Valley Interfaith Leverages Candidate Pledges on Indigent Health, Job Training and Colonia Infrastructure
250 leaders with Valley Interfaith assembled at Holy Family Church in Edinburg to challenge candidates for Hidalgo County Judge to commit to working with them on health, job training and colonia infrastructure. Specifically, leaders challenged candidates to commit to raising the income eligibility to qualify for the County's indigent health care program, to restore funding for long-term job training program VIDA and to install necessary lighting, streets and drainage in surrounding unincorporated neighborhoods.
Candidates Richard Cortez, Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios, and Palacios' opponent in the March primary, Ellie Torres, all publicly pledged to support Valley Interfaith's agenda.
Cortez, Palacios, and Torres Commit to Valley Interfaith's Agenda, Rio Grande Guardian
In the largest celebration of multiple events, Bishop Daniel E. Flores blessed the opening of a new library in Las Milpas, surrounded by Valley Interfaith leaders, children from Carmen Anaya Elementary School and other community supporters. An assembly chronicled the community-driven effort that went into changing the political culture of South Texas, reflected in the construction of the new library that leaders had fought for and won.
Three years prior, Valley Interfaith leaders signed up 1,000 new voters to a community-driven agenda that included the construction of a new library in low-income Las Milpas, the organization of a nonpartisan accountability assembly at one of the local churches and an election upset that replaced a non-responsive mayor and city commission with a slate of new officials that understood what they had to do to stay in office.
The first meeting of the new City Commission in 2015 included all of Valley Interfaith's 6-point agenda and was passed with overwhelming support. Said the then-new Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez, "Valley Interfaith has a machine in place and I want to be re-elected. Let's build this library exactly how the community wants it."
The library opened in 2018 to community acclaim. City Commissioner Ramiro Caballero declared, "What VIF leaders did here in Pharr, we need you all to go out and train other citizens in other towns, cities, and county commissioner districts, and teach them to do what you did here with Pharr."
Bishop Flores to Bless New Las Milpas Library, Rio Grande Guardian
Historic Day for Las Milpas as Public Library is Officially Opened, Rio Grande Guardian
Las Milpas: A Case Study in How Civic Engagement Can Improve a Community, Rio Grande Guardian
Coverage of 2015 Accountability Assembly
"Years back, when we went with 40 or 50 people and packed the city commission, Carmen Lopez, other leaders, and our youth, spoke before the commission," Anaya said. "Carmen was reminded she had three minutes to speak. When she was speaking, very eloquently in Spanish, she was interrupted by the previous mayor and told, can you speak English. If not, you need to sit down. That, in itself, gave so much anger to the community. We knew there was only one thing we could do and that was educate our voters and go out and vote."
The education of voters came through house meetings and accountability sessions, Anaya explained.
"The community came together and identified issues that mattered to the families, and particularly to the youth. We told the elected officials, we need parks, a library, a place to gather. At a key accountability session, two of city commissioners did not show up. One of them lost by 12 votes, the other by 40," Anaya said, referring back to the 2015 city council election campaign.
Said Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez: "All of Las Milpas is transformed, thanks in large part to Valley Interfaith. This group played a critical role in identifying the improvements the City of Pharr had to make, and I am sure they have done it throughout the Rio Grande Valley."
Las Milpas: A Case Study in How Civic Engagement Can Improve a Community, Rio Grande Guardian
Following a press conference in which leaders of the Texas IAF Network of Organizations joined the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops to oppose the anti-sanctuary cities bill, SB4, Fr. Kevin Collins of St. Eugene's de Mazenod Catholic Church and Valley Interfaith in Brownsville had more to say.
"If you cannot trust the police, who can you turn to?" Collins argues that one unintended consequence of SB4 becoming a law is that organized crime will become more powerful if community policing is diminished by lack of trust.
According to written testimony by Bishop Jose Vasquez, speaking on behalf of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, "The Catholic Church has a long history of involvement in the immigration issue....we reject the premise that persons who are merely suspected of being undocumented should be rounded up by state and local police agents. The primary duty of state and local law enforcement is to enforce state and local law with the aim of protecting communities from those who seek to harm others."
Bishop Joe Vasquez's submitted testimony has been published by the Rio Grande Guardian and is part of the article below. Valley Interfaith is part of the Network of Texas IAF Organizations.
