NOVEMBER 21, 2011
One of the many community groups that receive large amounts of U.S. taxpayer dollars to represent the interests of illegal immigrant farm workers is under federal investigation for misusing government grants.
That public money goes to these types of nonprofits in the first place is outrageous enough. In this particular case, the group, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), actually got nearly $7 million from Uncle Sam after Congress already knew about the wrongdoing. The CRLA has been embroiled in a four-year federal probe accusing it of illegal political activism and misplaced priorities.
The CRLA focuses on broad-based, politically impacting litigation and neglects underserved populations by dedicating itself to farm worker and Latino issues, the feds say. In 2005 Congress reported the allegations to the Legal Services Corporation Office of Inspector General, which has been looking into the matter all these years. This hasn’t stopped the flow of taxpayer dollars, however. A year after the allegations were reported by Congress the CRLA got $6.8 million from American taxpayers.
Not surprisingly, the CRLA has refused to let investigators access relevant materials to properly conduct the probe, asserting attorney-client privilege. Even with the scarce and heavily redacted files it got, the inspector general determined that there was evidence the CRLA violated federal law by soliciting clients, working a fee-generating case and participating in political activities. To obtain the real juicy stuff, the inspector general subpoenaed the files in their entirety.
A federal judge in Washington D.C. recently ordered the group to release the records, ruling that the “information requested is reasonably relevant to a legitimate lawful purpose.” Furthermore, the judge wrote in his 37-page decision that …“the demand is reasonable and not unduly burdensome” as the CRLA had claimed in its effort to conceal the information.
The CRLA describes itself as a nationally recognized leader in farm worker and migrant services provision through community outreach, educational training and direct legal service. A team of premiere public interest attorneys and dedicated community workers handle cases pro bono, the group says. Its mission statement is to fight for justice and individual rights alongside society’s most exploited communities. The CRLA has 21 offices, many in rural communities from the Mexican border to Northern California.
President Jose Padilla says he strives for “economic justice and human rights” for California’s rural poor. His community organization’s work has touched the lives of millions of low-income individuals and improved conditions for farm workers, new immigrants, single parents and entire communities among others.
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