CASA de Maryland and the Corrupting Influence of Illegal Immigration
By James Simpson, Organization Trends, September 2012 (PDF here)
Summary: In a part of the nation severely affected by illegal immigration, the activist group CASA de Maryland has grown into a regional powerhouse. Although it has shadowy leaders and a history of disregard for the rule of law, this organization receives millions of dollars from government at all levels, while winning awards from left-wing foundations and invitations from the White House.
Across the nation, debate rages over illegal immigration. Liberal politicians from the White House on down have supported amnesty for illegal immigrants and lax border enforcement, often in a naked attempt to bolster prospective Democratic voter rolls.
This controversy has been especially heated in Maryland, whose Hispanic population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. Under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s sanctuary policies the state has become an illegal alien magnet.1 Illegal immigrants cost Maryland an estimated $1.7 billion per year, which is more than three-quarters of the state’s $2 billion structural deficit.2
Taxpayer ire overflowed last year with passage of Maryland’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which granted in-state college tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants. A nonpartisan coalition of concerned Marylanders launched a petition drive to delay the measure and place it on the 2012 ballot as a referendum. They needed 55,736 signatures. They received more than twice that amount.
CASA de Maryland
The driving force behind the DREAM Act was CASA de Maryland, a vocal advocate for illegal aliens that received almost $5 million of taxpayer dollars in 2010 from Maryland and local governments and spent most of it lobbying for illegal immigrant perks and exceptions. The group’s aggressive tactics and questionable dealings helped provoke outrage, but CASA was not deterred by the successful petition drive to force a public referendum on Maryland’s DREAM Act. The group sought help from the Democratic National Committee’s chief counsel, who specializes in harassing conservatives with frivolous litigation threats. It sued Maryland’s Election Commission to overturn the petition and keep the referendum off the ballot. After almost a full year of legal wrangling, this attempt to derail the democratic process was slapped down by the state Court of Appeals.
CASA de Maryland was founded in the 1980s by a young left-wing activist named Bette “Rainbow” Hoover. CASA means “house” or “home” in Spanish, but “CASA” is actually an acronym for Central American Solidarity Association (although it has since registered name changes to obscure this fact). The name recalls other Central American “solidarity organizations” formed at the time, such as the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), founded by Farid Handal, a Salvadoran Communist Party leader.
Hoover told me CASA de Maryland started up in 1983 but wasn’t formally incorporated until February 28, 1985, operating out of Takoma Park Presbyterian Church in Takoma Park, Maryland.3 From its modest beginnings, CASA has grown into a multi-million-dollar operation, with influence reaching to the Obama White House. Now its headquarters are in the newly renovated (with 10 million taxpayer dollars), 18,000-square foot, 28-room Langley Park Mansion, right up the street from Takoma Park. It even got a $1.2 million tax incentive for this restoration, listed in its most recent annual report as “Tax Credit Revenue.”
It boasts a community center and five day-labor centers spread over a 35-mile radius from the Washington, D.C. metro area to Baltimore. Recently, CASA created a political action arm, CASA in Action, also based at the same church.
Hoover described CASA’s early days: “We just had to do something. People were coming here who really needed help.” She said that virtually all were illegal aliens fleeing El Salvador’s civil war. Hoover added that CASA decided early on to help all comers, including communist guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).
The Sanctuary Movement
Most Central Americans came to America via the Sanctuary movement. What began informally on the Southwest border in the early 1980s grew into a nationwide network of “underground railways” terminating in hundreds of “sanctuary” locations by decade’s end. One source identified 399 discrete sites.4 Another claimed there were as many as 3,000.5 In 1985, the same year as CASA’s founding, Takoma Park became one of the first “Sanctuary” cities.6 Takoma Park Presbyterian Church was D.C.’s Underground Railroad terminus (there were ultimately six in Maryland)7 and remains an official sanctuary church.8
As it grew, the movement formed two main camps, the Tucson Ecumenical Council (TEC) and the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America (CRTF). The two groups clashed on movement goals. TEC wanted to assist whoever needed help. The CRTF was a nominally Catholic organization that promoted “liberation theology” (a Marxist reinterpretation of Catholicism) and had “the explicit objective of challenging U.S. foreign policy.” The CRTF went so far as to demand an ideological litmus test for refugees. At its height, the movement vetted prospective refugees for their ideological pedigree through the Catholic networks in Mexico and Central America, before they even reached the border.9
Illegal Alien Advocacy
During the 1980s, over 25 percent of El Salvador’s population, or more than 1 million people, migrated to the United States. Of these, about 240,000 settled in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. This flood of illegal immigrants provided the impetus for CASA’s creation. The group’s goals have expanded, and a partial list of its activities includes
