Our network had the rare opportunity to visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
An interfaith delegation of 20 leaders and organizers from the West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation met with him to share our collective work of broad based organizing at a time when the Pope is guiding the global church in a historic Synod listening process.
The Holy Father sat side by side with us in his residence, thanking us for inconveniencing ourselves to come see him. What ensued was a true dialogue, a 90-minute conversation in Spanish with lots of back and forth engagement. The encounter was filled with many graced moments about both the joys and the struggles of our work, and the work of the Church, past, present, and to come.
This invitation to meet was in large part due to the recognition of our work by local Bishops, particularly those involved with the 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy, which is dedicated to formation and leadership development of immigrant parishioners. As well, our involvement to support the Synod process in multiple dioceses has helped to bring those in the margins to the center of the synodal dialogue.
As we shared our experiences of organizing, we were struck by how carefully he listened, asked questions, and engaged with lots of humor. Early on, he reflected back to us, “Usaron mucho las palabras ‘ver’ y ‘escuchar,’... Me impresiona que ninguno de ustedes es parte de alguna teoría. Ninguno dice ‘leí un libro y me interesó eso.’” (You constantly use the words “to see” and “to listen.. I am impressed that none of you start with any theory. No one says ‘I read a book and that interested me.’) “El peligro es intelectualizar el problema” (The danger is when you intellectualize a problem).
He stressed the importance of being with people and paying attention to their reality, emphasizing Amor Concreto, love concretely in action, saying that he understood our work as seeing and hearing of injustice in the real lives of our people, acting to change the situation, and being changed ourselves as a result. He expressed his appreciation for our focus on what we are doing, rather than to complain about what is not being done or to disparage anyone. “Ustedes no menospreciaron a nadie.”
Before concluding, he thanked us for our visit, saying that although he had never known of IAF before, he was glad that he knew us now, and he welcomed further conversation around our continuing work with the Synod process.
We teach that power recognizes power. For Pope Francis, “el verdadero poder es el servicio,” (“true power is service”). Recounting the Good Samaritan, he clearly stated that the Gospel cannot be understood without acting with those who are suffering. He recognized the leaders and organizations of the IAF and the powerful work that is happening every day at the margins. He referred to the IAF as “Good News for the United States.”
We are humbled to represent the many decades of work from those who preceded us, and we are encouraged in the continuation of our work into the future.
[Photos credit: Rabbi John Linder]
A section of the Texas tax code that is used by local governments as lucre to attract corporate relocations but that often ends up pitting city against city and school district against school district is set to expire.
Based on hearings last week, there will likely be calls to reinstate it in the next Legislature. That would be a mistake....
In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott complained that each job created by this program cost taxpayers $341,000. Using Abbott’s calculation, the Houston Chronicle updated the numbers last year: now every job created by a 313 incentive costs $1.1 million, the paper reported.
What’s more, a 2018 study by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that 313 incentives were the deciding factor in fewer than 25% of relocations, meaning three quarters of the time, the relocation would have happened anyway. Taxing districts are leaving money on the table and cities are fighting cities in a game that actually hurts their residents and students....
in many cases, the choice is not between attracting a company to Texas or failing to do so. The choice is between attracting a company to Taylor or Round Rock; Sherman or Plano.
That highlights another problem: 313 favors districts where it’s easiest to acquire land and build facilities. In an analysis by Dallas Area Interfaith, the losers under 313 are large, urban school districts like Dallas ISD.
[Graphic: Dallas Morning News]
"Dallas Area Interfaith and its related organizations in the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation helped lead the fight to end Chapter 313 in the Texas legislature last year. The group is also opposing new applications at the school board level, a job that’s picking up as applications pour in this summer.
“Typically, we would find about 5% of the school districts would have tax abatements through 313, and it would come to an average of roughly 100 a year,” Dallas Area Interfaith Leader Bill deHaas said. “We’re on the way to tripling that.”
The bipartisan group opposes new agreements on the basis that they hurt Texas schools and students.
“Dallas ISD, on average is losing about $20 million a year because of the tax abatements. They go to only 5% of the state school districts,” deHaas said.
DeHaas’ point is that the vast majority of Texas school districts would receive more funding per student if the state eliminated costs that go to cover 313 agreements.
Since the comptroller frequently waives a job creation requirement, deHaas also said the tax breaks don’t create many local jobs. At the end of 2021, the comptroller recorded more than 9,000 jobs created by $217 billion in investments.
“It just seems to us to be an unfair system to attract new corporations to the state of Texas, and what happens is it penalizes 95% of the students in the state,” he said."
Companies Lining Up for Future Tax Breaks as Texas Incentive Program Nears End, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Building on a strategy initiated by Dallas Area Interfaith, parish leaders at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church issued parish identification cards to parishioners. The document allows immigrant parishioners to identify themselves to authorities, including law enforcement and county health officials, and was developed in partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas and local law police departments. Revista Catolica captured the most recent parish ID event on film (click on photo at right).
[Photo Credit: Revista Católica Dallas]
Parish IDs Issued at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church with the Support of DAI, Revista Cátolica [video]
DAI is leading an initiative to rebuild communities and congregations as we recover from two years of crisis after crisis. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the stories of a people coming out of the destruction of their temple and capital, and emerging out of exile. Over time the people become resilient and political, and they perdure.
This retreat was about reflecting deeply on these scriptures and examining how we can implement this in our own congregations and communities. Leaders aim to become a people who recognizes the stranger by seeing the face of God in the other.