Valley Priest: Anti-Sanctuary Cities Bill Could End Up Empowering Drug Cartels, Rio Grande Guardian
Press Release, Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops
Valley Interfaith leaders are changing hearts and minds about the creation of a health district by knocking on doors and telling their healthcare stories. Catholics and Methodists are uniting, with reverends and veterans, all to make reality a community healthcare system for the Rio Grande Valley.
Says leader Eddie Anaya, "Valley Interfaith has long had a vision of a community ...healthcare system that will take care of the most vulnerable â€” health care that will serve the uninsured, the elderly, our children and our working families. We believe that an educated vote will result in the passing of Proposition 1."
Prop 1 Supporters Work to Get Out The Vote, The Monitor
Valley Interfaith celebrated the construction of a new library they had fought for, marking the first time in 20 years that "we feel, as citizens, as a community that we belong to the City of Pharr...it is an historic day." The library is the result of a protracted fight between Valley Interfaith leaders and the City of Pharr; the fight included success in signing up and turning out more than 1,000 new voters from Las Milpas.
In photo, Catholic Bishop Daniel Flores and other Valley Interfaith clergy break ground with children from nearby Carmen Anaya Elementary.
Anaya: Finally, Las Milpas Residents Feel Part of Pharr, Rio Grande Guardian
When St. John Paul II wrote that "a just wage is the key to economic justice," Valley Interfaith leaders listened. Challenged to address the plight of parents working two to three jobs and seeing families break down under the pressure, leaders began their living wage campaign in 1997 to pressure employers across the Rio Grande Valley to increase their minimum wages from $5 /hour to $7.50 /hour or more. Valley Interfaith succeeded where others before them had failed.
In 2000, after MIT Professor Paul Osterman spent three months studying the economic impact of the wage raises, leaders learned that in just three years, their efforts had increased the salaries of 7,200 workers by an average of $1,128 annually. Employers reported costs savings due to lower turnover and absenteeism. Employment did not drop. Since then the campaign accelerated to include dozens of school districts, college districts, county governments and entire municipalities. Economic incentives are often restricted to companies paying appropriate base wages.
Click below for the rest of the story, spanning two decades of work.
Valley Interfaith's Living Wage Campaign, Part One, Rio Grande Guardian
Valley Interfaith's Living Wage Campaign, Part Two, Rio Grande Guardian
As the 40+ anniversary of the Texas IAF approaches, Bishop Daniel Flores from the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville lauded the work of local affiliate Valley Interfaith as well as that of the Network of Texas IAF Organizations. He says that "it is fitting to recognize those in the community who are making a difference by helping our neighbors in need."
In addition to the Bishop's letter of support, the Rio Grande Guardian published a two-part series documenting the work of Valley Interfaith over the last few decades.
Bishop Flores Praises Work of Texas IAF as it Celebrates 40th Anniversary, Rio Grande Guardian,
Valley Interfaith stories here.
With 21 accidents occurring at one intersection in the previous 36 months, Valley Interfaith leaders made an issue of that intersection's lack of light signal, demanding that the City of Brownsville install one to prevent further collisions. One complicating factor was the state's reluctance to pay for the improvement on the road, which is a state highway. On March 1st, the City Commissioners voted to appropriate local funds for the signal. Commissioner Jessica Tetreau credited Valley Interfaith for bringing it up.
In photo, a truck breezes behind a worker still crossing the road.
Church Group Pushes for Traffic Signal, Brownsville Herald
Valley Interfaith Confronts Candidates on Light, Ambulances, Drainage, Workforce Development and Tax Abatements
The night before early voting began, undecided voters from Valley Interfaith congregations held a nonpartisan accountability assembly with candidates for Cameron County judge and Commissioner positions in Precinct 1 and Precinct 4. Said Valley Interfaith leader Tina Ramirez-Tetecatl: "We selected questions through house meetings and talking about issues around the parishes."
Leaders asked candidates to respond yes or no to questions about investments in light posts, workforce development program VIDA, ambulance services into the colonias and the creation of a unified county drainage district. In order to pay for these requested expansions, Valley Interfaith asked candidates whether they would deny tax abatements to companies seeking to expand in Cameron.
Alfonso Sanchez says he lived in the same neighborhood for 23 years, adding "I don't want politicians to just sit in office without addressing our concerns and fixing our streets. We pay our taxes and we deserve the candidates' attention."
Valley Interfaith Holds Accountability Session, Brownsville Herald