In 2010, TMO launched an Interfaith Campaign for Humane Immigration Reform, drawing on the organizing efforts of leaders, organizers, and judicatories across the city. Over 300 clergy -- including the Catholic Cardinal, Bishops, Rabbis, and other denominational leaders -- agreed on common principles (detailed below) and announced their support for these principles through a press conference, prayer service, and action assembly.
HOUSTON INTERFAITH STATEMENT ON HUMANE IMMIGRATION REFORM
We call on Congress to enact humane and equitable immigration reform and commit to legislation that:
- Upholds family unity as a priority of all immigration policies
- Creates a process for undocumented immigrants to earn their legal status and eventual citizenship
- Protects workers and provides efficient channels of entry for new migrant workers
- Facilitates immigrant integration
- Restores due process protections and reform detention policies
- Aligns the enforcement of immigration laws with humanitarian values
- Recognizes Immigration as a Matter of Human Rights
Since then, TMO has combated wage theft, clarified Senate Bill 4 application with local law enforcement, initiated a postcard campaign to protect DACA youth and fought against punitive changes to “public charge” rules and family separations. In collaboration with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and the Organizers Institute of the West / Southwest IAF, TMO has trained hundreds of Spanish-speaking parish leaders to re-invigorate the charge for immigration reforms.
TMO leaders continue to pray and educate about the important moral issue of immigration -- and to remind people of faith that we must continue to fight for immigration not only at a national level but also at the state and local level.
Organized by The Metropolitan Organization of Houston (TMO), 123 participants were joined by Bishop Italo Dell'Oro of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston for a two-day 'Recognizing the Stranger' training. Ministry leaders from 21 parishes of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston participated, as did leaders from the Diocese of Beaumont.
Recognizing the Stranger training equips immigrant parish leaders with the skills needed to make connections within immigrant communities and with non-immigrant allies, applying the tools of organizing to address issues facing their congregations and communities.
Training sponsors include the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Mission & Ministry Impact, Gulf Coast Leadership Council and the Organizers Institute.
In photo at right, Bishop Italo Dell-Oro recognizes TMO for teaching ministry leaders listening skills through house meetings, particularly with people on the periphery.
Advocacy on eviction prevention has become an important part of this work as well. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is affiliated with The Metropolitan Organization, a CCHD-fund grassroots organization that has taken on eviction prevention work since March.
Much of the effort has focused on convincing Houston and Harris County officials to quickly distribute tens of millions of dollars for rental assistance that was allocated under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, said Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer with The Metropolitan Organization.
St. John the Baptist Parish in Alvin, Texas, a Metropolitan Organization member, has provided partial rental support for about 30 families in which the primary earner has lost work as industries like construction and landscaping have retrenched under the pandemic.
Father John Taoson, pastor at St. John the Baptist, told CNS the parish community has determined it must help people in need, especially those families whose members are in the country illegally because they are ineligible for the rental relief funds.
[Photo Credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]
With Evictions Looming, Agencies Furiously Work to Keep Families Housed, Angelus News [pdf]
The novel coronavirus is devastating Latino communities across the country, from California’s Imperial Valley to suburban Boston and Puerto Rico. Workers at Midwestern meatpacking plants and on construction sites in Florida are getting sick and dying of a virus that is exacerbating historic inequalities in communities where residents, many of whom are “essential” workers, struggle to access health care. The undocumented are largely invisible.
Latinos, who are not a racial group and come from diverse backgrounds, make up an increasing portion of deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. More than 36,500 Latinos have died of the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed by The Washington Post.
“If you look at all the negative factors, risky jobs or unemployment, unsafe housing, poor air quality and preexisting conditions, it’s all people of color,” said Carlos E. Rodriguez-Diaz, an associate professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.
Angela Orea, a community organizer with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, said each day she receives desperate calls from families trying to get tested or find care. Many struggle to find transportation. Some who aren’t sick are moving out of their homes or apartments because they lost jobs and can no longer afford rent.
Every day, Amelia Averyt sees coronavirus patients at Legacy Community Health Clinic in Houston who waited too long to seek help after home remedies failed. The results can be particularly tragic for the undocumented, she said. When a family gets sick, she said, members vow to defeat the disease and take care of each other with minimal medical intervention. The repercussions can be devastating.
