West and Southwest IAF organizations are actively working at federal, state and local levels so that immigrant families can participate more fully in public life.
In addition to responding to the humanitarian crisis at the border, local affiliates are bringing native- and foreign-born constituents into conversation around the theology (and economics) of immigration, educating recent newcomers with financial and 'Know Your Rights' civic academies, supporting policies which protect families and working to defeat those that would unfairly penalize undocumented immigrants for their status.
In California, affiliates have expanded access to public healthcare for immigrants, changed vehicle impoundment laws in urban municipalities and equipped thousands of individuals with government sanctioned photo-ID cards; In Arizona, organizations secured in-state tuition for DACA students in local community colleges; affiliates in Iowa have led voter education initiatives on the fiscal and economic impacts of immigration; and organizations in Texas have launched parish ID cards that are providing thousands of immigrants with alternative means of proving their identity to the police.
All immigration initiatives are rooted in the faith and democratic teachings of member institutions and seek to connect leaders across racial, ethnic and language lines.
'Recognizing the Stranger' is a new multi-year regional approach to immigration, working with local parishes to identify, train, and mentor immigrant leaders to build connections among themselves and with nonimmigrant allies in their parishes and the broader community. It is a collaborative effort among clergy, leaders, and organizers to develop capacity to tackle tough issues. With support from CCHD, the strategy has expanded from 7 to19 dioceses across the West and Southwest US.
According to CCHD Director Ralph McCloud, "Recognizing the Stranger is particularly successful because it captures the connections between what happens at Mass on Sunday morning, how families live their lives throughout the week, and how parishioners interact with members of the broader community. I have been impressed that participants seek true change. In the process, parishes are strengthened, unified, and revitalized."
Recognizing the Stranger, National Strategic Grant, CCHD
Program Trains Leaders to Put Faith into Action, Texas Catholic - Dallas
Immigrant Leaders Being Trained, Catholic Sentinel - Portland [pdf]
Milestones: Catholic Campaign, TMO Offers Leadership Training for Hispanic Parishioners, Texas Catholic Herald
After the Covid-19 pandemic precipitated an economic crisis of historic proportions, the Industrial Areas Foundation launched a campaign calling on Congress to provide direct monthly aid for the duration of the crisis to American workers -- regardless of their citizenship.
While the recently passed $2.2 Trillion emergency stimulus will provide adults a one-time $1,200 check, it is set to leave out undocumented immigrants -- including those who pay taxes using a Tax Identification Number. IAF organizations across the West / Southwest IAF working with immigrant communities lay out the implications of this decision below:
Health care is a concern to both undocumented immigrants and legal residents.... Last August, the Trump administration tightened restrictions on legal immigrants who receive government benefits, referred to as 'public charges.' The new policy denies green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits.
Immigrants in the Dallas area mask their symptoms so they can continue to work, according to Josephine López Paul, lead organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith.
“We’ve seen our service industries obliterated,” said Ms. López Paul. “Immigrants are being hit the hardest right now and there’s no safety net for them.”
When undocumented immigrants do approach hospitals, they quickly turn away if they see any law enforcement present, according to Ana Chavarin, lead organizer of Pima County Interfaith in Tucson, Ariz. Families are less afraid of the virus itself and more concerned with how they would pay for a long-term hospital visit, she said.
Ms. Chavarin has met with families who, not knowing how long the pandemic will last or when they will find work again, have begun rationing food. “Because they are undocumented, they cannot apply for any kind of help,” she said. Some have U.S. citizen children and could apply for benefits on their behalf, she said. But fear of deportation keeps many from doing so.
Food is the number one concern for pastors in Houston, according to Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer for The Metropolitan Organization. Some parishes and congregations have started to purchase gift cards for food while others are collecting items for the church pantry. Local chapters of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are gathering items, but since they often count on elderly volunteers, it has been a challenge.
Children cut off from school presents another challenge for low-income families. “The kids being home, [families] don’t always have the technology they need to keep up with school,” Ms. Valdez said.
“There has to be a way to get the money into the hands of service workers,” said Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a community organizing network. Pastors are seeing an increase in domestic violence, he said, likely stemming from frustration, economic pressure and children being home from school. Studies have found that immigrant survivors of domestic violence are unlikely to report abuse to law enforcement. Isolation and behavioral health issues have the potential to lead to an increase in suicide rates, he said.
“This could profoundly change the nature of parishes and congregations,” Mr. Rubio said, referring not only to the economic impact of the coronavirus but also how communities respond to those in need during the crisis. “We have to think about how we compensate those making the biggest sacrifices and how we ramp up the economy once it’s over.”
[Photo Credit: John Locher, AP Photo]
Stimulus Does Little to Stifle Covid-19 Fears in the Undocumented Community, America [pdf]
Parish identification cards, an IAF immigration strategy developed in collaboration with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, are now accepted at Dallas County Covid-19 mobile testing units.
[Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool, Dallas Morning News]
Coronavirus: Condado de Dallas Responde a Preguntas Frecuentes Sobre 'Quédate en Casa' y Covid-19, Al Día Dallas [pdf]
In small group conversations organized through their congregations, Valley Interfaith leaders Elisa Alfaro of Holy Spirit parish and Dayra Campos of San Juan Diego kept hearing the same stories: workers in cold storage facilities earning less than the minimum wage and experiencing rampant labor abuse.
While the federal minimum wage is $7.25, parishioners shared that they are often paid less than half that by McAllen producers. When one company closed access to the bathroom for employees, they were forced to walk 10 minutes to a gas station for their bathroom break. Another parishioner shared constant threats by their boss if they were to admit working 10 hours per day for $600 per month (less than half the minimum wage).
In response, Valley Interfaith leaders are calling on the City of McAllen to ensure that no company that pays workers under the minimum wage, or is guilty of wage theft, receives incentives from the city. They are also calling on the City to investigate abusive labor practices. Leaders are now meeting with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and McAllen City Manager about making these changes.
"Nobody should earn a slave wage," said Elisa Alfaro.
[Image Credit: KVEO footage]
Faith Leaders, Lawyer: Wage Theft Rampant at Local Cold Storage Facilities, The Monitor [pdf]
Produce Industry Wage Dispute, KVEO [pdf]
Fair Pay a Distant Dream for Produce Packers in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio Express-News
As part of an immigration strategy initiated in collaboration with Valley Interfaith, the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, St. Eugene Catholic Church in Brownsville, TX began issuing parish ID cards.
Held on a Saturday, the ID Fest was organized to make the identification cards available to immigrant parishioners in need of a way to identify themselves to local law enforcement.
“ID cards can only be used for identification purposes, it is not a government issued card and cannot be used to vote, does not take place of drivers license,” said Jose Hinojosa of Valley Interfaith. So far, leaders have negotiated with the Police Departments of McAllen, Pharr, Edinburg, San Juan and Brownsville to recognize parish IDs.
Said Nancy Cruz, St. Eugene and Valley Interfaith leader, “No one should feel afraid to report a crime for lack of an ID.”
[Photo Credit: (top and bottom right) St. Eugene Mazenod Catholic Church; (bottom left) footage, KVEO]
Oblate Parish in Brownsville Offering ID Cards, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate United States Province [pdf]
Local Church Offering Parish ID Cards to Parishioners, KVEO [pdf]
Church Offers Photo IDs to its Members, Brownsville Herald [pdf]
Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer Parish ID, Interfaith Education Fund
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting in El Paso, EPISO / Border Interfaith launched a campaign to "Stand Against Fear," mobilizing an assembly of 300 faithful and kick-starting a campaign for gun safety legislation. Leaders have facilitated various listening sessions at their institutions and, after hearing the needs of their community, collaborated with local mental health providers to train and certify leaders in Mental Health First Aid.
Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz soon wrote a Pastoral Letter “Night Will Be No More” calling the shooting “La Matanza” (The Slaughter) and reminding the faithful of the historic and systemic nature of racism in the American Southwest.
Leaders are now incorporating the letter into the listening sessions, unearthing stories of long-term trauma – of discrimination, racism and violence on both sides of the border, and, in contrast to trying to bring things 'back to normal,' are exploring what a better El Paso looks like.
Night Will Be No More: Pastoral Letter to the People of God in El Paso (page 48), Catholic Extension [pdf]
Noche Ya No Habrá: Carta Pastoral al Pueblo de Dios en El Paso, Catholic Extension
In Texas, government programs are out of reach for those without legal status, with a few exceptions such as emergency care. Alternative paths to medical care have existed for many years.
Many unauthorized immigrants use clinics and health fairs because they fear going to hospitals because their information could be placed in a database that might eventually link to federal immigration agencies.
Faith groups also are stepping up with health fairs to respond to the growing need. Medical students frequently pitch in with free services.
This summer, organizers for Dallas Area Interfaith held a trio of free health fairs at Catholic churches, a trusted safe space for families, and the fairs drew hundreds, said Socorro Perales, an organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith.
[Photo Credit: Brian Elledge, Dallas Morning News]
Immigrants Patch Together Medical Care with Charity Clinics, Health Fairs and Medicine Rationing, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
At the 2019 General Assembly of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, the outgoing chair of the Committee on Migration (and Catholic Bishop of Austin), Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, concluded his report with "good practices for helping immigrants." Topping the list was the IAF parish identification strategy.
Parish identification emerged as a strategy in Dallas after passage of Texas Senate Bill 4, which allows law enforcement officers to ask residents about their immigration status. With no access to state drivers licenses, undocumented immigrants were concerned that otherwise benign traffic stops could result in deportation. Police departments were worried their officers would not be trusted in immigrant communities. As a way to address both concerns, 1,500 Dallas Area Interfaith leaders and their Bishops negotiated acceptance of parish ID cards with five North Texas police departments.
