EPISO and Border Interfaith quizzed 10 of the candidates vying for seats on the El Paso City Council and County Commissioners Court about their positions on a local jobs program, immigration, infrastructure, and restorative justice Sunday.
The accountability session, an El Paso election season tradition staged by... El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and Border Interfaith...was held at Christ the Savior Catholic Church...in Northeast El Paso.
Each candidate is asked to give yes or no answers to four questions, and is then given 1.5 minutes to explain their answer. About 300 people attended Sunday's event.
[Photo Credit: Sara Sanchez, El Paso Times]
Details on candidate commitments in first article below.
"In light of ...sacred traditions and in light of our immigrant story as a nation, EPISO and Border Interfaith call upon the federal government to negotiate a fair and humane immigration reform policy that serves the common good of both our country and those who seek a better life here, fleeing from fear and violence in their countries..."
Read Statement below:
EPISO, Border Interfaith Call for Human Immigration Policy, El Paso Times [pdf]
[Photo Credit: Mark Lambie, El Paso Times]
With teaching provided by senior IAF organizers Sr. Maribeth Larkin and Joe Rubio, 83 leaders and potential leaders from religious congregations, educational institutions and nonprofits across El Paso convened at Christ the Savior Catholic Church for two-days of leadership development training. Full write-up below.
Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters, Border Interfaith
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