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]
The same week Project ARRIBA celebrated its 1,000th graduate, leaders received word that the labor market intermediary won a Texas Innovative Adult Career Education (ACE) grant, giving it half a million dollars to train 300 more El Paso Community College students for living wage careers. EPISO and Border Interfaith, with their sister organizations in the Texas IAF, helped establish the Texas Innovative Adult Career Education grant to support projects that prepare low-income workers to attain degrees and certificates in high demand occupations including nursing and information technology.Read more
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]
Leaders of EPISO and Border Interfaith leveraged enough City Council votes to restrict how much payday lenders can make off low-income families. Lobbyists flew in from Dallas and Austin to fight this ordinance, but this did 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 these efforts 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.
Citing evidence that the regional return on investment for Project ARRIBA‘s workforce development is $26 for every $1 invested, the City Council of El Paso voted 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.]
“More than 600 people turned out on Sunday to hear more than 30 city and school board candidates speak at a joint forum put on by the El Paso Inter-religious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO) and Border Interfaith.”
City Council candidates were challenged to invest in workforce development program Project ARRIBA, and complete quality of life and neighborhood infrastructure projects within the already established 7-year time frame. Because El Paso public schools mandate standardized testing at least once (and sometimes twice) per week, school board candidates were challenged to reduce the number of standardized tests by 50%. Candidates were also asked to commit to a more equitable way of funding the arts than simply asking parents of participating students to shoulder the cost.
This assembly followed concerns expressed by EPISO, and echoed by the El Paso Times editorial board regarding the current Board's failure to enact reforms supporting representative democracy.
[Photo Credit: Mark Lambie/El Paso Times]Read more
"Elected officials and members of Border Interfaith and the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO) joined the CEOs of University Medical Center and Del Sol Medical Center to push for expanded Medicaid coverage to insure 1.5 million uninsured Texans, including about 135,000 El Pasoans….
Lucy Nashed, a deputy press secretary for the governor, in an email said Perry is against a Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, but is interested in flexibility from the federal government “to address the challenges in the current broken Medicaid system.” [Photo Credit: Mark Lambie, El Paso Times]
Leaders Urge Medicaid Expansion, El Paso Times [pdf]
More than 200 leaders of El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization assembled to challenge Clint Independent School District board candidates to “eliminate all disparities in per student funding throughout the district if elected….Challengers Claudia García, Sonia Herrera, Susana Santillan, Dino Coronado and incumbent Patricia Randleel participated at the nonpartisan accountability session at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Horizon City.”
[Photo Credit: Fernie Castillo, El Paso Times]
Clint ISD Candidates Back Equitable School Funding, El Paso Times
When neighborhood parishioners of San Juan Diego Catholic Church in the Montana Vista colonias grew frustrated at the lack of gas service in their unincorporated district, they organized a petition drive, signing up 300 families to demand that the Texas Gas Service install gas lines. When the petition did not bring about the desired response, these parishioners approached their priest for help. He challenged them to join the social justice ministry of the church and to work with the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO).
These leaders responded, joining the ministry, organizing house meetings with other neighbors and, with EPISO, targeting the TX Gas Service President, Kari French, with an invitation to tour their neighborhood, to see for herself the state of infrastructure in the colonias.
The President accepted the invitation, toured the area, and committed to meeting with the department head to see what can be done. She reflected, “my people can tell me what is going on in the colonias,” but it is different to see it for oneself.
Leaders are following up with her.
When El Paso officials first envisioned a “quality of life” bond they slated $600 Million for stadiums, a zoo and high-art venues. EPISO and Border Interfaith leaders responded with a house meeting campaign in their institutions centered on the question: what would improve the quality of life for El Paso families and individuals?
Upon hearing stories about crumbling roads, decaying parks, darkened neighborhoods and unpaved walkways, leaders returned to council members with reports on what would improve the quality of life for residents. Councilmembers resisted incorporating these day-to-day fixes until leaders organized a second round of house meetings that unearthed renewed energy to fight for these improvements.
Leaders partnered with the City Manager to add $210M in certificates of obligation to pay for roads, streetlights, sidewalks and parks, and then leveraged a 6:1 council vote in support.
EPISO, Border Interfaith Gather Input on Quality-of-Life Bond, El Paso Times