Casa leader backs off call to picket schools of Minutemen’s children

Remarks were directed in response to group’s surveillance of day laborers

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The head of an immigrant advocacy organization said his threat to picket local schools attended by children of members of a group targeting illegal immigrants was a ‘‘misunderstanding” that was made in anger.

In a letter circulated Feb. 28 among a number of local community groups, government offices and also forwarded to The Gazette, Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa of Maryland, retreated from a statement he made the week before.

In response to the formation of a state chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, Torres had said his organization would picket the schools of the Minutemen’s children in an effort to expose the group’s ‘‘extremist” views.

‘‘We are going to target them in a specific way,” Torres said in the Feb. 22 Gazette. ‘‘... Then we are going to picket their houses, and the schools of their kids, and go to their work.”

The Minutemen organized in the Washington, D.C., area recently to protest the use of public money for a day laborer pick-up site in Herndon, Va., and because of several similar centers in Montgomery County, the group established its Maryland chapter last month.

The group videotapes and photographs contractors who hire day laborers, primarily Hispanic men, and then gives information regarding the contractors who are allegedly hiring illegal aliens to law enforcement for further action.

Casa plans to photograph the Minutemen while they photograph day laborers as part of an effort to bring attention to the Minutemen.

‘‘We have no intention of making those who practice the politics of fear and hate feel welcome in the Washington region,” Torres wrote Feb. 28.

However, he added, ‘‘We will picket and protest their actions, but under no circumstances will we engage in any civil disobedience directed at their children or their children’s schools. I regret any misunderstanding my comments may have caused and wanted to immediately clarify Casa’s position on this matter.”

Torres was not available for comment by deadline Tuesday, but in an e-mail to The Gazette Feb. 28, he said the remarks about picketing schools were made out of anger.

The Minutemen’s national headquarters in Arizona issued a press release the day after Torres’ original remarks were published, calling on local governments to stop funding Casa of Maryland because of the threat. The local chapter issued its own press release Thursday, specifically calling on Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and the County Council to cut off funding to Casa.

‘‘The threat shows an intent and it shows their mentality, and it shows them for what they are,” said Steven Schreiman, president of the Maryland chapter of the Minutemen. ‘‘They’re a bunch of thugs and bullies and they have a political agenda and they want to push that agenda regardless of the costs or consequences. Furthermore, they’ve threatened to go after us at our homes and our places of business, which is harassment.”

Schreiman said that he realizes some of Casa’s programs provide help in the community, ‘‘But just because they do some good doesn’t negate the criminality. I know that Casa does some good, that they have some good programs, but that doesn’t excuse them from breaking the law.”