1. Day labor centers—a hub for illegal aliens
2. Instruction in avoiding police/immigration officials
3. What to do if detained by police/immigration officials
4. English as a second language
5. Counseling on available government benefits
6. Agitating for driver’s licenses for illegal aliens
7. Agitating for bi-lingual education
8. Agitating for social services (e.g., in-state college tuition)
9. Undermining security and border laws
10. Interfering with law enforcement efforts against illegal aliens.
CASA brags about many of these efforts in an ad on the website Somos Baltimore Latino (in Spanish, “We Are Latino Baltimore”). The ad claims CASA has over 10,000 members and urges others to join so they can receive the CASA-issued ID card depicted in the ad. As we’ll see, state offices are allowing illegal immigrants to use this card to register for welfare benefits, apparently in violation of state and federal law.
CASA collaborated with the National Lawyers Guild—a radical group with historic ties to Soviet and Chinese Communists—on the Guild’s Detention Watch National Immigration Project, which issued a brochure explaining how illegal aliens can protect themselves during immigration raids and arrest. Readily available at CASA locations, the brochure observes that “Some people who are not United States citizens have been arrested or detained by the U.S. government. Learn how to protect yourself if this happens to you.”
Aimed at helping people evade the law and avoid deportation, the brochure explains what to do if you are arrested, questioned by police, accused of a crime, if immigration officers come to your home or workplace, or if you are stopped by police on the street. It suggests you carry cards that say things like, “I want to speak to my lawyer.” If you don’t have a lawyer, it says, get one. It suggests you post your lawyer’s phone number in a handy place and keep a copy with you. It instructs you to develop an “action plan” in case of a workplace raid.
Interestingly, all pictures in the brochure depict Hispanic-looking people, and CASA’s publications are only issued in English and Spanish. One is hard pressed to find any interest from CASA in immigrants of other races.
DREAM Act Repeal
During the petition drive to stop Maryland’s DREAM Act, CASA revealed its deep contempt for American democratic processes. CASA and other local left-wing activists—paid and unpaid—shadowed and confronted petitioners in what can only be characterized as a coordinated, quasi-military campaign of threats, interference, and direct confrontation. Behavior reportedly included10
*Screaming racist and obscene epithets in petitioners’ faces
*Blocking interested citizens from approaching petition tables
*Pleading with people not to sign petitions
*Passing out misleading “Think Before You Ink” flyers
*Paid operatives shadowing petition locations and coordinating by phone
*One petitioner even reported being spat at
CASA and other activists also threatened businesses that allowed petitioners to gather signatures on their property. Business owners, fearing a backlash, often caved and asked petitioners to leave.
Over the past year, pro-illegal alien politicians and nonprofits have come out of the woodwork to parade their support for illegals. For example, the Maryland Catholic Conference joined a coalition with unions, CASA, and the Maryland chapter of Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) to defend the DREAM Act. In March, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued an executive order forbidding Baltimore police from checking immigration status. CASA was on hand to celebrate, along with a long list of Democratic politicians hoping to benefit from the immigrant vote.
Rawlings-Blake was definitely not acting on her constituents’ wishes, because 30 percent of those who signed the anti-DREAM Act petition were Democrats, and 80 percent of these Democrats came from Baltimore City.
Rawlings-Blake’s potentially illegal proclamation is only the latest outrage from Maryland regarding illegals. The experience of Paulette Faulkner is another case in point.
Corruption and Abuse in High Places
Between August 2003 and March 2007, Maryland’s Office of Legislative Audits conducted an in-depth audit of the Family Investment Administration, an agency in Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (DHR).11 The audit found glaring problems. Among other things, in 2006 alone approximately 52,000 public assistance recipients had invalid or non-existent Social Security numbers. After these “shortcomings” were identified, the state proposed and implemented “solutions,” assuring citizens the problems had been solved.
Fast forward to 2009.
In that year, Paulette Faulkner, a lifelong Democrat who had been a benefits administrator for most of her professional career, took a job with Montgomery County’s Office of Child Support Enforcement.
Her job was to ensure compliance with child-support laws; so she had to approve all applications for welfare. Applicants are legally required to provide a Social Security card, picture ID, and birth certificates for children. Faulkner found that applicants often appeared with expired visas and no Social Security cards; many only had a CASA-issued ID. She would deny their claims, as required by law.12
These applicants would then turn to Faulkner’s Salvadoran supervisor, who would reverse her decisions. Those cases that weren’t reversed were appealed and later reversed by a judge.
This struck her as very wrong, but no one in her office seemed willing to deal with the problem; so in September 2009 she wrote an e-mail to Gov. Martin O’Malley that concluded:
What I’m confused about is this: how can an illegal immigrant appeal my decision when they are breaking the law by being in this country? Secondly how can they receive State benefits if they are illegal? … Am I aiding and abetting illegal activity? Shouldn’t I be reporting these people to ICE…? I am really concerned because I am a candidate for the Central Democratic Committee in my District … and I want to make sure that I am following the law.
On October 2, Faulkner met with DHR Deputy Secretary Stacy Rodgers, who sits on the Governor’s Council for New Americans, along with CASA de Maryland’s executive director, Gustavo Torres. Rodgers told Faulkner not to contact the governor, adding that it was not her place to call ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and that she must accept any ID with a photo on it. Faulkner asked, “What about a CASA ID with no expiration date?” Rodgers responded that the CASA ID was a proper credential.
Faulkner informed her superiors that she would not aid and abet illegal activity. They accused her of insubordination. On October 22, she was called into Child Support Enforcement Director John Castellano’s office. The director accused her of failing to inform them that she had a website for her Central Committee campaign that listed her office phone. He threatened punitive action. In Faulkner’s words:
I asked Mr. Castellano if this was in relation to me sending the information regarding the applications of illegal immigrants being approved, he said to me ‘well did you think about the repercussions before you did that?’ I told him that it should not be any repercussions because what we were doing was illegal.
The next day her superiors ordered her to explain in writing why she was running for Democratic Central Committee in Prince George’s County. On October 28, Faulkner was asked to resign or be fired. She refused to resign. She says, “I thought it was a joke until they had the attorney in the office escort me out of the building, and they said that they would mail my belongings.”
On November 2, she appealed to the Department of Human Resources. On November 5, she filed a complaint with the Maryland Department of Budget Management for whistleblower retaliation and a complaint with the EEOC.
No Maryland legislator would help. On November 9, Faulkner sent another letter to O’Malley, this time to express her disgust. It read, in part:
This termination was blatant retaliation for me contacting your office… How can you as Governor continue to condone this type of behavior…? Nepotism, racism, and manipulation of power are so prevalent in this agency.… This is wrong, and I should not have been fired. I’m asking you to step in to correct this wrong.
O’Malley did nothing. On November 18, Faulker was denied unemployment benefits. On December 7, she went to the DHR hearing with union representation. Still no relief.
Faulkner was unemployed for a year, during which time she had to declare bankruptcy. She now works as a supervisor for a private health insurance applications processor.
All of these documents can be examined in full on the Citizen’s District blog of former U.S. Senate candidate William Capps.13 Capps was inspired to run by Faulkner’s story, which he broke in January 2010.
Faulkner was interviewed on WCBM Radio’s Sean and Frank Show in June 2012, whose website lets you hear her describe her experience in her own words.14 Besides this report, the only other news outlet to carry Faulkner’s story was the Washington Examiner.15
As a fitting conclusion, the 2010 audit of the Family Investment Administration reported many of the same problems identified in the 2006 audit, including 28,700 fraudulent or non-existent Social Security numbers.16 Not surprisingly, Maryland now ranks second in the nation in food stamp fraud.17
The End Game
With President Obama actively thwarting state efforts against illegal aliens and attempting to create a national DREAM Act by executive order, Democrats are pinning their future on getting illegal immigrants to vote. Sometimes they even admit this. Take Eliseo Medina, for example, honorary chair of the Democratic Socialists of America and International Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In 2008, he spoke at a “Take Back America” conference sponsored by the radical left-wing Campaign for America’s Future:
If we reform the immigration laws, it puts 12 million people on the path to citizenship and eventually voters. Can you imagine if we have … even two out of three, if we get 8 million new voters … we will create a governing coalition for the long term, not just for an election cycle.
Medina was the guest of honor at an event heralding CASA’s 25-year anniversary:
“‘I’ve started to lobby [CASA director] Gustavo [Torres],’ Medina says. ’Are you just a CASA of Maryland? How about a CASA of the East? A CASA of the United States?’”