115 leaders came from 17 schools, congregations, nonprofits and refugee community institutions across Dallas County and Tyler.
As part of a civic academy series held across Dallas, St. Luke Catholic Church leaders taught fellow parishioners basic principles of fair banking and how immigrants (including those without legal residency) can avoid predatory lending practices. Parish ID cards, first developed in Dallas in collaboration with the Dallas Catholic Diocese, featured prominently in the discussion, as did the collaboration with Resource One Credit Union in alternative lending strategies.
In photo, lay leader Claudia Cruz, shares her experience with the impact of predatory lending. [Photo Credit: Ben Torres, Revista Católica]
Protegiendo Families Inmigrantes de Abuso Bancario, Revista Católica [pdf]
Mary Immaculate hosted a Dallas Area Interfaith meeting in late October where school, police and mental health officials committed to working with one another to better residents’ access to resources by placing a community health worker with the church and communicating better.
“We will not bury our loved ones anymore because of lack of access to mental health services,”
parishioner Natalia Valenzuela said at the meeting. “By getting the services we need and building unity, we will overcome.”
[Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber, Dallas Morning News]
Dallas Area Interfaith has been working to help stop the spread of COVID-19 since the very beginning of the pandemic. The group, which has members from all religious groups, particularly saw a need for vaccinations in immigrant congregations.
“They are already fearful, they have a fear of the government, our approach is that you reach people in the institution that they trust most, that is closest to them and their family and those are our congregations,” lead organizer Josephine Lopez Paul said.
DAI surveyed the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 and mapped out where their congregations were located. They found that the nine areas with high rates of infection in Dallas were within their congregations.
“The most need in our membership has been among Roman Catholics, especially those who are undocumented,” Paul said.
DAI so far has had vaccination events at four area churches where more than a thousand people total were vaccinated....
Parishioners of Holy Trinity and DAI took the initiative to set up the vaccination event on June 17, partnering with Baylor Scott & White Health and DAI. Baylor and the members canvassed the area prior to the event to sign people up.
Although vaccines are easy to find in Dallas, [parochial vicar Father Mike] Walsh knew that some of his parishioners would feel more comfortable getting vaccinated at church.
“We just know that immigrants especially will get vaccinated at church even though it’s very easy to find a free vaccine,” Walsh said. “They trust church.”
Many Faith Leaders in North Texas Embracing their Role in Vaccine Push, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Francis Basebang jumped at the chance to help organize a pop-up clinic for COVID-19 vaccinations at his Dallas parish. The nurse practitioner worried that his fellow parishioners from around the globe, Cameroon to Nigeria, Mexico to the Philippines, weren’t getting vaccinated against the dreaded disease fast enough.
He knew from direct experience. The coronavirus killed two family members of teammates on his beloved Cameroon immigrant soccer team.
COVID-19 combat isn’t over. Harder-to-reach communities, such as working-class immigrants and Blacks and Latinos, are now the focus of hospitals, churches, schools and community groups.
“We have seen people die in our community. So, it is not a strange story from a different planet,” said the lanky Basebang, dressed in his soccer T-shirt and cap, at a pop-up clinic at St. Pius X Catholic Church.
When organizers set out to overturn Texas’s giveaway program for the oil and gas industry, they had a long game in mind. Over 20 years, the tax exemption program known as Chapter 313 had delivered $10 billion in tax cuts to corporations operating in Texas — with petrochemical firms being the biggest winners. This year, for the first time in a decade, the program was up for reauthorization. Organizers decided to challenge it for the first time.
At the beginning of last week, as Texas’s biennial legislative session approached its end, the aims of organizers remained modest. “We thought it would be a victory if the two-year reauthorization passed so we could organize in interim,” said Doug Greco, the lead organizer for Central Texas Interfaith, one of the organizations fighting to end the subsidy program.
At 4 a.m. last Thursday, it became clear that something unexpected was happening: The deadline for reauthorization passed. “The bill never came up,” Greco told The Intercept. Organizers stayed vigilant until the legislative session officially closed on Monday at midnight, but the reauthorization did not materialize....
“No one had really questioned this program,” said Greco, of Central Texas Interfaith. The reauthorization was a once-in-a-decade chance to challenge it. “We knew in our guts that the program was just a blank check, but we also are very sober about the realities of the Texas legislature.”
....As legislators met in a closed session to hammer out the bill, Greco heard from a colleague. “One of my organizers said there’s 20 oil and gas lobbyist standing outside this committee room,” he recalled.
Former Gov. Rick Perry, an Energy Transfer board member, tweeted his support for reauthorization. But as last week of the session ticked by, the bill didn’t come up. “It became clear that the reputation of the program had been damaged,” Greco said.
In 19 months, Texas’s subsidy program will expire, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
“We know there’s going to be a big conversation over the interim — we are under no illusions that this is not going to be a long-term battle.”
Organizers, though, recognize that the subsidy’s defeat marks a shift: “The table has been reset.”
In Blow to Big Oil, Corporate Subsidy Quietly Dies in Texas, The Intercept [pdf]
How Skeptical Texas Lawmakers Put an End to a Controversial Tax Incentive Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Texas Legislature Dooms Chapter 331, Which Gives Tax Breaks to Big Businesses, Business Journal [pdf]
Missed Deadline Could Doom Controversial $10B Tax-Break Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith