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
In late December, COPA leaders celebrated the unanimous decision by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to invest nearly $5 million in a six-month Community Outreach & Education pilot program targeting neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. This program will hire 100 community health workers -- trusted people from community-based organizations -- starting January 1, 2021. These trained workers will help educate families, as well as connect people who test positive with needed services, including temporary housing for quarantine or isolation, cash assistance, food, medical care and information about employment rights. Workers will target the hardest hit Census tracts.
The program proposal, created by COPA’s “Breaking the Chain” team, was based on more than 2,000 conversations with Monterey County families impacted by COVID-19, and is similar to other programs in California. In the midst of the pandemic, leaders from COPA’s 28 member institutions launched a listening campaign in which they heard stories about the need for rental assistance; access to testing, tracing, and supported isolation; and access to education and distance learning resources.
Allies spoke in support of the proposal including Building Healthy Communities, Center for Community Advocacy, California Rural Legal Assistance, the Monterey County Farm Bureau, Catholic Diocese of Monterey and the Hospitality Industry Association.
Monterey County Board of Supervisors Approves Nearly $5 Million for COVID-19 Program, The Californian [pdf]
Monterey County Supervisors Approve Pilot Project to Help Those Disproportionately Impacted by COVID-19, KION [pdf]
Supervisors Approve Nearly $5 Million to Put Trusted Health Workers into Neighborhoods Suffering Under Covid, Monterey County Weekly [pdf]
County Supervisors to Consider $2.3 Million to Fund Pilot Program Targeting Neighborhoods Hit Hardest by Covid, Monterey County [pdf]
COPA Press Release
Before the pandemic, Maria Ramirez (in photo above) and her husband made more than enough money to afford their two-bedroom apartment in Dallas. Now, they owe $4,000+ in back rent and late fees. When they applied for local aid, they were denied.
"For four months, millions of these funds have wafted around the corridors of City Hall while each day vulnerable families are threatened with evictions," said Jon Lee, a retired pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church and leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Texas IAF leaders across the state are working with local elected officials to spend down millions in assistance dollars that they leveraged earlier this year. Onerous online application processes and excessive documentation requirements hampered access to available assistance for the most vulnerable. Warned Rev. Michael Floyd of Central Texas Interfaith, "Families who lost employment are racking up months of unpaid rent and as eviction moratoriums end, they will be forced out of their homes."
Texas IAF leaders and allies are also calling on the Governor to draw down available funding for rental assistance for smaller cities. If not spent by the end of the year, unspent dollars will have to be returned to the US Treasury.
Says Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, of TMO, “The CDC order create[d] a welcomed pause in evictions in this area, but it is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31.”
Advocacy on eviction prevention has become an important part of this work as well. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is affiliated with The Metropolitan Organization, a CCHD-fund grassroots organization that has taken on eviction prevention work since March.
Much of the effort has focused on convincing Houston and Harris County officials to quickly distribute tens of millions of dollars for rental assistance that was allocated under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, said Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer with The Metropolitan Organization.
[Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News]
North Texas Has Millions in Unspent Aid For Renters During the Pandemic, Yet 75% of Applicants are Denied, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
TMO Call[s] on Leaders to Halt Evictions, Congress to Pass Next Stimulus Bill, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Texas IAF Organizations and Housing Advocates Call on State and Local Governments to Beat December Deadline for Federally Funded Coronavirus Rental Relief to Texans in Need, Central Texas Interfaith
With Evictions Looming, Agencies Furiously Work to Keep Families Housed, Angelus News [pdf]
Arenas de Ruiz, formerly of Venezuela, had been among parishioners in Harris County, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties who took the three-day leadership training offered by The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), a nonprofit grassroots group. In mid-summer, more than 1,250 TMO leaders from 30 churches and other institutions convened on Zoom and Facebook watch parties for a virtual “Get out the Vote Rally” and made thousands of phone calls to 16 Harris County precincts that traditionally had low voter turnout.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has offered a teaching document on the political responsibilities of Catholics called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” The document urges all pastors, lay and religious faithful and all people of good will “to help form consciences, teach those entrusted to their care; to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue and to shape politics.”
Father Rodney Armstrong of Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Fifth Ward and his parishioners set up a voter registration table at a nearby McDonald’s fast-food restaurant with owner approval. The pastor also made a video that TMO placed on its Facebook to encourage voters.