CASA de Maryland has enormous influence in state politics. But it also has disproportionate influence at the White House through its two former CASA board members, the current Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Thomas Perez, and Cecilia Muñoz, director of the President’s Domestic Policy Council. Maryland is a secure base of operations for field-testing a new kind of community organization. In discussing his New Americans Initiative,18 which aims to persuade hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants in the D.C. area to naturalize and so become eligible to vote, CASA director Gustavo Torres recently declared, “My goal is to build 200,000 members in the next five years,” and someday “build a powerful … movement of immigrants and other minorities including the African American community to fight for justice—and they decide what justice means” (emphasis added).19
In other words, CASA wants to become the illegal immigrants’ ACORN—an all-purpose agitation machine that helps clients to skirt the laws that govern things like voter registration and welfare benefits. And in fact, as we’ll see, Torres has ties to ACORN founder Wade Rathke.
Gustavo Torres has enjoyed a meteoric rise since his arrival stateside in 1991. Starting as a CASA organizer that year, he became executive director in 1994. A 2001 awardee of the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for a Changing World, he has also received the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Family Strengthening award. Under his leadership, CASA has received the Institute for Policy Studies’ Letelier-Moffitt award (2003), the National Council of La Raza’s Affiliate of the Year award (2004), and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund Community Service award (2006).
Torres has connections to the Obama administration and has visited the White House. He was co-chair of Governor O’Malley’s transition team, serves on O’Malley’s Council for New Americans where they meet regularly behind closed doors, and has many friends in both the state legislature and the Montgomery County government. His current wife, Sonia Mora, works for Montgomery County and serves on the governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
For years, the only information publicly available about Torres was an abbreviated bio on the CASA website and a few Washington Post articles that parroted that information. He apparently fled Colombia in 1987, where his brother was killed a few months later by “paramilitary forces,” which he implies was a case of mistaken identity. He went to Nicaragua or El Salvador, depending on the version of the story being told, and came to the United States four years later.
None of CASA’s early leaders were willing to discuss him.20
This writer attempted to interview him—for three months. I finally obtained an interview date but the morning of the interview, they cancelled. They assured us they would reschedule. Over the ensuing months, requests were met with delays, apologies, or simply unreturned calls.
CASA’s community organizer, Kim Propeack, the same person who oversaw CASA’s effort to suppress the DREAM Act petition drive, finally informed me via email that “Mr. Torres is very busy and while he makes himself available for many interviews, we must prioritize them based on size of readership. In light of that, we have decided that your outlets are not a priority.”
On July 14, 2011, the Washington Post published an obsequious profile of Torres by reporter David Montgomery. It gave the first detailed account of his life prior to coming here.21 Torres supposedly grew up in Medellin, Colombia. Between 1987 and 1991, he worked for a Sandinista newspaper in Nicaragua and presumably supported the Sandinistas’ revolution, which was modeled on the communist revolution of their close ally, Cuba.
He came to the United States with a woman he met in Nicaragua, and they married here. He obtained U.S. citizenship in 1995 and divorced his wife in 1996. Prior to the Post article, he went to great lengths to keep a low profile. His Facebook page22 provides little information, not even his marital status. But his Facebook “friends,” however, make clear this is Torres. Among them are CASA de Maryland, friendly Maryland legislators, and significantly, ACORN founder Wade Rathke.
Torres’s Politics—No Mystery
Torres has organized public rallies and functions with the Communist Party USA,23 Free the Cuban Five Committee (a Cuban communist front group demanding release of convicted Cuban spies),24 FMLN (D.C. branch), CISPES, and a litany of other communist, socialist, and radical leftist groups and individuals.
In 2007, Torres participated in a conference in Venezuela debating prospects for communist revolution in America. Torres was joined by such luminaries as Ward Churchill, the fake “Native American” college professor fired for comparing 9-11 victims to “Little Eichmanns”; Dada Maheshvarananda, founder of the radical Prout Institute; representatives from the Socialist Workers Party; the Black Panther Party; and many others.25
According to a report in The Militant, a “socialist newsweekly,” Torres emphasized the importance of securing the Hispanic vote:
“Both Torres and Antonio González, president of the Southwest Voter Education and Registration Project, said the road to ‘empowerment’ is organizing Latinos to vote. ‘What does a revolutionary do in the U.S. today?’ asked González. ‘Take power wherever you can’ by electing Latinos to city, state, and federal offices.”
Torres also serves on the board of directors of Organizers’ Forum, a group created by self-described Community Organizer-in-Chief Wade Rathke, the founder of ACORN. Torres’s fellow board members represent America’s radical left, including the Gamaliel Foundation, DART (Direct Action Research Training), and Drummond Pike, founder of the Tides Foundation.
