One day before the launch of early voting, hundreds of Border Interfaith and EPISO leaders assembled to challenge candidates for Mayor, City Council and the Board of Trustees for El Paso and Ysleta School Board around the issues most impacting residents’ daily lives.
Specifically, leaders asked candidates to commit to: on-time completion of specific infrastructure projects, opposition to statewide anti-immigrant legislation, and funding for Project ARRIBA to the tune of $1.5 million over five years. City candidates were also challenged to publicly support a living wage for subcontractors who work for the city government.
With the exception of one candidate, the El Paso Times reports that “nearly all the candidates answered yes on all the issues and pledged to support Border Interfaith and EPISO on their agendas.”
At the conclusion of the assembly, leaders in the audience were challenged to take note of candidate responses and communicate what they heard to at least ten voters each before the final Election Day in May.
[Photo Credit: David Burge / El Paso Times]
Grassroots Democracy on Display During EPISO Event, El Paso Times [pdf]
Organizaciones Religiosas se Reunen Con Candidatos Antes de las Elecciones, Entravision / Univision
Civic academies organized by Border Interfaith are drawing upwards of 50 parishioners per session ready to learn how to use their civil rights to protect family members from deportation. At a recent session, Rev. Pablo Matta, the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church told parishioners “You are not alone.” He additionally explained, “We are not asking anyone to violate the law. We are using the laws that exist.”
Organizers reminded immigrants that they have the right to remain silent, a right to an attorney and not to sign any document given to them by immigration agents without first talking to a lawyer. They also advised family members not to open the door to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents without a warrant.
“Once they enter, many things can happen. There could be other people in the home. The immigration agents may starting asking, ‘You, what’s your name? How long have you been here?’ … They came in looking for Arturo and they took Maria, Jose, Raul and several people. So, don’t do it. Don’t do it.”
[Photo Credit: Victor Calzada, El Paso Times]Read more
At St. Joseph’s Catholic Catholic Church, Border Interfaith leaders brought in voting machines for a hands-on lesson on the mechanics of voting. Click below for video in Spanish.
Imparten Clases Para Saber Votar, Telemundo
Over 150 leaders of Border Interfaith participated in three meetings with El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles (including Lieutenants and Deputies) over the course of two months to build relationships of trust and to address community concerns.
Said Lead Organizer Arturo Aguila, “People were sharing their struggles…but then deputies and lieutenants had a chance to speak. People were able to see them as human beings and that they were afraid at times when they would come to some neighborhoods. It really changed the whole dialogue.”
Meetings Aid Relationship with Sheriff’s Office, El Paso Times [pdf]
“When the Industrial Areas Foundation first came to Texas four decades ago, the organization was met with derision and hostility in many quarters. That certainly was true with the creation of the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring organization in 1981.
But today, IAF Texas groups – including EPISO and Border Interfaith in El Paso – are viewed as powerful voices on issues like economic development, education, health care and social justice.”
[Photo Credit: Rudy Gutierrez, El Paso Times]
Read more below…
Editorial: IAF Celebrates 40 Years of Making Texas Better, El Paso Times [pdf]
Eight months after the passage of a wage theft ordinance that enabled the City of El Paso to refuse government contracts to employers that violated wage theft laws, Border Interfaith and EPISO leaders celebrated the passage of a stronger ordinance that allows the city to revoke the operating license of any business that refuses to pay their workers.
Taking the lead on Lift Up El Paso, a coalition of non-profits and congregational members of Border Interfaith and EPISO, organization leaders leveraged the support of Bishop Mark Seitz of the El Paso Catholic Diocese and local restaurant owners and construction companies to compel the City to pass this stricter ordinance. In several cases, owners were shocked there was even a fight to ensure their competitors don’t skirt labor laws. Said leader Eloiso de Avila, “This is an important step for El Paso to show that way for Texas…that we care about employees and that we are fair.”
Border Interfaith and EPISO furthermore secured the support of Texas State Representative Mary Gonzalez, county commissioners, other Texas state legislators and the local franchise owner of Chick fil-A. Organizational pressure prevailed over lobbyists flown in from Austin to try to block the new law.
