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.
With over 100 leaders in attendance, Border Interfaith assembled with candidates for County Commissioner Precinct 4 to challenge them to work with the organization for greater regulation of payday lending, a boost to the wage floor for County employees and contractors to $10 / hour, and the investment of $100K in County funds into job training program Project ARRIBA. One candidate, Julio Diaz, committed to the agenda. The other candidate did not. Leaders vowed to spread the word and get out the vote.
Diaz, Haggerty Offer Stark Choices in Race for El Paso County Commissioner in Precinct 4, El Paso Times
Victorious from a January move to limit payday lending profitability in El Paso, leaders of Border Interfaith and El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO) are setting their sights on statewide legislation.
Eloiso De Avila, co-chair of EPISO, said more state regulation is needed because many Texans live in places without ordinances like the one they won in El Paso. The state legislation that failed last year would have pegged the maximum allowable loan to a borrower’s monthly income and capped the number of times a borrower could refinance a loan.
“The people who go to the payday lenders are already at the end of their rope,’ argued De Avila. “We realize there’s a need, but God, don’t gouge them.”
Thousands Lose Cars Amid Calls for Loan Restrictions, Texas Tribune
Border Interfaith & EPISO Religious Leaders Call on Congress to Protect Unaccompanied Children at the Border
Bishops, and clergy from Border Interfaith and El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO), are calling for added protections for the tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children at the Texas border.
In a well-attended press conference, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz presented a letter addressed to the President and to Congress, signed by hundreds of clergy, that detailed specific recommendations.
El Paso religious leaders detailed that protections established in the 2008 Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Act for those that arrive on our border seeking refuge include the provision of legal assistance to any minor under 18 years of age, and attention to the religious needs of the children and family by granting clergy access to US Border Patrol detention facilities and the US Office of Refugee Resettlement.
Border Interfaith and EPISO leaders emphasized that Congress must reject efforts to expedite processing of these children. [Photo Credit: Juan Torres, El Diario]
Clergy Members Push for Trafficking Protection in Letter to President, Congress, KFOXTV
Catolicos Piden a la Casa Blanca Ayuda Para Niños Inmigrantes, Univision El Paso
In advance of the early March election for County judge and Commissioner positions, leaders of EPISO and Border Interfaith organized an accountability session to challenge them on issues that emerged hundreds of conversations with their constituents. The El Paso Times reports the following:
“El Paso County judge candidates took different stances Sunday on two key issues, funding Project Arriba and early voting at churches, during the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and Border Interfaith Joint Accountability Session. The accountability session took place at All Saints Catholic Church for candidates for county judge, county commissioner for precincts 2 and 4, and state representatives for districts 75, 76 and 77….”
[Photo Credit: Victor Calzada, El Paso Times]
EPISO and Border Interfaith Host Accountability Session, ABC-7
Border Interfaith and EPISO Hold Accountability Session, KTSM-9
El Paso County Judge Candidates Take Different Stances on Key Issues at Accountability Session, El Paso Times
Foro de Candidatos del Condado y Estatales, Univision
Border Interfaith and EPISO leaders leveraged enough City Council votes to restrict how much payday lenders can make off the backs of low-income families. Lobbyists flown in from Dallas and Austin to fight the ordinance could not keep the council from heeding the organized voice of families and institutions, and voting 6-1 in support. Bishop Mark Seitz of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso supported the effort to protect families from compounding debt and excessive fees.
The new payday lending reform in El Paso allows lenders to loan no more than 20% of a borrower’s gross income. Contracts must now be presented in the person’s dominant language and short-term loans cannot be rolled over more than three times.
With 160 payday lending centers in El Paso, leaders are now working with the City to examine whether to restrict how many payday lenders can set up shop in low-income neighborhoods.
Oped by St. Jude and EPISO leader Larry Garcia: City Should Keep Rules on Payday, Title Lenders, El Paso Times [pdf]
El Paso Ordinance on Payday Lenders to Take Effect January 16, El Paso Times
Citing research that the regional return on investment for Project ARRIBA‘s workforce development is $26 for every $1 invested, Border Interfaith and EPISO leaders persuaded the City Council of El Paso to increase funding to $1.5 Million over five years, rather than the $1.25 Million initially recommended by city staff. This is the single largest investment the city has made into ARRIBA since its inception.
This funding will enable the project to support the training and placement of 600 El Pasoans into living wage careers in the border region. Organization leaders are hopeful that this will help leverage matching funds from the State of Texas through the Texas Innovative Adult Career Education (ACE) Grant Program.
[In photo: Leaders from EPISO, Border Interfaith and Project ARRIBA explain what happened to reporters.]
$1.5 Million Approved to Help Students, KTSM News Channel 9