Dr. Fernando Scaglia, a parishioner at Assumption Catholic Church off Airline Drive, said he participated in the church’s phone bank as well despite his busy schedule as a researcher and professor of genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.
He also participated in “Virtual Accountability Sessions,” where TMO invited candidates from Democratic and Republican parties to discuss how they stood on a variety of issues.
“There are so many important issues that impact all of us — health and the pandemic; economic issues like evictions and even the DACA issue for dreamers,” Dr. Scaglia said.
[Photo Credit: St. Leo the Great Catholic Church]
Faithful Citizenship Sparks Nonpartisan Voter Rallies at Houston Parishes, The Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
Jackie Gomez is a U.S. citizen and the mother of five kids from McKinney. She is married to a Mexican national. When she found out that she wasn’t eligible for a stimulus check, Gomez felt like it was “a slap in the face.”
Because of the economic downturn, Gomez has faced economic hardships, including not sending her oldest child to Collin Community College. When everyday Americans like Gomez can’t meet their basic needs, you can’t expect them to spend money on rent or utilities. They won’t be eating in restaurants, getting haircuts or buying new clothing, activities that stimulate our economy.
That is why, as faith and business leaders, we urge our Republican senators to end the unfair and immoral marriage penalty in the stimulus legislation by prioritizing the American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act in the next federal coronavirus stimulus package.
Denying federal relief to mixed-status families is morally wrong. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was supposed to provide stimulus checks for all Americans with Social Security numbers. But a subtle change in federal tax law in 2017 requires both spouses in a marriage to have Social Security numbers, resulting in many Americans becoming ineligible for assistance because they are married to foreign nationals who are not U.S. citizens.
As a result of this careless oversight, 1.7 million U.S. citizens or green-card holders, along with their 3.7 million children, were left out of the stimulus package, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute. These are taxpayers who reported their earnings to our government and their exclusion is un-American to its core.
The American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act, introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., would fix this oversight by ensuring that every U.S. citizen and legal resident would receive $1,200 and each of their children would receive $500. According to TexasGOPVote, stimulus checks for the estimated 940,000 who were originally excluded in Texas would inject $508.2 million into our state’s economy.
Without steady employment and financial assistance needed due to the pandemic, many of these families could struggle to get back on their feet, increasing the likelihood of evictions, hunger and homelessness. Sen. John Cornyn has co-sponsored the American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act, and we ask Sen. Ted Cruz to do the same.
If Congress does not act, our state’s falling employment rate could creep back up, and our country’s recession could get worse. Families cannot wait much longer to pay their overdue rent and bills. We need Congress to act in a bipartisan manner to pass a CARES 2.0 stimulus package immediately.
Greg Kelly is the auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Dallas and a leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Chris Wallace is chief executive of the North Texas Commission and a co-chair of the Texas Business Immigration Coalition.
All U.S. Citizens Are Entitled To Stimulus Relief, Even If They Are Married To Foreign Nationals, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
...In Iowa, it’s illegal for the state to translate official government forms. including anything election-related. This makes it really hard for non-fluent English speakers in Iowa to gather official voting information.
Iowa’s "English-only" law, as it is known by some, dates back to 1918 after World War I. Republican Gov. William Harding signed the Babel Proclamation into law, which made English the only language legally permitted in the state. It was intended to limit the German language in schools and other public spaces.
Tun said this law scares her community. She said sometimes they are too afraid to vote. They are worried they will get in trouble if they make a mistake in the voting process.
But people who translate the forms disagree. Jan Flora and Terry Potter of A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS) said it is especially true this year. Flora translates voter forms into Spanish and Potter distributes them to other organizations throughout the state.
“If we cannot translate that, maybe we’re going to lose our voters…Yea, a lot of voters," Tun said.
She said the state has a responsibility to Iowans, whether they speak Spanish, Burmese, Karen or anything else.
[Photo Credit: Tiffany Tertipes, Unsplash]
Lost In Translation: How Iowa's 'English-Only' Law Affects Some Voters , Iowa Public Radio [pdf]
When politics, like most other activities, was forced to migrate online, the IAF didn’t seem an obvious winner. For 80 years, the group has embraced one-on-one conversations and “house meetings” to create organized communities whose strong bonds endure beyond a single campaign. These relationships, forged in person, smoothed the transition to digital organizing.
