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.
In a budget process that the Houston Chronicle says "devolved into a clash of wills," TMO clergy and leaders leveraged a major wage win for workers: $14 per hour for 3,000+ of the lowest paid employees in the Houston Independent School District, employees who keep children safe, nourished, and schools clean.
In testimony to the HISD Board, Deacon Sam Dunning, Director of the Office of Peace and Justice in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston argued: "A budget is a moral document...it is time to treat all workers with dignity."
Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis of Northside Episcopal Church argued, "There is a price to be paid for allocating funds that is not equitable to all classes and that price will be paid by your hourly workers and their family members... in the form of hunger, inadequate housing, anxiety, fear and stress." Rev. Jimmy Grace of St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Rev. Darrel Lewis of New Pleasant Grove Baptist, Rev. Jacqueline Hailey of New Hope Baptist, Rev. Rhenel Johnson of St. Andrew's UMC and Chava Gal-Orr from Temple Sinai spoke at Board meetings and press conferences as well.
This spring, TMO was part of a delegation of 300 Texas IAF leaders that called on state legislators to increase spending in public education in order to retain the talent upon which public schools rely. After passage of HB3, which put millions of dollars into public schools across the state, TMO leaders worked locally to make sure Houston Independent School District used its funds for the lowest paid workers.
[Photo Credit: Top photos from footage by Univision]
Houston ISD Trustees Approve $1.9 Billion Budget, Houston Chronicle
Video of clergy statements [first skip to 14:33 and then to 19:05]
When Lucia Hernandez (top photo above) was hit from behind by a car speeding through a blind curve, she turned to her parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe Helotes, and COPS/Metro for help. With other leaders, Hernandez organized an assembly of 170 parish and community members to discuss ways to address a blind spot on FM 1560 near her church and Helotes Elementary School. Helotes is a rapidly growing suburban community outside San Antonio.
At the assembly, engineers and officials from the Texas Department of Transportation were confronted by angry parishioners. Declared Hernandez to the team of uncomfortable engineers: “There’s evidence that you’ve made a terrible mistake. Didn’t you study those angles?”
Other parish and community leaders weighed in, agreeing that the curve between FM 1560 and Bandera Road had become deadly due to the construction of a new wall that now obstructed drivers' view, and would only get worse when school started again in the fall.
The Mayor of Helotes and TXDOT Advanced Planning Director pledged to work with the leadership to "refine" the traffic situation, and to meet again within three weeks.
At the follow up meeting, COPS/Metro leaders brought in their State Representative and State Senator who affirmed that funding was available. Put on the spot, TXDOT agreed to set up temporary signs and to meet with church/organizational leaders on a monthly basis until a permanent solution was created.
[Photo Credit: Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express News]
Helotes Drivers Want Quick Solution to 'Free For All' Intersection, San Antonio Express-News
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
Texas IAF Advances EDAP Legislation for Economically Distressed Areas & Continues Push for Restoration of ACE Funding
One month after 300 Texas IAF leaders descended on the Capitol to call for investments in human development, delegations have been visiting the Capitol daily to engage legislators around school finance, the ACE fund, payday lending and infrastructure support for economically distressed areas.
Legislative allies in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso crafted a proposed constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of bonds by the Texas Water Development Board for projects in economically distressed areas. The proposal is almost to the finish line.
With ACE funding already in the draft budget, leaders are working to restore it to its original $10 Million. When economist Marc Elliot from Economic Mobility delivered a presentation on the effectiveness of the Project QUEST job training model at the Capitol, representatives from over a dozen legislative offices attended.
The QUEST model is hailed as the hitting on a "formula with a proven track record" and Texas IAF organizations across the state have applied it in Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.
Texas ACE Fund Return on Investment, Texas IAF
Nine Year Gains: Project Quest's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Not All Programs Fade: New Report on Project QUEST RCT Shows Sizable None-Year Earnings Gains for Low-Income Workers, Straight Talk on Evidence [pdf]
Growing up in a San Antonio in which pernicious neglect by an Anglo-controlled "Good Government League" left low-income Mexican-American neighborhoods flooded each year, Andy Sarabia helped transform the political landscape of the city and mentor generations of community leaders. In partnership with Ernesto Cortes, Sarabia not only reshaped the City, he launched COPS/Metro and the modern Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).
A civil engineer with the Kelly Airforce Base and active at Holy Family Church, Sarabia was first approached by Cortes after a pastor recommended they meet. Standing ankle deep in a front yard pool of water after recent rains, he grew agitated when Cortes asked him whether he liked standing in floodwater. Reflecting on that question, Sarabia decided that he did not like standing in floodwater and went about shifting the racial and class dynamics in San Antonio so that his family and neighbors would not have to stand in floodwater again.