El Paso Can Lead on Wage Theft Prevention, El Paso Times [pdf]
City Council Passed Amendment to Prevent Wage Theft, KDBC Channel 4 News
City Strengthens Wage Theft Ordinance, El Paso Proud (City of El Paso)
El Paso Council Passes Amendment Strengthening Protection Against Wage Theft, KFOX 14
City to Deny Permits to Companies with Wage Theft Convictions, KVIA
Invited as honored guests by Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso, leaders of Border Interfaith and EPISO traveled to the US levee to celebrate mass with Pope Francis during his historic visit to Ciudad Juarez. They were included in a “small contingency of the faithful” to greet him as he approached the river’s edge from Ciudad Juarez to deliver a special blessing and prayer for the safety and security of immigrants in their search for a better life.
Before departing to the levee, leaders joined US Catholic Bishops and Cardinals for a special gathering in which they reported local action around immigration, including work around the recent increased presence of State Troopers in El Paso County.
At last week’s joint accountability assembly, a leader told the El Paso County Sheriff about his experience of being pulled over and interrogated about his origin by a State Trooper, even though he was a US born citizen with a valid license. The Sheriff revealed that this wasn’t the first time he had heard of this happening and proposed a joint meeting with the Regional Director of State Troopers. Border Interfaith and EPISO leaders are securing this meeting as part of a larger statewide strategy to promote the dignity of both immigrants and citizens in Texas.
On the 25th Anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, Project ARRIBA (originally established by EPISO and Border Interfaith), was named one of three El Paso “Bright Spots” for its progress in closing the achievement gap for Latinos in the areas of college access and STEM education.
Since its inception, ARRIBA has graduated and placed over 1,100 students in the El Paso economy.
EPISO and allies, including the Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, celebrated the passage of a wage theft ordinance created in collaboration with city council, El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Leeser declared that El Paso will be “only the second city [in the state of Texas] to ever” enable the city to refuse to award contracts to employers who violated wage theft laws.
Over the next 60 days, EPISO and Border Interfaith leaders will work with the city to consider amendments potentially granting additional powers to refuse to grant, or revoke, permits and licenses to wage theft violators.
El Paso Wage Theft Law Good for Workers, El Paso Times
El Paso Adopts Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance, El Paso Times
Border Interfaith & EPISO Leaders Punch Payday Lenders Again with $13 Million Alternative Lending Program
For the second time in one year, IAF organizations in El Paso (EPISO and Border Interfaith) dealt a harsh blow to the bottom line of payday lenders.
During last year’s fight to restrict how much payday lenders can legally make off the backs of lower-income families, opponents from the lending industry couched their financial predation under the guise of “providing a valuable service” to residents. After winning a significant victory in 2014 limiting payday lending profits, leaders wanted more.
In financial literacy civic academies held in the poorest neighborhoods of El Paso, families revealed that when a tire blew, or a child got sick, they needed fast cash. They had the capacity to repay small loans, but were shut out of traditional consumer credit markets due to lack of income or credit.
The VP of the Greater El Paso Credit Union (GECU) happened to be a parishioner of member institution St. Jude Catholic. Lead organizer Arturo Aguila happened to be a Wells Fargo VP in his prior occupation. At GECU, officers had already begun to think about this underdeveloped market; they brought in EPISO and Border Interfaith leaders to help flesh out an idea. What resulted was the creation of a federally-insured pilot program that would provide short-term loans to families, with or without traditional credit.
GECU quickly identified $13 million in Community Reinvestment funds for a three-year pilot program that would provide loans ranging from $200 – $1,000, amortized over 6 months with a fixed rate of 27.9% (comparable to rates paid by middle-class borrowers for credit card debt). This means that a family taking out a loan of $500 would pay back only $540 after 6 months, in contrast to $1,100 they would have paid to a payday lender (a savings of $560 in avoided fees) . The program started July 2014 and about $3.8 million has been lent to six thousand families so far.
Word is spreading through local mass media radio, television and newspapers, in addition to pulpit announcements at member institutions. An additional benefit is that since GECU is a legitimate business, borrowers build credit by paying off loans on time. Delinquency rates are much lower than anticipated.
Together, Border Interfaith, EPISO and GECU are systematically undermining the predatory lending market, one fair loan at a time.