Op-Ed by Rev. Ed Roden-Lucero, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and co-chair of EPISO
The commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth has just passed. As election time approaches in Texas, his words, which follow, summon us to participate in the democratic process: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.”
Locally, much has been said about El Paso’s historically low voter turnout. Lincoln’s words are a reminder of democracy’s gift: Voters own the process and the result. Elected officials are not their own boss. Those who are elected to public office are governed by those who vote. The greater the number of people that vote, the greater is the level of accountability required of those who are elected.
Understand the Issues, Know the Candidates, Vote, El Paso Times
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.
In radio coverage by the Texas Standard about the governor zeroing out the Colonia Initiative Program’s nearly $860,000 budget, a story about the success of the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Committee (EPISO) emerged.
When Fr. Ed Lucero-Rodin first arrived in El Paso in the 1980s he reported being “shocked by the living conditions …[with] people using centuries-old wells for non-drinking water and DIY septic-tank systems.” He joined EPISO, which equipped him to tackle issues like sewage seeping into the groundwater which caused many in his congregation to get sick.
After decades of success in fighting for water and sewage infrastructure in the colonias, he can now point to a street named after him in a subdivision that used to be a colonia. All the streets in the subdivision are named after El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO) leaders who successfully fought to bring water and waste service to this area.
As Funding Dries Up, Colonia Residents Struggle Without Basic Services, Texas Standard [pdf]
Civic academies organized by religious institutions of EPISO and Border Interfaith drew 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.”Read more
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]
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, 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