“Andy was quiet and methodical, the master of checklists with an ability to systematically organize,” says Cortes. “He had a natural talent as a negotiator, to make trade-offs, to reach a deal.” Sarabia soon found himself at the epicenter of a seismic shift in local politics as Mexican-American congregations began to band together -- not to march in the streets, but for quiet engagement in parish classrooms and union halls to identify barriers that chafed at the dignity of hard-working families. Through the formation of the broad-based organization Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Sarabia worked for the advancement of lower-income families, inducting them into a discipline of careful political research and targeted public action, and thus initiating sweeping structural changes (see Texas Monthly piece from 1977 below). Monied Anglos were fearful of the changes. Others, like bank founder Tom Frost, eventually welcomed them.
As the first president of COPS, Sarabia shaped the culture of the organization. During the 1970s, change was stirring across the nation, and a generation of young people explored local activism, party politics and candidacy for elected office. Sarabia believed in institutional change and regularly spurned invitations to run for office. He created a culture of organizing in which accountability to an institution was required and organizational leadership positions awarded to those that produced results. At the end of his two-year tenure, he continued to remain active from the sidelines -- mentoring new presidents, coaching first-time public speakers, and reminding subsequent generations of the organization's history and traditions.
“The most important thing for people to know is that none of the work was ever about him, it was about the betterment of the community, siempre para la gente,” said Linda Ledesma, Sarabia’s widow. “He was compassionate, he was caring, and he wanted justice, but he went about things his way, quietly.”
Sarabia connected the present to the past -- reminding leaders and public officials alike that it took COPS' power to establish successful programs like nationally-renowned Project Quest and the San Antonio Educational Partnership. The organization he helped establish, now COPS/Metro, has persisted as a powerhouse. This year, the San Antonio Current recognized it as the only community organization on its top ten list of power brokers.
COPS’ success led to the creation of over 30 sister organizations throughout Texas and the West / Southwest US, some of which are approaching 35+ years of age. Andy Sarabia was incredibly adroit with funders, ensuring support for expansion projects in Houston and Dallas through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
Even in retirement, Sarabia continued to work with COPS/Metro -- writing op-eds and consulting with newer organizers. Weeks ago, from his hospice bed, Andy Sarabia watched the COPS/Metro accountability assembly on a NOWCastSA livestream. As the curtain closed, he called individual leaders, congratulating them on the session and evaluating which of the candidates were most responsive to the organization's concerns. On election day, he marked his ballot from bed, urging others: "Get out the vote. I am with you in heart and spirit." Days later he died surrounded by family and friends.
That is how COPS/Metro leaders remember him: passionate about community and democracy -- and committed to the end.
*** *** ***
Services will be held Monday and Tuesday, May 13-14 at Holy Family Church at 152 Florencia Ave. on the West Side. The 5pm viewing Monday will be followed by a Rosary at 7pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11am Tuesday, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
The Sarabia Family suggests that in lieu of flowers, a memorial contribution be sent to Holy Family Church (152 Florencia Ave., 78228) and COPS/Metro (1511 Saltillo Street, 78207).
[Credits: Upper right photo from COPS/Metro archives at UTSA; lower left photo by Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express-News; other images provided by COPS/Metro. Quotes by Cortes and Ledesma first published by the Rivard Report.]
Andy Sarabia, COPS’ First President, Dies at 79, Rivard Report [pdf]
Editorial Board: A Man Who Gave Voice to Voiceless, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
Andy Sarabia, 79, Fought for San Antonio's Forsaken and Forgotten, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
The Second Battle of the Alamo, Texas Monthly (1977)
COPS Takes on City Hall, Texas Observer (1976)
Hundreds of Texas IAF leaders bused into the Capitol from El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and West Texas, joining Central Texas Interfaith counterparts to call on state legislators to increase spending on adult and K-12 education.
After a morning briefing on school finance, the Texas Innovative Career Education (ACE) program and other issues -- including Medicaid, payday lending, and infrastructure in the colonias -- leaders were recognized with a House resolution in support of the ACE program.
300 leaders then convened on the South steps of the Capitol where they were joined by state legislators who pledged to continue working for investments in people. The following spoke in support of the ACE fund and increased public school funding: Central Texas Representatives Vikki Goodwin, John Bucy, Erin Zwiener, Gina Hinojosa and James Talarico; El Paso area representatives Joe Moody, Mary Gonzalez and Art Fierro; North Texas legislators Victoria Neave, Terry Meza, Julie Johnson, John Turner and Ana Ramos; and from San Antonio, Phillip Cortez.
