“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.
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