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St. Eugene Catholic, Valley Interfaith Begin Issuing Parish IDs

Described by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate as "a collaborative effort between St. Eugene de Mazenod Parish, the Bishop’s Immigration Task Force of the Diocese of Brownsville... and Valley Interfaith," the issuance of parish identification cards began late January in Brownsville.   

Held on a Saturday, the Parish ID Festivals are designed to make the identification card available to immigrant parishioners who may not yet have government-issued identification cards.  The parish ID is sees as a way to welcome and acknowledge cardholders as parishioners and members of the parish community.

“ID cards can only be used for identification purposes, it is not a government issued card and cannot be used to vote, does not take place of drivers license,” said Jose Hinojosa of Valley Interfaith.  So far, leaders have negotiated with the Police Departments of McAllen, Pharr, Edinburg, San Juan and Brownsville to recognize parish IDs.  

Said Fr. Kevin Collins, pastor of St. Eugene de Mazenod: “I am so blessed to have parishioners dedicated to works of mercy and justice....now some of our folks will have a way to live with a little more dignity.”

[Photo Credit: (top and bottom right) St. Eugene Mazenod Catholic Church; (bottom left) footage, KVEO]

Oblate Parish in Brownsville Offering ID CardsMissionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate United States Province [pdf]

Local Church Offering Parish ID Cards to ParishionersKVEO [pdf

Church Offers Photo IDs to its MembersBrownsville Herald [pdf]

Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer Parish IDInterfaith Education Fund

In Wake of Wage Theft, Valley Interfaith Calls for Incentives Reform and Investigations

In small group conversations organized through their congregations, Valley Interfaith leaders Elisa Alfaro of Holy Spirit parish and Dayra Campos of San Juan Diego kept hearing the same stories: workers in cold storage facilities earning less than the minimum wage and experiencing rampant labor abuse. 

While the federal minimum wage is $7.25, parishioners shared that they are often paid less than half that by McAllen producers.  When one company closed access to the bathroom for employees, they were forced to walk 10 minutes to a gas station for their bathroom break.  Another parishioner shared constant threats by their boss if they were to admit to working 10 hours per day for $600 per month (less than half the minimum wage).   

In response, Valley Interfaith leaders are calling on the City of McAllen to ensure that no company that pays workers under the minimum wage, or is guilty of wage theft, receives incentives from the city.  They are also calling on the City to investigate abusive labor practices. Leaders are now meeting with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and McAllen City Manager about making these changes.   

"Nobody should earn a slave wage," said Elisa Alfaro.

[Image Credit: KVEO footage]

Faith Leaders, Lawyer: Wage Theft Rampant at Local Cold Storage FacilitiesThe Monitor [pdf

Produce Industry Wage DisputeKVEO [pdf]

Fair Pay a Distant Dream for Produce Packers in the Rio Grande ValleySan Antonio Express-News

Valley Interfaith Launches Parish ID Strategy with Catholic Diocese of Brownsville and 3 Police Departments

In collaboration with Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores, 500 Valley Interfaith leaders packed a hall in Las Milpas to publicly launch a parish ID strategy for the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  Developed in partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and three law enforcement agencies, new parish-issued identification cards will show a photo of the cardholder, name, date of birth, address and how long the cardholder has been a member of their parish.

Bishop Flores emphasized: “The ID means something more than simply its implication that you have an identification...it means something much deeper: ‘I belong to a parish, and so in this community, I am not living in the shadows.’”

On behalf of Catholic Charities, Sr. Norma Pimentel presented a $10,000 check to pay for printers for new ID cards.  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.   

“Too much of the focus is on the national and state conversation regarding immigration,” said Franciscan Father Tom Luczak, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Edinburg.  “This is a local strategy that gives my own parishioners the dignity of being able to identify themselves to a police officer.  This will positively affect them."

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 Credits: Photo above by Francisco Jimenez, The Monitor; photos below by Paul Binz, The Valley Catholic]

IDs Give Parishioners Way to Say, 'I Belong,' Regardless of Legal Status, National Catholic Reporter 

Diocese, Valley Interfaith Team Up to Offer a New Kind of IDThe Valley Catholic

Vally Nonprofit Announces ID Strategy in Parishes, KRGTV

Valley Interfaith Clarifies Parish ID Strategy, The Monitor

Valley Interfaith to Launch Local Parish ID StrategyThe Monitor [pdf]

Sr. Christine Stephens, CDP: 1940 - 2019

[From the Rio Grande Guardian]

Sister Christine Stephens, a key player in the Industrial Areas Foundation, has passed away.

She was 78 years old.

Stephens served on the National Executive Committee of IAF from 1999 to 2008 when she became one of four National Co-Directors until 2012. Most recently she served as Co-Director of the West/Southwest IAF region.

Among her accomplishments was establishing IAF organizations across Texas, including Valley Interfaith in the Rio Grande Valley.

Indeed, Stephens was lead organizer for Valley Interfaith during the period in the late 1980s when state legislation brought millions of dollars to the Valley for water and wastewater in the region’s colonias.

She also guided the development of new West/Southwest IAF organizations in Louisiana and mentored organizers across the West/Southwest of the United States.

The Rio Grande Guardian will have a tribute story about Sister Stephens in the coming days.

Here is her obituary:

==========================

SISTER CHRISTINE STEPHENS, CDP

Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens.  

She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. 

Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.  

Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.  

Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.  

Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/ Mexico border, was instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio. She served as lead organizer in the Rio Grande Valley with Valley Interfaith in the 80’s when the organization passed the 1989 Colonia’s Bill that brought millions of dollars to Rio Grande Valley colonias for water and waste water and supervised VIF for decades.

