Right-wing media are furthering attacks on possible Labor secretary nominee Thomas Perez by demonizing an immigrants' rights organization he was involved with. But CASA is a respected Latino advocacy organization whose work helping immigrants has won a multitude of awards for outstanding community service.
The Associated Press reported on March 9 that President Obama is likely to nominate Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, to serve as the next Labor secretary. His possible nomination has set off a series of attacks from right-wing media, including Fox News, which has accused him of working with "hardcore Islamist groups" and tried to discredit him by invoking the manufactured scandal over the Justice Department's New Black Panthers intimidation case.
In a syndicated column peppered with slurs such as "illegal alien," Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin attacked Perez by smearing CASA, the organization where Perez served first as a volunteer then as board president in 2002, as a "notorious illegal-alien advocacy group:
During the Clinton years, Perez worked at the Justice Department to establish a "Worker Exploitation Task Force" to enhance working conditions for ... illegal-alien workers. While holding down his government position, Perez volunteered for Casa de Maryland. This notorious illegal-alien advocacy group is funded through a combination of taxpayer-subsidized grants (totaling $5 million in 2010 alone from Maryland and local governments) and radical-liberal philanthropy, including billionaire George Soros's Open Society Institute.
That's in addition to more than $1 million showered on the group by freshly departed Venezuelan thug Hugo Chávez's regime-owned oil company, Citgo.
Malkin went on to claim that CASA "opposes enforcement of deportation orders, has protested post-9/11 coordination of local, state, and national criminal databases, and produced a 'know your rights' propaganda pamphlet for illegal aliens that depicted federal immigration agents as armed bullies making babies cry."
Human Events highlighted Malkin's column under "editor's choice" but used the headline, "Obama's Nominee For Secretary Of (Illegal Alien) Labor."
The Washington Times also went after Perez through CASA. In an article headlined, "Thomas Perez' pro-immigrant past links to George Soros agenda," the Times wrote that Perez "was a board member of Casa de Maryland, an advocacy group for illegal aliens funded by George Soros and the recently deceased Hugo Chavez."
In fact, CASA (previously the Central American Solidarity and Assistance), which has been dubbed "one of the most influential immigrant advocacy organizations in the country," is a community organization that was founded to help refugees from Central America settle in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Since then, its advocacy work has expanded to offer a multitude of legal and social services -- namely jobs training and placement, English language instruction, health education and testing, citizenship services, and housing assistance -- to low-income women, workers, and tenants, regardless of legal status.
As news website TBD (now wjla.com) reported in a 2010 article about the group following a similar charge, "None of the advice it provides involves breaking the law":
Casa de Maryland provides services to Latino immigrants in the state, and is best known for the day laborer centers it operates in the Washington suburbs and in Baltimore. It also provides legal advice, offers various classes and generally helps immigrants make their way through American society. The group doesn't discriminate based on legal status.
The pamphlet [Bob] Ehrlich mentions is entitled "Know Your Rights." It's eight pages long and illustrated with cartoon pictures of immigrants and law enforcement officers.
It provides advice to illegal immigrants on what to do if they are questioned by immigration officials, or if immigration officials raid their house or workplace.
None of the advice it provides involves breaking the law, however. It doesn't tell illegal immigrants how to hide from law enforcement. It doesn't give them advice on how to sneak across the border. It doesn't tell them how to create fake documentation.
"Know Your Rights" does outline the rights of an illegal immigrant -- or anyone else arrested by law enforcement in this country-- including the right to an attorney, the right to not have your home or business searched without a warrant and the right to remain silent. It's a written version of the Miranda speech.
In a 2011 profile of executive director Gustavo Torres, the Washington Post explained the group's mission this way: "Transforming poor immigrants into job holders into English students into advocates on their own behalf -- that's what it's all about." The article quoted Torres as saying:
"My goal is to build 200,000 members in the next five years," he says, in his small office, a converted servant's bedroom in the mansion. Someday, he plans to "build a powerful ... movement of immigrants and other minorities including the African American community to fight for justice -- and they decide what justice means."
Contrary to Malkin's suggestion, CASA is not an extremist organization -- the group has received state and local funding from Maryland for years, including under budgets approved during Republican leadership. And in addition to having been funded by organizations affiliated with George Soros -- conservative media's bogeyman -- CASA has also received funding from numerous businesses and foundations, from Capital One and Verizon to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
The organization, which has been honored for its outstanding work in Maryland, is also part of an AmeriCorps project committed to helping immigrants become U.S. citizens and later active members of their communities.
Like Perez, Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council is an alum of CASA's board. She faced similar criticism in January 2012 when she was appointed to her post by Obama. At the time, right-wing media used her work at the National Council of La Raza to likewise demonize NCLR as an "open-border and amnesty group."