Building Community

Building Power


“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

— Lila Watson

Since 1985, CASA has been committed to standing in solidarity with our immigrant, Latino, and working class members and building power in our communities. In 2019, we had to call on that power, more than ever, as our rights, our dignity, and our lives were under attack. Whether it was fighting in the courts, where we WON crucial victories in favor of DACA recipientsTPS holders, and Central American Minors, or rallying to bring people together around housing justice and police reform, the CASA community proudly stood shoulder to shoulder and held the line for justice in 2019.

Protecting Our Communities

The core of our community organizing has always been coming together for the common defense of our rights, so it was only natural that policing was front of mind for so many of our members this year. Police are employed to protect and serve our communities, not to enforce federal immigration policies. This year brought increased pressure from ICE and the federal government pushing to “deputize” our community’s police officers — either formally through 287(g) agreements, or informally — and stoking racist, xenophobic fear of immigrants in the public in an effort to pressure politicans and police to cooperate.

So, we went to work. CASA rallied members and allies for TRUST campaigns in localities across Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, winning crucial victories in Montgomery County, Maryland and Baltimore City and making significant progress towards what looks to soon be a successful campaign in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The importance of these TRUST acts in rebuilding the trust between the CASA communities and the police cannot be overstated.

In Virginia’s most populous county, Fairfax, CASA’s advocacy with local government officials won a victory in the form of a new “Universal Representation” pilot program.While American citizens are guaranteed the right to counsel in court, our current system provides no such protections for immigrants facing deportation proceedings, and the results are people with limited understanding of their rights and the legal system due to language barriers in unfamiliarity with the US judicial and political landscape being forced to defend themselves in court. In the most extreme cases have seen literal toddlers serving as their own counsel in legal proceedings. That’s why CASA members were thrilled to win the support of the Fairfax County government to pilot a universal representation program which guarantees anyone facing immigration court proceedings in Fairfax County will have a qualified attorney to represent them. In 2020, CASA will push to not only expand this program and make it permanent in Fairfax County, but will also push to make this program a statewide policy not only in Virginia, but everywhere CASA works, and eventually, nationwide.

We also achieved statewide victory in Pennsylvania thanks to the multi-year dedication and activism of our Pennsylvania members and partners. When CASA and others noticed a large increase in deportations in Pennsylvania in 2016 and 2017, we realized a great deal of these deportation cases originated with traffic stops from State Police. For many immigrants, the combination of a need to drive and an inability to do so legally created an unsustainably perilous situation for Pennsylvania immigrants. In many situations, State Police were calling in ICE to pick people up from the side of the road during traffic stops and take them to immigrant detention facilities. Thanks to the tireless dedication of CASA members and organizers in Pennsylvania and strong relationships with Gov. Wolf’s office and other key state leaders, we won a significant victory in the form of a statewide TRUST act with PA State Police.

While these victories are critical, preventing police from cooperating with ICE isn’t enough to rebuild trust between people and communities and local police forces. That’s why in 2019, CASA continued our successful work on police accountability.

Protecting, Serving, and Leading

In late 2019, thanks to the relationships built through years of work on police accountability, Baltimore youth organizers were able to build on CASA’s previous work and convince police leaders to focus their attention on Baltimore City Police Department’s (BPD) interactions with youth. Now, more than ever, the lack of trust and fear can be seen clearly among youth in the city and expectations of negative interactions make the entire community less safe and risks fostering mistrust in an entire generation. After productive conversations led by CASA youth leaders, highlighting the lack of a formal policy relating to use of force with minors, the BPD agreed to formalize a policy, which creates fair and equitable protections for police interacting with youth. This marked yet another important step in ongoing police accountability work in Baltimore City and across all CASA communities.

Tensions between community and police have been similarly high in Prince George’s County, MD. Beginning in late 2018 and continuing through 2019, CASA met with members, county officials, and allies as part of a “Racial Equity in Policing” coalition. While the initial focus of this group was preventing police collaboration with ICE, we broadened our fight to focus on county legislation that would mandate body cameras on police officers. This coalition, made up of victims and family members who have suffered police abuse (which includes police collaboration with ICE), organizations dedicated to criminal justice reform, elected municipal leaders, and pastor, will continue to meet and increase its demands for a policing system more dedicated to equity and public safety.

In November, CASA joined with a group of community activists for a town hall to address this issue. While the fight for police accountability will continue into 2020 and beyond, CASA and allies did achieve a significant victory in late 2019 when the Prince George’s County Council passed “An Act for Community Inclusiveness” (Trust Act) which prohibits PGPD officers from enforcing civil immigration laws; allows all residents, regardless of immigration status, to access county benefits; and prevents the county from asking immigration-related questions unless mandated by federal law, state law, or court order.