Her advocacy and work during the past four decades were manifest in her various roles as National IAF Co-Director and supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network. Her organizing career began in Houston and then as lead organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio.  

She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi-faith traditions, economic lines, and race do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued.  She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.

She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence.  She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.

==========================

The Rosary and Wake were Thursday, July 25, 2019 and Mass of Resurrection on Friday, July 26, 2019.  All services were held in Sacred Heart Chapel, next to Our Lady of the Lake Convent Center in San Antonio, Texas.

In lieu of flowers, you may make a memorial contribution to the Sisters of Divine Providence, 515 S.W. 24th Street, San Antonio, TX 78207-4619.

==========================

Stephens was an Early COPS OrganizerSan Antonio Express-News

Christine Stephens, COPS/Metro Alliance Leader, Remembered for her Faith, Sense of JusticeRivard Report

Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]

Sister Christine Stephens Passes AwayRio Grande Guardian [pdf]

Obituaries: 

Revs. Collins & Guevara: Investing Millions of Dollars in Economically Distressed Areas

[Excerpt]

Valley Interfaith leaders recognize Democratic Senators Eddie Lucio, Jr and Juan Hinojosa, and Republican Senator Charles Perry from Lubbock, for their efforts to generate investment in South Texas’ poorest families.  

They authored Senate Bill 2452 and Senate Joint Resolution 79, which would allow the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to use money from the Economically Distressed Areas Program (EDAP) to bring millions of dollars to economically distressed areas to cover most of the costs to provide access to drinking and waste water services. 

These bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers; and on June 14, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed S. B. 2452.

In 1989, Valley Interfaith and our sister Texas IAF organizations worked with our state senators and representatives to pass the first EDAP legislation. This legislation allowed the state to sell bonds to invest in water and wastewater services in “colonias” and other low-income areas throughout the state.... 

[In photo: (left) Reverend Kevin Collins, pastor of St. Eugene of Mazenod Catholic Church and leader with Valley Interfaith (photo courtesy of Rio Grande Guardian); (right) Rev. Alfonso Guevara, pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and leaders with Valley Interfaith (photo by Fountain of Mercy Ministries]

Oped: Investing Millions of Dollars in Economically Distressed AreasRio Grande Guardian [pdf]

Valley Interfaith & Texas IAF Call on State Legislators to Invest in People

Hundreds of Texas IAF leaders bused in to 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 short briefing on school finance, the Texas Innovative Career Education (ACE) program and other issues -- including healthcare, payday lending, and infrastructure in the colonias -- leaders were recognized with a House resolution in support of the ACE program.  Immediately afterward, they convened on the South Capitol steps, and were joined by several state legislators who pledged to continue working for investments in people.  

In photo above left, Valley Interfaith leader Eddie Anaya speaks at the Network of Texas IAF Organizations' press conference.  In photo above right, Valley Interfaith leader Rosalie Tristan helps lead the briefing of leaders.  After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators that represent their geographic regions.     

Valley Interfaith: State's Share of School Funding Has Dropped From 50% to Barely 36%Rio Grande Guardian  

Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult EducationUnivision 62 [Spanish video] 

Piden a Legisladores Texanos Más Fondos Para Apoyar la Educación de AdultosUnivision 62 

Valley Interfaith: State's Share of School Funding Dropped from 50% to Barely 36%

[Excerpt below]

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 (in photo above) 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]

Valley Interfaith: State's Share of School Funding Has Dropped From 50% to Barely 36%Rio Grande Guardian

Bishop Daniel Flores Accompanies 'Recognizing the Stranger' Training in the Rio Grande Valley

Over 80 predominantly low-income Spanish-speaking leaders converged for a multi-day training on leadership development co-sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and Valley Interfaith

Trainees came from 19 different institutions of the Rio Grande Valley -- including from Rio Hondo, Elsa, Las Milpas (Pharr), Weslaco, Peñitas and McAllen --  to learn how to organize around their faith and values.    

Valley Interfaith Credited with Helping Pass the Drainage Bond

The Rio Grande Guardian named Valley Interfaith as a key group that helped pass a drainage bond in Hidalgo County that will invest millions to improve the county's storm drainage system.  County Commissioners pledge that the monies will be invested as promised. 

Said Andy Noriega, a leader with Valley Interfaith and St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Weslaco: “People keep talking about the June 20th floods. But in 2015, our homes flooded with just an inch less of rain than what fell on June 20th. We see that these proposed projects will take water out of our families’ homes and into retention ponds and canals. That is why we support this bond.” 

Commissioners: Drainage Bond Funds Will Not be Diverted to Other ProjectsRio Grande Guardian

 

Valley Interfaith Fights for Drainage Bond to Prevent Future Flood Damage in Las Milpas

After summer floods in Hidalgo County left countless homes destroyed and neighborhoods damaged, Valley Interfaith leaders researched a $190 million bond proposal to upgrade Hidalgo County’s drainage system.  Leaders were soon angered to discover that almost no funding was planned to be allocated for the poorest neighborhoods of Hidalgo.  “Never before has Las Milpas received money to improve the drainage in this community from Hidalgo County,” said Valley Interfaith leader Eddie Anaya. 

Valley Interfaith quickly mobilized, reaching out to their elected officials and ultimately negotiating upwards of $15 million in drainage work in South Pharr and $1 million dollars for South McAllen -- not originally in the bond proposal.

[Our neighborhoods] “stand to receive an unprecedented $15 million that will improve the drainage in South Pharr. We sat down with Commissioner Cantú and expressed our community’s concerns about the original design. He listened, and we like the changes.”

Valley Interfaith Endorses Drainage Proposition, The Monitor [pdf]

Community Groups Urge 'Yes' Vote on $190 Million Bond Election, Rio Grande Guardian [pdf]