The fight over CASA Latina's relocation to 17th Avenue South and South Jackson Street got even uglier this week when Judicial Watch, a right-wing group instrumental in the 2004 attacks on John Kerry's war record—among other things—entered the fray.
Last May, a 16-member neighborhood committee was assembled to work out a Good Neighbor Agreement with CASA Latina after area residents became concerned the immigrant-worker center might bring trouble to the area.
The committee struggled to reach an agreement and several members and neighbors—opposed to CASA Latina's relocation to their neighborhood—called in the cavalry, in the form of Judicial Watch. Neighborhood resident and committee fill-in Alfred Shiga said he is concerned about a potential increase in crime in the neighborhood. "The government has a duty to uphold [immigration] law," he said. Shiga also noted, contradictorily, that "work should be done to change the law."
The Washington, D.C.–based Judicial Watch—which previously provided legal support for a Pennsylvania town's attempts to penalize illegal immigrants' landlords and employers, and successfully shut down an immigrant-worker center in Herndon, Virginia—has already fired off a vaguely threatening letter requesting the city immediately cease funding CASA Latina, claiming the city is paying for a program that encourages illegal immigration. "For the city to use taxpayer resources in this manner is akin to the city operating its own 'red light' district or illegal drug market," the letter says.
Given such inflammatory rhetoric, Judicial Watch seems an odd player in what's supposed to be a mediation process. CASA Latina bowed out of a community meeting on September 24 in protest of Judicial Watch's presence. Regardless, Christopher Farrell—Judicial Watch's all-business, pinstriped director of investigations—was there, he says, without being paid.
At the meeting, Farrell presented the argument against CASA Latina to a large crowd, which included South Seattle superliberal senator Adam Kline and reps for Senator Maria Cantwell and King County Council Member Larry Gossett, at the Douglass-Truth Library in the Central District. Farrell's argument was all over the map, initially claiming programs like CASA Latina's lead to worker abuses, before asking the audience, "What other laws don't you want to follow?" Finally, Farrell went after neighbors' fears about decreased property values.
The city, which has contributed $250,000 to CASA Latina's move and also contributes about $141,000 to the organization annually, defends CASA Latina as a worthwhile organization that helps "people support themselves and their families" and seems prepared to take Judicial Watch on. The city attorney's office responded to Judicial Watch on September 25, attacking their "thinly veiled campaign of press releases, scare tactics, and threats of frivolous lawsuits," and firmly stating that Judicial Watch's "efforts to bully the city into withdrawing financial support from a worthy social service... will not work."
Hilary Stern, director of CASA Latina, says they're in full compliance with labor laws.