Over 20 years ago, a developer in the City of El Paso bought acreage in a plot of land, an undeveloped “island” landlocked by, but not included within, El Paso’s municipal lines. The developer recorded the purchase with the County, but then -- unbeknownst to anyone -- illegally partitioned the land and sold the reduced-sized lots to low-income families without providing certificates of occupancy.
120 families built their homes in the Norma-Georgia-Seventh-La Mesa colonia, having little idea they had purchased and were residing in illegal subdivisions. Because the land was not part of the City, and illegally partitioned in the County, neither local nor state entities assumed responsibility for ensuring access to safe water.
Some of the families from this subdivision who were members of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church expressed their struggles at a house meeting convened by Fr. Pablo Matta, and later partnered with Border Interfaith to bring infrastructure to their colonia.
While working with the families, Border Interfaith leaders discovered the unauthorized nature of their tenancy and soon after began organizing to explain to the county why they didn’t have certificates of occupancy. Their first victory consisted of compelling the County to formally recognize and register their occupancy in County records.
The fight for the extension of city water lines into the neighborhood continued as they organized to request funding from the Texas Water Development Board and financial assistance from the Economically Distressed Areas Program. Unfortunately, they received news that the state funding was depleted.
Finally, after many obstacles, the second victory came when Border Interfaith and EPISO approached the CEO of the El Paso Water Utilities and requested the authorized expenditure of $2 Million from the Public Service Board budget to extend public water utility lines into Norma-Georgia-Seventh-La Mesa. Together, the CEO and the leaders worked to secure the necessary votes from the Public Service Board, and on February 8, 2017 the Board voted unanimously in favor of the $2 Million funding.
Construction is programmed to begin in October of 2017.
[In photo above, Fr. Pablo Matta leads celebration.]
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