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Seattle's Casa Latina offers immigrant laborers work, education, safe space

KOMO photo

SEATTLE - The threat of detention and deportation has become a reality for many immigrants living in Western Washington. But one local advocacy group, Casa Latina, is helping ease those fears by helping day laborers find work and survive.

At 7 a.m. the raffle begins at Casa Latina in Seattle. The names are drawn and employment is the prize. Six days a week, about 50 day laborers gather hoping to hear their name. Names, I.D. numbers, skills, the level of English - it all goes up on the white board.

"That's one way of keeping it fair so that every day, everyone has an equal chance - based upon that lottery - of going out for work that day," said Chris Megargee, development and communications director of Casa Latina.

Casa Latina, a nonprofit, provides education and work placement opportunities for Latino immigrants, according to directors.

Soon after the raffle starts, several calls come into the center for an employee to fill a job.

"It's saying that. there's yard work available, cleaning some blackberries from the back yard," said Megargee.

Casa Latina dispatches several employees to various jobs and job sites.

On this day, Juan Diaz is one of the lucky ones. He meets employer Mack Hall at Casa Latina. Hall needs some extra help with his yard. After they are matched up together at the center, they head off to Hall's home in Mercer Island.

"We're digging holes. We're planting shrubs," said Hall.

Hall has been hiring workers for decades from Casa Latina.

"They're reliable," said Hall.

Diaz, a gardener from Guatemala, says Casa Latina brings dignity and order to finding work.

"Me gusta muchisimo porque Casa Latina es ordenar para todo," said Diaz.

He says it's better than standing in front of your average big box hardware store hoping for work. Many believe it is a system that works. Supporters say that employers get a skilled worker and workers get a fair wage.

"It's a wage they have decided to set for themselves. It's a good wage - $19 an hour up to $23 an hour. They keep all those wages," said Megargee.

But more important than money, some say Casa Latina is a safe space - especially in the current political climate.

There's a sign posted on the front door of the day worker center. It says I.C.E. agents cannot show up without prior authorization.

"Right now, there is a lot of fear, a lot of sense in the immigrant community that people don't want them here," said Megargee.

While Casa Latina screens workers for a criminal history, they don't ask workers if they are documented or undocumented.

"We know a lot of workers are working in this informal economy because they are undocumented, because they can't access opportunities in the formal sector," said Megargee.

For those who don't find work on any given day, there many other opportunities available at Casa Latina.

Fernando Gutierrez, a window washer and painter and a longtime member of Casa Latina, says workers can take advantage of classes.

"That's what I like about this program. There is always something to do. If you don't work, you have the opportunity to study English, computer skills," said Gutierrez.

And while the work can be hard, workers say Casa Latina brings hope.

"A lot of them are refugees and this is a better hope for themselves and for their families," said Megargee.

And, it means a better future, said Diaz.

Casa Latina says it has helped put thousands of people to work over nearly two decades. Last year alone, it dispatched employees to about 8,000 jobs.

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For more information on Casa Latina, go to http://casa-latina.org/

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