As COVID-19 cases in North Texas rise again, Dallas Area Interfaith leaders and Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly fight for relief for undocumented immigrants.
Says Bishop Kelly: "They don't have any access to any kind of support -- any kind of stimulus support -- and so they have to work..."
Because of language barriers, Texas risks leaving some of the state’s marginalized communities even more vulnerable to contracting the virus while making it more difficult to access resources needed to get through the pandemic....
Claudia Cruz, whose primary language is Spanish, said Dallas Area Interfaith— a coalition of Dallas religious congregations, schools and nonprofits — has been her main source of information since the COVID-19 pandemic began because “it’s the most accessible,” Cruz said.
“Our only source of information has been through DAI and through the people in our community,” Cruz said....
A few of Cruz’s friends and neighbors told Cruz they were too scared to even get tested for the virus because they didn’t have government IDs, Cruz said. It was Cruz who first explained to them that their parish IDs — alternate identification provided by Dallas Area Interfaith congregations for immigrants and others who have difficulty getting government ID cards — was valid for testing.
That’s information officials should be communicating to their constituents, said Josephine Lopez Paul, lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith.
“In the same way we’re seeing the virus disproportionately affect people of color, that same gap exists for quality information,” Lopez Paul said.
[Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar, Texas Tribune]
On a balmy day at the St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church in East Dallas, parishioners working with the nonprofit Dallas Area Interfaith talked among themselves about problems they faced as they passed out food to a long line of needy people.
Rosa Garcia said she was already helping family cope with the deaths of two family members in Dallas when her husband found out two more relatives had died in Florida. “For immigrants, it is harder. We have to struggle three times harder,” Garcia said.
Nearby, a small woman named Cecilia with a white face mask set below bloodshot eyes took a break. She said she didn’t sleep much because rats and bugs have infested her apartment, and she must be on guard that they don’t bite her children at night.
Cecilia lives on a janitor’s wages. She asked that her surname not be published because she is undocumented and fears she’d lose her job. She can’t pay her rent and the landlord says it will be an extra $300 if she wants to change apartments....
[Photo Credit: Ben Torres, Special Contributor, Dallas Morning News]
...workers who labor shoulder to shoulder at the plant and others fear the contagion has spread to more people in the Dallas area. Sick workers who do not get themselves tested could spread the virus when they are out and about or when they return to the plant.
“The workers at these plants are essential workers, especially now,” said auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Catholic Diocese. “They help keep the food supply chain intact for all of us… They are particularly vulnerable because of the kind of work that they do and in greater need of protection at this time. Just as the state has done elsewhere in Texas, they should require testing of their employees for the safety of all."
Josephine Lopez-Paul, an organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, said she is organizing a plan to assist those families. “It’s in our collective interest to protect these workers,” Lopez-Paul said. “The state also has a responsibility to these workers.”
[Photo Credit: Ryan Michalesko, Dallas Morning News]
Experts, Activists Want Virus Testing at Meat-Processing Plants to Prevent Community Spread, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
At St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Irving, Rev. Ernesto Esqueda said the church will support the workers with food and other needs during the pandemic.
“We are all walking on the same path, and our close ties mean we help and will continue to help so that these persons don’t feel forgotten or abandoned,” Rev. Esqueda said. “As a church, we work for them and with them.”
The priest said the church is also working with the nonprofit Dallas Area Interfaith and government authorities to find help for workers and parishioners.
One church leader in the interfaith group, Cecilia Avalos, said many of the Brakebush workers are vulnerable Spanish-speaking immigrants, and she knew of a worker who quit when the plant wouldn’t allow the worker to self-quarantine after exposure to an infected worker.
“There is such an outcry among people,” Avalos said.
[Photo by Dianne Solis and Imelda Garcia]
40 Workers At Irving Poultry Plant Test Positive for Covid-19, The Dallas Morning News
DAI Leverages $10 Million in County Coronavirus Relief for Housing Assistance and Small Business Aid
[Translated excerpt below]
"It's a good start", said Josephine López Paul, organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith, a nonprofit organization that helped create the County housing assistance program.
"It's a down payment towards a major issue in our county."
Ian Mattingly, president-elect of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, noted industry analyst estimates that 15% of county renters will not be able to pay rent this month.
[Photo Credit: Ashley Landis, Dallas Al Día]
DAI Leverages $13.7 Million In Local Housing Relief, Presses for More in Face of Overwhelming Demand
After DAI organized judicatory leaders and clergy from every major religion in Dallas, and the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, to testify in support of short-term supports for low-income renters and homeowners, the City of Dallas authorized about $13.7 million for short-term rental and mortgage assistance programs. $6 million will be dedicated to direct income support for Dallas residents left out of the CARES Act and another $1.5 Million will be entrusted to nonprofits to distribute.
Speakers who testified in support of this local aid package included Bishop Edward Burns and Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Kelly of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas, Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Erik KJ Gronberg of the Northern Texas - Northern Louisiana Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Rabbi Kimberly Herzog-Cohen of Temple Emanu-El.
Funding will come directly from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and other federal funding the city has available and will be targeted at households making 80% or below of the area median income and are left out of the federal stimulus CARES Act. DAI leaders argued that with 50,000 renters in danger of not being able to pay the rent, that a large local aid package would be essential.
50,000 Familias en Riesgo de Desalojo Por No Pagar La Renta, Al Dia Dallas
Immigrant Workers Face Economic Uncertainty During Covid-19 Shutdown, America Magazine
Press Conference Calling on City Council, Dallas Area Interfaith, [video]
City Council Discussion on Aid to Immigrants, City of Dallas [video]
A Dios Le Pido..., Revista Católica [en español]
On a recent Saturday, the priest passed out bags of eggs, beans, rice, tomatoes and chicken and sprinted like a grocery store clerk to families waiting in a long line of vehicles at San Juan Diego Catholic Church. Catholic Charities of Dallas had set up a mobile food pantry in the church parking lot. The charity has more than doubled food deliveries since the virus hit North Texas and left so many unemployed or with reduced work.
The following day at the downtown Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Padre Jesus joined auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly in celebrating Easter Mass in Spanish by video. Padre Jesus delivered a special message about a pause on evictions and said if anyone was threatened, they should call the nonprofit Dallas Area Interfaith, a group both priests work with.
If anyone has symptoms of the coronavirus, the priest said, they should go to a testing site. “Don’t have fear in going to these centers,” he said in a message slipped in before the final Alleluia of the Mass.
Wednesday, in English, Padre Jesus testified, by video, before the Dallas City Council in favor of getting emergency funds to help immigrants who aren’t eligible for federal relief funds because someone in the household is undocumented.
“We must direct funds to help the most vulnerable in our city,” Padre Jesus said....
[Photo Credit: Ashley Landis, Dallas Morning News]
Catholic Priest Tends to Most Vulnerable in Pandemic: the Uninsured and Enemployed Dallas Morning News [pdf]
While health and government officials work to manage the outbreak, families are struggling to pay bills and buy groceries.
Josephine Lopez Paul, the lead organizer for the Dallas Area Interfaith, a coalition of nonprofits and religious organizations that advocates for low-income families, said local, state and federal policymakers need to spend this month thinking about how to reshape the economy.
Lopez Paul said she hopes officials find a way to mitigate debt families may build as they continue to stay unable to work.
“This is going to be a depression,” she said. “This is the fastest economic decline we’ve seen in modern history. We’re not going to flip a switch one day and everyone go back to work. Some folks are never going to be able to recover from this.”
[Photo Credit: Smiley N. Pool, Dallas Morning News]
April Will Be a Make-or-Break Month for North Texas in Coronavirus Fight, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
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]