After the virus hit, a flurry of texts, calls and social media outreach followed as California’s IAF groups scrambled to get their people on Zoom calls. The news was grim: Budgets were tight and layoffs widespread. Undocumented people, often the hardest-hit population, were excluded from most forms of aid. The Cal-EITC push emerged from these digital house meetings. “It came from the lament of the people,” said the Rev. Arturo Corral of Our Lady Queen of Angels / La Placita Catholic Church in Los Angeles, a One LA leader.
In late April, local leaders began gathering Zoom participants from their local networks. Meanwhile, organizers sought out influential lawmakers, focusing on three Budget Committee members: State Assembly members David Chiu and Eloise Gómez Reyes and State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo. All three pledged to work to expand the tax credit.
The IAF groups were “not at all” confident that the tax credit expansion would end up in the governor’s budget. “Most people told us this was not going to happen,” [One LA Lead Organizer Robert] Hoo said. But after weeks of further organizing, it was included in Gov. Newsom’s June 30 budget.
[Photo Credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images]
The Old-School Organizers Who Got It Done on Zoom, High Country News [pdf]
Faith, Community Leaders Praise Tax Break for Undocumented Workers, Good Times
Whenever [TMO leader] Father Carmelo Hernandez makes a live appearance on his church's YouTube channel, he asks the same question each week: "Have you filled out your census form?"
The parishioners of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Houston are largely Hispanic, undocumented or of mixed status, living in one of the most diverse cities in the nation. Hernandez has spent months using his pulpit to demystify the census, disentangle the misinformation and quiet the fears that congregants have about being counted.
But news that President Trump signed a memorandum Tuesday that would exclude many of his parishioners from congressional apportionment is enough to scare them back into invisibility, he said. To them it is proof — against Hernandez's many efforts to the contrary — that the census is a trap and should be avoided.
Tuesday’s memo comes as the Census Bureau begins outreach to the nation’s hardest-to-count groups, including immigrants. If the government is seen as trying to disadvantage them, some might be less likely to respond to the survey, immigrant advocates said.
“This is an order designed to sow fear and mistrust between peoples and becomes a matter of life and death as the US battles a deadly pandemic,” said a statement from the Industrial Areas Foundation, a group that works with churches and organizers in the West and Southwest to educate and support minority communities.
Soco[rro] Perales, an organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith, said that organizers will continue to encourage immigrant families to cooperate with the Census.
“That information cannot be shared” with immigration authorities, she said. “Everybody still needs to be counted and it is still safe.”
[Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images]
Some in Texas Fear Trump Ban on Undocumented Immigrants in Census is Scare Tactic to Suppress Count, Washington Post [pdf]
“When they want to ask for help from a nonprofit, and the staff only speaks English, they feel intimidated and don’t want to go on,” said Adriana Godines, a volunteer for Dallas Area Interfaith, a community group made up of religious congregations, schools and other nonprofits. “Even if I tell them that there will be no problem and they won’t ask for your Social Security, they prefer not to [ask for help].”
And even people who go to the justice of the peace courts, where eviction cases are heard, face similar hurdles.
“A lot of JP courts won’t have bilingual speakers,” said Lizbeth Parra-Davila, a housing fellow at the University of Texas School of Law. “Throughout Texas, that has been the case where I’ll call JP courts and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, we don’t have any Spanish speakers. We don’t have any Spanish interpreters.’”
Many undocumented people have been counting on their families, friends and churches.
Godines has seen homes with 12 people living together as people who self-evict move in with loved ones.
“It’s people of all ages. Kids, adults, sometimes senior citizens,” she said.
Godines has worked with families searching for rental assistance, and she said that funds are running low among nonprofit organizations that are allowed to serve undocumented immigrants.
“We want to do more, but we don’t have more resources,” Godines said. “But the little that we have in this community, we give it.”
Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas explained that many priests and churchgoers have pooled together resources to pay for rent and food for undocumented migrants. But he, too, worries how long such resources will last.
“I don’t think we know yet how serious this is or how long it will last. When the city assistance program opened, the help available was overwhelmed in the first couple of hours,” Kelly said. “It could be a very lengthy situation. There’s so much uncertainty.”
[Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang, The Texas Tribune]
DAI Raises Alarm That Undocumented Immigrants are Self-Evicting, Texas Tribune [pdf]
In response to a series of engagements with CCG
leaders seeking to bridge the digital divide for low-income families, internet giant Comcast moved to broaden access to high-speed internet, particularly for low-income and undocumented families. Starting this summer, Comcast is adjusting the application for its free internet nationwide to better reflect the variety of identification forms accepted, and de-emphasize its initial request for a social security number. Comcast also agreed to extend its offer of 60 days free internet for new subscribers through the end of the year. These changes are being rolled out nationwide!
[Additional background from the Colorado Sun:]
In March, Comcast began offering [a] discounted service for free for 60 days to new families. The service usually costs $9.95 per month and caters to low-income households. Comcast also increased the service’s internet speed to 25 mbps and plans to continue making it free for 60 days to new eligible customers for the rest of 2020. The company is also offering free public Wi-Fi through the end of the year.
But the Internet Essentials program didn’t necessarily appeal to everyone who qualified. Coloradans for the Common Good this spring approached Comcast to ask the internet giant to modify its application, which asked for Social Security numbers even though other forms of identification were acceptable.
That deterred some immigrant families from attempting to enroll in the service. Coloradans for the Common Good — composed of churches, community organizations and teachers’ unions — reached out to lawmakers and Comcast’s corporate leaders pleading for change. After a series of email exchanges and Zoom meetings, Comcast adjusted its application nationwide to better reflect the variety of identification forms accepted. That change took effect in June, said Marilyn Winokur, co-chair of Coloradans for the Common Good.
“We want to get as many, many families that don’t have internet access to have the access that they need in order to participate in remote learning should it happen again,” Winokur said.
[Photo Credit: Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun]
Colorado Gears Up For Online Learning With Digital Access Push — And One Victory for Undocumented Families, Colorado Public Radio [pdf]
Online Classes Aren’t Going Anywhere, but Thousands of Colorado Students Still Don’t Have Internet Access, Colorado Sun [pdf]
Big Wins on Internet Access, Fair Wages for School Workers, Coloradans for the Common Good
[Excerpts from various articles]
In initial talks with state legislatures, the organizers and leaders of Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, or COPA were not too sure that the state would budge on who would qualify for California's Earned Income Tax credit, or CalEITC. The tax credit, is intended to give cash back to the poorest working families, but as Covid-19 hit it was clear the threshold to qualify for the credit was not reflective of who the poorest were in the state.
In COPA's eyes, structural change was needed in the form of extending the tax credit to more taxpayers, including undocumented workers. The monetary relief the state circulated to lessen the economic blow of Covid-19 was a one time payment of up to $500 per individual and the deadline to qualify for the aid ended in June 30. This is in to comparison to the Federal CARES Act which provide a one time payment of $1,200.
Faith and community leaders with the California Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) celebrated a victory Tuesday after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a budget that includes an expansion of the California Earned Income Tax Credit (Cal EITC) to undocumented workers with young children.
While not a full expansion to all undocumented workers, the tax credit will help tens of thousands of families with at least one child under the age of 6 who pay their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Some households may receive up to $2,600 each year, depending on their income and family size.
According to IAF, undocumented immigrants represent 10% of the California workforce, and their labor has largely fallen into work deemed “essential” throughout the pandemic — in agriculture, food distribution and service, elder care and child care, among other occupations....
On May 5, more than 1,200 California IAF leaders, along with 10 Bishops and nine state legislators, convened on Zoom to press Newsom to expand the Cal EITC. More than 1,000 faith and community leaders signed on to a letter in support of the expansion, and in the thick of budget negotiations they organized hundreds of leaders to send letters to the governor and to the top leadership of the senate and assembly....
“We commend Gov. Newsom and state legislators for investing in families, especially during a deficit year,” said Rabbi Susan Leider with Congregation Kol Shofar, Marin Organizing Committee. “We know they have faced enormous pressure to cut back, and instead they have paid in. This tax credit is not just a one-time handout, but will help families year after year. Our leaders have been working for months to make sure our essential workers aren’t left behind, and this is a huge step forward.”
[Photo Credit: Erika Mahoney, 90.3 KAZU]
Faith, Community Leaders Praise Tax Break for Undocumented Workers, Good Times by: Johanna Miller [pdf]
California Tax Breaks Extended To Undocumented Families, NPR, KAZU 90.3 [pdf]
California Approves a Tax Credit to More Low-Income Families, Including Undocumented Workers, Monterey County Now Weekly [pdf]