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. The Network of Texas IAF Organizations will celebrate its 40-year anniversary on Saturday in San Antonio, but more importantly, will map out key strategies for the future....
[Photo Credit: Rudy Gutierrez, El Paso Times]
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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, EPISO and Border Interfaith leaders celebrated the passage of a stronger ordinance which 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 EPISO and Border Interfaith, EPISO and Border Interfaith 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 EPISO leader Eloiso de Avila, “This is an important step for El Paso to show the way for Texas…that we care about employees and that we are fair.”
Invited as honored guests by Bishop Mark Seitz of the Diocese of El Paso, leaders of EPISO and Border Interfaith traveled to the US levee to celebrate mass with Pope Francis during his historic visit to Ciudad Juarez on the border. 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.
Due to its work in closing the achievement gap for Latinos in college access and STEM education, Project ARRIBA (established by EPISO and Border Interfaith) was named one of three El Paso “Bright Spots” by the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanics. Since its inception, ARRIBA has graduated and placed over 1,100 students in the El Paso economy.
Thanks to the intervention of Border Interfaith and EPISO, the City of El Paso just passed a wage raise for its lowest paid municipal workers in its budget — from $9.86 to $10.35. This is a first step in El Paso for a larger raise in upcoming years, part of a methodical campaign to raise the wages of Texas workers. EPISO & Border Interfaith additionally succeeded in compelling the El Paso County Commissioners to increase the wages of their lowest paid workers by 50 cents to $10 / hour. Commissioners pledged to work with the organization to increase wages higher over the next two years.Read more
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.
Border Interfaith & EPISO Leaders Punch Payday Lenders (Again) with $13M 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.
In addition to securing half a million dollars to upgrade the Ruben Estrella Park in the Montana Vista colonia, leaders of EPISO went on to leverage an additional $4.5 Million to begin construction to extend Edgemere Boulevard from the City of El Paso into the unincorporated community.
The road will better allow residents from Montana Vista to better access the City of El Paso; Montana Vista is currently accessible by only one road.
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
Bishops and clergy from religious institutions of El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO) and Border Interfaith are calling for additional protection of the tens of thousands unaccompanied Central American children that are at the Texas border.
In a press conference in El Paso, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz reviewed a letter signed by hundreds of clergy, and addressed to the President and to Congress, detailing specific recommendations regarding the treatment of unaccompanied children at the border. Clergy leaders want the White House to preserve the protections established in the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Act of 2008 for those that arrive on our border seeking refuge, 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]