In photo above, the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson from TMO (Houston) kicks off the press conference with leaders from San Antonio (COPS/Metro), Dallas Area Interfaith, Central Texas / Austin Interfaith, West Texas Organizing Strategy (WTOS), El Paso's Border Interfaith & EPISO, and the Rio Grande Valley (Valley Interfaith). After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators representing their geographic regions.
Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult Education, Univision 62 [Spanish video]
BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Over 300 Texas Industrial Area Foundation leaders from across the state will hold a press conference on the south steps of the State Capitol on Thursday.
There, they will call on the House and Senate to invest in families through adult workforce development and public education.
Among those present will be more than 75 members of Valley Interfaith, which is part of the IAF network. In addition to pushing for adult workforce development and public education, Valley Interfaith members will also call for investment in border colonias.
The Rev. Kevin Collins of St. Eugene Parish in Brownsville is a leader with Valley Interfaith. He said Valley Interfaith wants legislators to increase the state’s overall share of the cost of public education and to increase the per-pupil allotment.
“Quality public education is a question of a strong Valley economy and quality of life,” Collins said. “The state needs to step up its game and invest more in public education. Property taxes skyrocketed because the state’s share of school funding went from 50 percent to barely 36 percent. The state needs to increase investment to improve the quality of public education in Texas.”
[Photo Credit: Rio Grande Guardian]
200 leaders of COPS/Metro, accompanied by Catholic Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, descended upon San Antonio City Council chambers with a simple message delivered by Maria Tijerina: "We don't want a study. We want action."
A study on displacement in San Antonio was scheduled to begin in 2020, but COPS/Metro leaders are calling for immediate action to prevent the direct and indirect displacement of neighbors. Said García-Siller, “They have lived simply, and with pride, in their homes, which have belonged in their families for decades.” He noted that the city gives incentives — tax rebates and fee waivers — to developers while homeowners who improve their own homes see their taxes rise.
Tijerina argued that rather than conduct a study on the root causes of displacement, the city should consider COPS/Metro’s own recommendations (detailed in a recently published oped) which include increasing owner-occupied rehabilitation in vulnerable neighborhoods; a city-coordinated homestead exemption and property tax freeze and deferrals for residents older than 65; tax abatements for homeowners and land preservation for affordable housing.
Immediately at stake was a $1 Million fund to help displaced and vulnerable residents. After its unanimously passage, COPS/Metro leaders called it "a good start."
COPS/Metro leaders plan to engage Mayor Ron Nirenberg on further displacement prevention at an accountability session April 7th.
[Top Photo Credit: Ben Olivo, San Antonio Heron; Bottom Photo Credit: Iris Dimmick, Rivard Report]
San Antonio Nearing $1 Million Policy for Low-Income Families Facing Rising Housing Costs, Eviction, San Antonio Express-News
City Considers Fast-Tracking Housing Displacement Prevention Policy, Rivard Report [pdf]
Five years after COPS/Metro's first wage win, the San Antonio Express-News is crediting the organization with the most recent wage floor hike at Alamo Colleges to $15 per hour.
"The COPS/Metro Alliance, a community organizing coalition, has for years pushed local public entities to adopt a minimum 'living wage' of $15 hourly as part of a national movement. The Alamo Colleges had already raised its minimum wage, along with the City of San Antonio, Bexar County and some public school districts, with the stated intent of moving gradually toward the $15 goal. The city and county reached $15 last fall."
In photo top left, taken in 2014, over 300 COPS/Metro leaders publicly launched a "living wage and economic security" campaign to raise the living standards of public employees. In 2014, in top photo at right, a St. Alphonsus Catholic parishioners tells a reporter that her daughter, a full-time Alamo Colleges employee, earned only $8.50 / hour without benefits or vacation. In bottom photos, Alamo Colleges workers Jose Rodriguez and Jennifer Wilgen describe the impact of the wage raise.
The $15/hour minimum represents a 30% increase over the previous wage floor. Alamo College representatives argue that raising the wage floor “supports the economic and social mobility of the families of the lowest paid members of the Alamo Colleges District workforce and the persistence of a growing body of students” employed part-time at the colleges.
This position is consistent with what COPS/Metro leaders have argued for years.
[Photo Credits: Top left and bottom photos by Bob Owen, San Antonio Express-News; top right photo by Rafael Paz Parra]
Alamo Colleges, Other San Antonio Employers, Embrace 'Living Wage', San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
Alamo College Trustees Raise Hourly Minimum Wage to $15, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]