- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

A task force of Gaithersburg residents is seeking to exclude CASA of Maryland from participation in a day-laborer center, saying the state’s largest immigrant-advocacy group is too political.

CASA, which helped stage demonstrations this spring urging federal legislation to allow citizenship for illegal aliens, runs day-laborer centers in Wheaton, Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

The Gaithersburg City Council in January assigned the 15-member task force to issue a report on options for a proposed day-laborer center, and the panel eventually “tried to steer [the council] away from CASA because they didn’t agree with their politics,” task force member John Thomas said.

Gaithersburg residents say CASA’s political dealings have left them with a “bad taste in [their] mouths.” And comments made in February by the group’s leader about picketing the schools of the children of the Minutemen, a group that monitors illegal activity at CASA’s day-laborer sites, made matters worse.

“There is definitely a backlash against CASA,” said Mike Stumborg, a resident of the city’s historic district. “I think it’s clear that they have an agenda beyond day-laborer centers and providing services to the Latino community.”

Several task force members said the seemingly unconditional backing of several Montgomery County elected officials who have past ties to CASA, or who are up for re-election, and CASA’s new immigrant voter-registration campaign, has influenced their belief that the organization only wants to help the politicians gain Hispanic votes.

Other task force members said CASA seems to be using workers to establish political muscle rather than simply trying to help. For example, workers must do volunteer work for CASA in order to obtain legal services, they said.

Task force members said their disdain grew following the comments by CASA’s executive director, Gustavo Torres. They felt his Minutemen picketing ploy would drag children into the immigration debate.

Mr. Torres has since issued an apology.

Although no one spoke out against CASA during the task force meetings, “there was a definite factioning” as some members angled to cut CASA out of the plans, said task force member Lauren Husted.

“The fact that they’re trying to get [driver’s] licenses for illegal immigrants … [is] not something that the city of Gaithersburg or Montgomery County should align ourselves with,” Miss Husted said.

The task force’s final report to the City Council in April recommended that a local, faith-based group manage the Montgomery County-funded site, using a model based on the operation of Herndon’s day-laborer center.

Local clergy, though, have dismissed the idea, saying that they lack a coalition capable of such a large task and that CASA has a proven track record of running such centers.

“We felt that we wanted an organization that didn’t have an agenda beyond Gaithersburg and just wanted to resolve the issue in our community,” Miss Husted said. “Frankly, we’re all getting a little angry that we’ve put in so much time and [city officials are] dragging their heels on this. Our interpretation is they feel that the county is putting pressure on them. We all want a resolution.”

Mr. Torres dismissed the criticisms against CASA and himself as “anti-immigrant,” and said CASA will support whichever group the city and county chooses to run the day-laborer center.

“You’re always going to have a small and vocal opposition, [but] I know that the majority of the people … support day laborers, the Latino community and CASA,” he said.

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