The parish ID strategy soon spread to Baltimore in collaboration with IAF sister affiliate Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) and, most recently, to the Diocese of Brownsville (along the US-Mexico border) in partnership with Valley Interfaith, Catholic Charities and the police departments of Brownsville, McAllen and Edinburg.
Bishop Vasquez recognized the Catholic (Arch)dioceses of Baltimore, Dallas and Brownsville for "fostering a sense of belonging & security." So far in Dallas, 12,000 identification cards have been issued through DAI member congregations, fortifying family connections to congregations and strengthening parish collections in the process.
Remarks by Bishop Jose S. Vásquez, US Conference of Catholic Bishops General Assembly Remarks
How Parish IDs Can Help Foster Communities of Welcome, Justice for Immigrants [Notes]
How Parish IDs Can Help Foster Communities of Welcome, Justice for Immigrants [Webinar]
Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer Parish ID
Parish IDs Bring Relief to Immigrant Communities in North Texas
Additional news on Parish IDs
One week after immigrant leaders from El Carmen Catholic Church raised the issue of parental access to schools, delivering poignant testimony at a Southside ISD School Board meeting last week, the Superintendent publicly reversed his position.
In a letter that went out to all parents, he announced that any form of photo identification issued by a governmental entity, including a matricula consular ID card, would be accepted when verifying parents’ identities on school campuses.
The issue originally emerged when Sandra, a member of El Carmen Catholic Church in San Antonio, attempted to join her son at his elementary school for lunch. She was barred from campus because she could not show a Texas ID. When COPS/Metro leaders requested a meeting with the Superintendent to discuss the policy, they were initially denied.
It wasn't until COPS/Metro and El Carmen Catholic leaders joined Sandra at the next Southside ISD School Board meeting that the district began to reconsider its position.
Said Vincent Arreguin, a COPS/Metro leader from El Carmen Church, “We continue to be committed in our interest to build the relationship with the district. This is not only a win for our parents but our children who are the most important. We are glad that now there’s clarification about the policy.”
[Photo Credit: Camille Phillips, Texas Public Radio]
Southside ISD Says Wider Range of Government-Issued Photo IDs Now Will Be Accepted for Campus Access, Rivard Report [pdf]
San Antonio Parents Without Texas IDs Barred from Southside ISD Schools, Texas Public Radio
Parents Without Texas IDs Said They Were Barred from Southside ISD Campuses, Rivard Report
Southside ISD's ID Policy Has Some Parents Complaining it Leaves Them Out of Kid's Schooling, San Antonio Express-News
Padres Denuncian Que Este Distrito Escolar Les Prohibe Entrar as las Escuelas Por No Tener Licencia de Conducir de Texas, Univision
After the sheriff of Tarrant County mistakenly argued that 'drunk' immigrants were going to 'run over your children,' Dallas Area Interfaith organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul called on the public official to build trust rather than spread lies, referencing an independent study by the CATO Institute that documented a dramatically lower crime rate among unauthorized Texas immigrants compared to their native-born counterparts.
"In these polarized times, what he should be doing is building trust," commented Lopez-Paul.
Tarrant County Sheriff Calls Migrants Facing DWI Charges 'Drunks' Who 'Will Run Over Your Children', Dallas Morning News
500 Valley Interfaith leaders packed the Pharr Development and Research Center to publicly launch a parish ID strategy for the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Developed in collaboration with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and three law enforcement agencies, parish-issued identification cards will show a picture of the cardholder, name, date of birth, address and how long the cardholder has been a member of their parish.
Representatives from the police departments of Pharr, McAllen and Edinburg participated in the assembly, pledging to accept these cards as a form of valid identification in the event anyone needs to identify themselves to the police -- whether on a traffic stop or when filing a report.
Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres said that he likes the idea of the ID card because "right now we have a lot of victims that are from across (the border). They don’t call the police department when they are victimized because they are afraid of being deported. If we recognize some type of ID, they’ll feel more comfortable and call us when crimes do occur.”
Said Fr. Kevin Collins of St. Eugene de Mazenod parish in Brownsville, “I’m very excited about this event tonight because we have a lot of people coming who hope to change their lives, to have less fear in their lives, and to live with more human dignity in their homes and their neighborhoods.”
[Photo Credit: Francisco E. Jimenez, The Monitor]
IDs Give Parishioners Way to Say, 'I Belong,' Regardless of Legal Status, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
Diocese, Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer a New Kind of ID, The Valley Catholic
Vally Nonprofit Announces ID Strategy in Parishes, KRGTV
Valley Interfaith Clarifies Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor
Valley Interfaith to Launch Local Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor [pdf]