734 University Blvd. E.
Silver Spring, MD
Founded in 1985, the Central American Solidarity Association of Maryland (CASA de Maryland) says it was “created in response to the human needs of the thousands of Central Americans arriving to the D.C. area after fleeing wars and civil strife in their countries of origin.” CASA's original headquarters were located in the basement of the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, where the organization provided clothing, food, immigration assistance, and English instruction to new immigrant arrivals.
With the growth of the local immigrant population (both legal and illegal), CASA expanded its enterprise. In 1993, Maryland's Montgomery County gave CASA the funding and office space it needed in order to open its first Center for Employment and Training. Since then, CASA has become the largest Latino immigrant-advocacy organization in Maryland. It now operates five day-laborer centers statewide where men seeking work can congregate, without fear of being asked about their immigration status, and wait for an employer to hire them for the day. Well aware that a large percentage of the day laborers who use these centers are in the U.S. illegally, CASA in 2006 acknowledged that if Congress were to pass HR4437 – legislation designed to criminalize the act of employing or aiding an illegal alien – the organization's day-laborer centers would be forced to close. In addition to those facilities, CASA also runs a community education center, a vocational training school, and a 20,000 square-foot multicultural center whose construction was bankrolled by at least $2 million in state-taxpayer money.
CASA has established a number of departments and initiatives on behalf of Maryland immigrants, both legal and illegal:
CASA aggressively lobbies legislators to vote in favor of policies that promote expanded rights, including amnesty, for illegal aliens currently residing in the United States. Toward that end, CASA serves as a host organization of the Maryland New Americans Partnership (MNAP), an Americorps-affiliated coalition “committed to supporting eligible immigrants in their efforts to become U.S. citizens.”
Periodically, CASA sponsors “know your rights” training sessions to teach illegal aliens how to evade punishment in the event that they are apprehended in an immigration raid. To supplement these trainings, CASA in 2007 produced – in conjunction with the Detention Watch Network and the National Lawyer's Guild – a “know your rights” pamphlet titled Protect Yourself from Immigration Raids. According to journalist Jerry Seper, this publication “features cartoonlike drawings of armed black and white police officers escorting Hispanic men in handcuffs and shows babies crying because their fathers are behind bars.” Included in the pamphlet is a "Know Your Rights" card, which – bearing the message that the cardholder will refuse to answer any immigration-related questions unless his or her attorney is present – can be presented to arresting agents.
In an effort to “educat[e] the broader public about immigration raids and their impact on families and communities,” CASA calls for “media coverage that puts a human face on the raids and highlights the use of raids as a result of the failure of comprehensive immigration reform.” The organization also provides legal assistance and counseling for “victims of raids and their families,” and pressures local officials “to put an end to raids in their communities.”
In addition, CASA opposes the enforcement of deportation orders for illegals; favors the granting of driver’s licenses to illegals; supports in-state tuition discounts for illegal-alien college students; opposed an effort in Maryland to calculate illegal immigration's aggregate costs to state taxpayers; and opposed a proposal to purge illegal aliens' names from the voting rolls.
In early 2006, CASA executive director Gustavo Torres denounced a local unit of The Minuteman Project, an anti-illegal immigration group whose Maryland chapter had been informing law-enforcement authorities about local contractors guilty of hiring illegal day laborers. Castigating the Minutemen for practicing “the politics of fear and hate,” Torres stated: "We are going to … picket their houses, and the schools of their kids, and go to their work[places] ... to let people know their neighbors are extremists, that they are anti-immigrant." At a "Revolution in the U.S." conference in socialist Venezuela the following year, Torres sat on a panel that analyzed the character of America's working class and the prospects for transformative revolution in the United States. One fellow panel member was University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill.
Among CASA's most notable former board members is Thomas Perez, whom President Barack Obama appointed as Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in 2009.
Over the years, CASA has received large amounts of funding from The United Way, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and George Soros' Open Society Institute, which in 2001 gave CASA a grant of $308,000 “to extend its community law, advocacy and organizing activities to day and temporary laborers from Baltimore's growing Latino community.” Moreover, CITGO, the state-owned petroleum corporation based in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, gives CASA approximately $1 million per year. Another $4 million in public funding flows into CASA's coffers from Montgomery County and the state of Maryland.
CASA received the Institute for Policy Studies’ “Letelier-Moffit Domestic Human Rights Award” in 2003; the the National Council of La Raza’s “Affiliate of the Year” Award in 2004; the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Families Count!” Award in 2005; and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s “Community Service Award” in 2006.
In 2008, CASA organized a May Day demonstration that included contingents from the American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party.
CASA strongly supports the so-called Cuban Five, a group of Cuban spies currently incarcerated in U.S. federal prison for offenses that include espionage against American military installations in Florida.
Gustavo Torres has served as CASA's executive director since 1993, two years before he became a U.S. citizen. Torres left his native Colombia in the 1980s to support the Marxist-Leninist Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. While working there as a Sandinista journalist, met his first wife, an American Sandinista sympathizer and “advocate for reproductive health.” In 2007 Torres traveled to Venezuela to speak at a Hugo Chávez-funded conference on “revolution” in Latin America.