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]
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]
San Antonio Parents Without Texas IDs Barred from Southside ISD Schools, Texas Public Radio
Southside ISD's ID Policy Has Some Parents Complaining it Leaves Them Out of Kid's Schooling, San Antonio Express-News
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.
Valley Interfaith Launches Parish ID Strategy with 3 Police Departments and Catholic Diocese of Brownsville
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
Valley Interfaith Clarifies Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor
Valley Interfaith to Launch Local Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor [pdf]
Likening the use of about 600 federal agents in an immigration raid carried out Wednesday in seven Mississippi chicken processing plants to an “invasion,” Bishop Joseph Kopacz, who heads the Diocese of Jackson, said some of the families affected by the action appear “traumatized.” And though about 300 of the roughly 680 people who were arrested were released on Thursday, Aug. 8, the bishop said the effects of the raids will only intensify in the coming weeks.
“This is a man-made disaster—literally,” Bishop Kopacz said. “These folks are our neighbors. They’re not criminals, the vast majority of them. They’re hard-working people.” He said he was bewildered that authorities would choose to carry out the operation as these Mississippi communities began the first day of school.
Chevon Chatman, who heads up Working Together Jackson, a network of community groups including Mississippi parishes, said...“The kids who were left behind on their first day of school came back to no one,” she said. “There have been some reunifications, but it’s still a work in progress. There are a significant number of children who have not been united with their parents.”
Ms. Chatman said that many companies in Mississippi count on immigrant labor....
[Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis, AP Photo]
After ICE Raids in Mississippi, Catholic Charities Prepares for Long-Term Impact, America Magazine [pdf]
In the face of increasingly public deportation threats, DAI's parish strategy to 'welcome the stranger' has translated into an array of actions designed to combat fear and fortify relationships between individuals, families, communities and religious institutions. Teams of parish leaders are organizing events that include citizenship screenings, Diocesan-certified parish identification cards, family health fairs (like the one in photo above) and 'Know Your Rights' sessions.
According to Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul, the church is working to dispel fear and to build community amidst a climate that breeds isolation.
This summer will mark one year since the Catholic Diocese of Dallas outlined official requirements for parish identification cards, which would be made available to parishioners who lack access to state-issued IDs. Since then, 20 Catholic parishes have embraced the strategy, organizing teams of lay leaders to help screen applicants and issue the parish identification cards according to Diocesan standards. Parish IDs are now accepted by four police departments in North Texas: Carrollton, Dallas, Farmers Branch and Mesquite. Acceptance by these police departments was negotiated in 2017 in collaboration with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Rev. Jesus Belmontes attest that the IDs have brought relief to a vulnerable community. The acceptance of these cards by the police communicates that "they want to protect us rather than harm us. This is a ray of light that, little by little, has the potential to enlighten us all."
Parish IDs Bring Relief to Immigrant Community, Dallas Catholic Magazine
ID Parroquiales Traen Alivio a Comunidad Inmigrante, Revista Católica
In the face of a growing humanitarian crisis at the border, Albuquerque Interfaith has been at the forefront of a local response, mobilizing institutions to address the immediate needs of recent arrivals and building a longer-term strategy and constituency for change.
In March, when asylum seekers began to arrive in Albuquerque without advance notice, Albuquerque Interfaith leaders stepped up to the challenge. Within a month, in collaboration with Catholic Charities and the City of Albuquerque, leaders built a coalition of agencies to respond to increasing numbers of asylum seekers coming to the city.
For several months, leaders organized an operation of hundreds of volunteers who welcomed thousands of legal refugees, accepting buses filled with mostly Central American families. Upon arrival, families were greeted with sleeping accommodations, healthy meals, fresh clothing and support to get to their final destinations (in most cases on the East Coast). In April, newly-elected Governor Lujan-Grisham agreed to open up dorms at the Expo New Mexico center to families, most of which completed a multi-month journey through Mexico and would otherwise had been dropped off by the US Border Patrol on the streets of El Paso. With the help of dozens of churches and organizations, most of the refugees / asylees make their transition from Albuquerque within 3-4 days.
Alongside this charity strategy, leaders implemented a justice strategy rooted in IAF organizing practices of research action, civic academies and public action for structural change.
In May, leaders began calling for a strategy to address root causes of the asylum crisis.
After a campaign of civic academies that helped build an educated constituency around the need for public intervention, leaders packed city council chambers in support of a $250,000 appropriation to pay for asylum work in Albuquerque. 45 speakers spoke in support of the appropriation, including Catholic Archbishop John Wester and Interfaith leaders from a broad swath of religious and nonprofit institutions. Within days, leaders leveraged $100,000 from Bernalillo County to support mental health services for incoming families.
Albuquerque Interfaith is furthermore engaging US Senator Martin Heinrich, US Representative Ben Ray Lujan and US Representative Deb Haaland around conditions on the ground, with leaders already participating in delegations from New Mexico to secure federal funding to reimburse the city and county governments for local costs generated by the crisis.
Albuquerque Interfaith leaders are fully embracing their campaign rallying cry: "With charity, our faith demands justice."
[Photo Credits: Top - Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal; Bottom - Greg Sorber, Albuquerque Journal]
County to Provide Psychological Support to Asylum Seekers, Albuquerque Journal [pdf]
Oped: Leaders Should Address Root Causes of Caravans, Albuquerque Journal [pdf]
Oped: Compassion for Asylees Lost in Border Debate, Albuquerque Journal [pdf]
Expo NM Will Open Dorms to Asylum Seekers, Albuquerque Journal
ABQ Interfaith Increases Supports for Schools, Advances Early Childhood Education & Expands Utility of Immigrant Drivers' Licenses
Months into the New Mexico legislative session, Albuquerque Interfaith leaders are celebrating advances around school accountability and early childhood education, supports for immigrants and increased health security.
Thanks to their close collaboration with state legislators, Albuquerque Interfaith leaders were successful crafting legislation that eradicated a punitive A-F grading system for public schools and replaced it with a diagnostic system of accountability. Leaders helped push through legislation that established, for the first time in the state, a department of early childhood education -- a necessary foundation for future efforts to support early childhood interventions. Funding for K-12 schooling also increased, to community acclaim.
In an effort to reverse the effects of a two-tiered system for (undocumented) immigrant drivers' licenses, created by the previous governor, leaders persuaded state legislators to expand the utility of the bottom-tier of licenses. The second tier is now equivalent to Real IDs, including acceptance by the TSA, state police and financial institutions.
These wins follow an intense season of community-led initiative -- both in bird-watching bills, and collaborating with state legislators to advance bills that intersect with the Albuquerque Interfaith agenda for families.
In fall of 2018, the federal government proposed redefining who might be considered a “public charge” -- a federal designation for people it believes are overly dependent on federally-funded social services. Under proposed changes, immigrants who are "likely at any time" to become a public charge could be ineligible to get visas and green cards that give them legal permanent residency.
Dallas Area Interfaith soon began receiving calls from parents of US-born children who stopped getting medical care and nutrition assistance for their kids. In response, DAI began organizing parish-based efforts to educate and urge the public to weigh in on the proposed changes .
“We have already heard stories of parents un-enrolling their kids from CHIP,” Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul said. “It is another piece in building a culture of fear.”
It is through congregation-based relationships and networks that DAI is educating the public about ways to take action on this issue.
[Photo Credit: Obed Manual, Dallas Morning News]