No Detention Centers, No Detainees

CASA’s fight against immigrant detention facilities has been at the forefront of our work for several years. In 2019 we embarked on a critical battle, attempting to break the long stalemate in our campaign against the immigrant detention facility in Berks County, PA. With no forward progress, CASA members changed their approach to a new strategy with a very clear message.

The strategy: going to the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office to advocate for a full investigation into the conditions at the facility.

The message: no detention centers in our community, not on our watch.

At the same time, we continued our relentless pressure, leveraging people power and our amazing allies to fight this center and others like it in Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC, and across the country. In July, we partnered with activists across the nation to join in the Lights for Liberty event, fighting back against the Berks family detention facility and all immigrant detention facilities. But this event was not just in Berks County – CASA participated in 9 concurrent events, with 2 in Pennsylvania, 1 in Washington D.C., 2 in Virginia, and 4 in Maryland.

Within months of meeting with the Auditor General and CASA rallying its members and allies, the pressure for justice and compelling stories convinced Pennsylvania Auditor General to launch a full investigation of the project. The report was released by the Auditor General’s office in late 2019 and is a blistering statement against immigrant detention in this facility. The next step for CASA members and organizers is to continue this fight into 2020, using this new report as leverage to push the government into further action to close the center for good.

Courtroom Victories

The Trump administration’s hostility to immigrants seems to know no bounds, and 2019 saw the administration continue to undermine the rights and dignity of our members, putting the full weight of the federal government behind programs designed to cruelly rip our families apart with detention and deportation.

CASA will never give up. We can’t. Not with so much at stake.

Along with our partners, CASA’s legal team challenged the Trump administration bringing legal action on behalf of immigrants around the country, while our organizing and communications teams worked tirelessly to build broader public support for these issues and demonstrate to the courts just how much is at stake in these decisions. In 2019 — CASA was a named plaintiff or co-counsel in five National Lawsuits combating anti-immigrant Trump administration policies.

One of the most critical efforts related to these suits is fighting to protect Temporary Protected Status. The Washington D.C. metro-area, the core of CASA’s 3-state service area, is home to a higher density of TPS holders than any other area in the country — over 40,000 Salvadoran TPS holders (and their approximately 30,000 children) live in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, and CASA has joined allies around the country to fight inside and outside the courtroom to protect the TPS program. The fight will continue well into 2020, but we won an important victory in 2019, which affirmed CASA’s right to bring this lawsuit against the government on behalf of its members.

But that wasn’t CASA’s only 2019 courtroom victory:

  • We fought and WON in the US Supreme Court when the administration tried to use the upcoming 2020 census to stoke fear and erase our communities by adding a citizenship question to the census. This resounding victory would not have happened without the courage of 3 of our own members who by agreeing to launch the lawsuit and personally sharing their own stories, placed themselves at significant risk and danger. In 2019 and into 2020, CASA is investing in a “Get Out the Count” program across our entire footprint to ensure our voices are heard and our communities are recognized.

  • We fought and WON a critical decision in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that affirmed the Trump administration’s attempt to cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was unlawful, which preserved the program and allowed DACAmented youth to continue studying and working in the US. While we await a Supreme Court decision likely to be announced in the Spring of 2020 which will ultimately decide the fate of DACA, CASA’s court victory in the 4th Circuit was vital in the fight to sustain the program and provide DREAMERS relief from the disastrous possible consequences of an end to DACA. As one of the region’s largest DACA service providers, CASA will continue its fight for and services to our DACA population well after the pending SCOTUS decision.

  • We fought and WON a resounding court victory in April, which benefited over 2,700 children from Central America who had been previously approved to enter the US under the Obama-era Central American Minors (CAM) program, but denied entry by the Trump administration. CASA,who had initially helped hundreds of families apply for the program, partnered with the International Refugees Assistance Project (IRAP) on its successful lawsuit that eventually forced the government into a negotiated settlement that will now allow these 2,700 children of TPS holders to reunite with their families in the US.

  • We fought and WON in October a temporary injunction against the implementation of the administration’s arbitrary and capricious “public charge” rule. Although the nationwide injunction has since been struck down by a dangerously conservative Supreme Court, CASA continues the legal fight on the merits of the case against Public Charge in both Federal District Court as well as the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the outcome of which may still reverse this so called rule. The fear and confusion stemming from full implementation of the rule may prevent immigrants who are perfectly eligible to receive health, housing or economic assistance from the government from ever even applying for these benefits in their time of need. That is why from the time the rule was first announced, until the last legal remedy is expended, CASA and its members will continue to fight this heinous policy.