day laborers in Maryland.

Mr. Shiras said there’s a “big difference” between the Minutemen, who he says are trying to intimidate CASA employees, and CASA, which is trying to “bring publicity” to the Minutemen’s actions.

Spokesmen for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties said the actions of CASA employees and volunteers are independent of the county’s views. They also say that CASA is an independent contractor and that county funds do not support its monitoring activities.

“They have a contract to perform a certain set of services and that’s what they’re paid for,” said David Weaver, a Montgomery County spokesman. CASA is “not an official county agency. They don’t speak for the county government anymore than [other groups] who also receive money from the county.”

Montgomery County has spent nearly $1.6 million in fiscal 2006 in contracts with CASA for day-laborer and community centers in Wheaton and Silver Spring, and health and language services for thousands of residents.

Takoma Park pays about $40,000 annually for a temporary day-laborer center. Prince George’s County last year pledged $91,000 to the opening of a center in Langley Park.

Baltimore has approved a $75,000 contract to open a permanent center this spring to replace a temporary one monitored by CASA, which formed about 20 years ago to provide assistance to Central American refugees but now offers advocacy, legal, language and health services.

Mr. Weaver declined to comment on the Maryland Minutemen or its president, Stephen Schreiman, who has called for the Justice Department to investigate CASA and has urged financial contributors to stop supporting the organization. The Minutemen have mainly targeted an informal gathering site at a church in Gaithersburg.

Montgomery County law prohibits picketing outside private homes unless a public meeting is being held inside. However, protesters are allowed to picket outside businesses.

Gaithersburg officials recently drafted similar legislation after realizing the county code did not apply to the city. An incident unrelated to the CASA issue prompted the move, officials said.

Barb Matthews, city manager of Takoma Park said, the municipality’s role is to prevent violence and other problems “but it’s really not the role of the city to say who does what, or whose opinion is wrong or whose is right.”

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