Torres’s Attitude—No Mystery
Reporting on the 2009 May Day rallies that occurred all over the United States, the Socialist Worker quotes Torres, the leader of D.C.’s rally: “Emcee Gustavo Torres stressed that ‘Obama is our president not our savior,’ arguing that only struggle will win broad legalization for the undocumented” (emphasis added).26
When volunteers from the anti-illegal immigration Minutemen movement began monitoring CASA’s day labor centers for illegals, Torres told local reporters he would respond harshly:
We are going to target them in a specific way.… Casa representatives will go out with cameras and video cameras to record the Minutemen, but that will only be the first step. Then we are going to picket their houses, and the schools of their kids, and go to their work. If they are going to do this to us, we are going to respond in the same way, to let people know their neighbors are extremists, that they are anti-immigrant. They are going to hear from us.27
Similarly, Torres participated in a large demonstration on the eve of the congressional vote on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill in 2006. CISPES quoted him: “if they don’t pay attention to us now, the next step is civil disobedience.”28
Given that many of those fleeing El Salvador in the 1980s were communist guerrillas and FMLN supporters, it is not surprising that at least one of them should now be working for CASA. This past March, CASA representative Lindolfo Carballo spoke at a “Bring the War Dollars Home” conference sponsored by Fund Our Communities. Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin also spoke at this event.
In a video of the event, Carballo admits that he fought against both the Salvadoran Army and U.S. forces, and he concludes by comparing the plight of illegal immigrants today with that of African slaves in nineteenth-century America.29 Carballo now works in CASA’s Department of Community Organizing as lead organizer for Prince George’s County.
In 2010 CASA received $12.3 million in grants and donations, about $5 million of which came from government contracts, according to its tax return.30 The rest came from corporations and charitable organizations. The figures are incomplete. Unsurprisingly, CASA was of little help on that score.
Still, much can be learned from the information that is available. United Way of Central Maryland supports CASA (it also funded ACORN, as its 2008 tax return reveals31). Venezuela’s state-owned CITGO is the vehicle Marxist strongman Hugo Chavez uses to fund friends around the world. CASA received $1.5 million, spread over three years, from the company. The Ford Foundation gave almost as much as Chavez, providing $1.2 million over three years.
More than 40 percent of CASA’s revenue comes directly from government. More tax dollars come indirectly through non-profits like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development which also receive much of their funding from government. Official tallies therefore underestimate the actual level of CASA’s taxpayer support. Finally, the Combined Federal Campaign, which collects hundreds of millions from the paychecks of federal employees every year, has sent money to CASA. Since taxes pay government salaries, those are your tax dollars at work too.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) has asked Maryland and the IRS to review CASA’s tax-exempt status because the group is involved in political advocacy and has endorsed candidates for political offices. “IRLI wants the IRS and state agencies to cut off CASA’s source of tax-exempt money and state funding, so it can’t use taxpayer money for political purposes,” IRLI staff attorney Monique A. Miles said. “CASA thinks it’s too big and well-connected to fail, like ACORN did.”32
CASA de Maryland is a case study in the corrosive effects of political corruption. Its history reveals it to be friendly to America’s enemies, even as it is hostile to the nation’s rule of law. But perhaps the most culpable persons in the drama are those politicians who would use CASA de Maryland and similar groups just to gain a few more votes in the next election.
James Simpson is an economist, businessman and freelance writer. His writings have been published in Accuracy in Media, American Thinker, Big Government, Washington Times, WorldNetDaily, FrontPage Magazine, Soldier of Fortune, and elsewhere.
1 David Sherfinski, Report: Md., Va. among tops in illegal immigrant population, Washington Examiner, February 1, 2011, (http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/virginia/2011/02/report-md-va-among-tops-illegal-immigrant-population).
2 Jack Martin & Eric A. Ruark, The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers, Federation for American Immigration Reform, July 2010. Estimates were derived from figures supplied by the state. (http://www.fairus.org/site/DocServer/USCostStudy_2010.pdf?docID=4921).
3 Phone interview, June 14, 2011.
4 Hilary Cunningham, God and Caesar at the Rio Grande: Sanctuary and the Politics of Religion (University of Minnesota Press, 1995), p. 64.
5 Renny Golden and Michael McConnell, Sanctuary: The New Underground Railroad (Orbis Books, 1987), p. 53.
7 Cunningham, p. 64.
8 Phone conversation with TPPC Reverend Mark Greiner, July 11, 2011.
12 Phone interview, June 12, 2011.
20 Bette Hoover stated flatly, “If you want to know anything about Gustavo, you will have to ask him yourself.” Phone interview, June 14, 2011.