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]
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]
“With so much anxiety in the air over the coronavirus, these measures will free many of our brothers and sisters from additional anxieties over the basic necessities of life.” -- Gregory Kelly, Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas
Prior to and in the Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) meeting, Dallas Area Interfaith and Texas IAF clergy called on the PUC to create assistance programs and halt cutoffs for customers impacted by the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. At the meeting the PUC voted to create the “COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program” providing financial assistance and halting service disconnections for low-income and unemployed customers in deregulated markets such as Dallas, Houston, and Round Rock
PUC Chair DeAnn T. Walker recognized the work of the Texas IAF organizations in advocating for families across the state.
6 million Texans live in the areas impact by the measures enacted by PUC. Texas IAF leaders plan to work with PUC to extend and potentially expand these protections and assistance programs as long as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
Statement by Rev. Miles Brandon, St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church, Central TX Interfaith
Statement by Bryan Lopez, Assumption Catholic Church in Houston, TMO
Dallas Area Interfaith, a broad coalition of church-based groups, canceled a March 28 public health fair after providers began pulling out. The interfaith group held a series of well-attended fairs last year that drew a good amount of immigrant families.
“These are the people who are the most vulnerable,” said Socorro Perales, an organizer with the interfaith group. “This is critical.”
[Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa, Dallas Morning News]
Nonprofits Weigh Staying Open or Closing, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Britt and a handful of other church leaders founded Dallas Area Interfaith, with a focus on grass-roots issues such as community policing, educational equity and fair housing policies. The organization also trained and empowered ordinary folks — stay-at-home moms, day laborers and blue-collar workers — to take concerns to government officials.
When a Dallas City Council member tagged Britt and his fellow pastors as belligerent and militant, he acknowledged, “We’re not your father’s civic group.”
Britt and his interfaith co-founders secured council funding for housing in South Dallas and after-school programs at elementary campuses. Britt also led a jobs creation and training initiative that he took with him to CitySquare.
Across North Texas, nonprofits and community groups had already begun preparing last year for the possible roll-out of the public charge rule. They said they had no choice: Families were removing children who are U.S. citizens from public health programs for which they were legally eligible.
In Dallas, Josephine Lopez-Paul, the lead organizer of Dallas Area Interfaith, was blunt in her criticism. The group is planning a free health care fair on March 28 in Arlington at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Some immigrants have said they are fearful of going to any location connected to the government. Church complexes are viewed as safe places.
“We are creating a permanent underclass that doesn't care for one another,” Lopez-Paul said.
“The damage has already been done, whether the rule went into effect. Just imagine if they don’t have access to health care. … They don’t have access to immunizations.”
[Photo Credit: Brian Elledge, Dallas Morning News]
Almost three dozen clergy, religious and lay leaders from Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Mississippi convened at Holy Trinity Catholic to learn how to teach key pieces of the Recognizing the Stranger curriculum.
Sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), 'Train the Trainer' sessions like these are designed to expand the training capacity of the effort as the strategy reaches into nineteen dioceses across the US.
Sessions were led by senior organizers of the Organizers Institute of the South and West IAF and included in-depth discussion of theological reflections on the Eucharist at Corinth and the Beatitudes.
Last week, at the 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]
On a rainy Friday night, the Dallas church hall meeting was filled with talk of the latest tiroteos y balaceras — gunfire and gun battles.
Erika Gonzalez said she can now distinguish between the metallic sounds and rhythm of a high-caliber assault weapon vs. a pistol. “They discharge and they refill,” she said at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in southeast Dallas.
“We need more help for this combat,” said Lily Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen who helped organize the meeting. “Raise your voice. It will give us credibility.”
They’re part of a new gun-control campaign that is spreading in Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant neighborhoods in Dallas and elsewhere in Texas. Already, 11,000 Texans have signed postcards asking for support for four federal bills, including two on enhanced background checks for firearms purchases, organizers say.
The campaign started after the mass shooting Aug. 3 at an El Paso Walmart, in which a Dallas-area man traveled to the border city with an assault rifle to hunt Mexicans, according to a court affidavit. By the end of the shooting spree, 22 people were dead. It is believed to be the worst violence against Latinos in a century — since widespread lynchings across the West aimed at those of Mexican ancestry....
[Photo Credit: Dianne Solis, Dallas Morning News]
After El Paso Massacre, Dallas Area Interfaith Calls for Tougher Gun Laws, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Dallas Area interfaith (DAI) leaders Debra Levy (Temple Shalom) and Deborah Smith (Christian Chapel CME) delivered essential citizen input to the Texas House of Representatives Redistricting Committee in order to promote fair and transparent redistricting in 2021.
Representing 40 institutions and 90,000 families, both leaders attested to specific ways current gerrymandering negatively impacts their communities and the democratic process. Deborah Levy testified that while her work in DAI centers around developing leadership capacity for civic engagement, without equal representation in her district, the barrier to impact the electoral process is artificially high. Leaders also argued that slicing up major metro areas into districts not only dilutes citizen representation, it makes negotiating common interests across multiple municipal and utility district lines more challenging.