[Photo Credit: Sergio Flores/Washington Post]
‘It’s just too much to handle,’ In Texas, the Burden of Coronavirus on Latinos is Diverse, With an Impact That is Almost Certainly Underestimated, Washington Post [pdf]
Whenever [TMO leader] Father Carmelo Hernandez makes a live appearance on his church's YouTube channel, he asks the same question each week: "Have you filled out your census form?"
The parishioners of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Houston are largely Hispanic, undocumented or of mixed status, living in one of the most diverse cities in the nation. Hernandez has spent months using his pulpit to demystify the census, disentangle the misinformation and quiet the fears that congregants have about being counted.
But news that President Trump signed a memorandum Tuesday that would exclude many of his parishioners from congressional apportionment is enough to scare them back into invisibility, he said. To them it is proof — against Hernandez's many efforts to the contrary — that the census is a trap and should be avoided.
Tuesday’s memo comes as the Census Bureau begins outreach to the nation’s hardest-to-count groups, including immigrants. If the government is seen as trying to disadvantage them, some might be less likely to respond to the survey, immigrant advocates said.
“This is an order designed to sow fear and mistrust between peoples and becomes a matter of life and death as the US battles a deadly pandemic,” said a statement from the Industrial Areas Foundation, a group that works with churches and organizers in the West and Southwest to educate and support minority communities.
Soco[rro] Perales, an organizer with Dallas Area Interfaith, said that organizers will continue to encourage immigrant families to cooperate with the Census.
“That information cannot be shared” with immigration authorities, she said. “Everybody still needs to be counted and it is still safe.”
[Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images]
Some in Texas Fear Trump Ban on Undocumented Immigrants in Census is Scare Tactic to Suppress Count, Washington Post [pdf]
Trump Administration Seeks to Bar Undocumented Immigrants From a Portion of the 2020 Census, Washington Post [pdf]
New Trump Order Excluding Non-Citizens From Census Could Cost Texas a Seat in Congress, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Statement on today's Executive Order, Industrial Areas Foundation
TMO is among the coalition of nonprofits that have approached the city and county to urge the equitable distribution of those funds.
“We asked City Council to commit $100 million of the $404 million in the Coronavirus Relief Fund to rental assistance. But the next day, they committed $15 million that was distributed online in a matter of minutes to about 12,000 families,” Higgs said.
“A survey shows of the 700,000 rental units in the area, up to 85,000 cannot pay rent at this time. A huge number of the people are service workers, men and women of color, hourly workers who lost their jobs with little if any savings. The need is so immense,” he said.
With any moratoriums on evictions ending, justices of the peace may resume processing eviction notices by mid-June and constables will start showing up at apartments, he said.
“It doesn’t make sense to evict someone who has paid regularly but is not able to currently pay during this crisis. Plus, when someone in uniform shows up to evict, it’s scary as heck, especially for those who may be undocumented,” Higgs said.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church]
Facing Eviction, Single Mothers With Kids Hit Hardest By Need For Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
"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...."
"We have to be informed because we are the most vulnerable," [Maria] Ramirez explains.
The information Ramirez has gotten throughout the pandemic has mostly been through her own efforts seeking it out and through the community groups she was already involved with. Ramirez's church sends out information to congregants, as does The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a local nonprofit of which she is a member.
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]
Stimulus Does Little to Stifle Covid-19 Fears in the Undocumented Community, America [pdf]
Immigration 'Know Your Rights' civic academies organized by TMO leaders drew more than two hundred immigrant participants eager to learn their rights and responsibilities as residents in the Houston area.
At St. Theresa Catholic in Sugarland, over 100 members participated in civic academies that included an educational 'Know Your Rights' training, small group conversations and an overview of the Census. Attorney Liz Macias Mendoza led the educational presentation and held over 30 individual consultations.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Rosenberg, 30 parishioners participated in a session in which attorneys Carolina Ortuzar-Diaz and Eduardo Franco led presentations and held 18 individual consultations. In Houston, 70 members of Assumption Catholic participated in small group conversations and a 'Know Your Rights' workshop led by attorney Magali Suarez Candler.
These civic academies were organized as an outgrowth of the national 'Recognizing the Stranger' immigration strategy supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
Immigration Sessions: Know Your Rights, The Metropolitan Organization
In a multi-day training co-sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Mission and Ministry, Inc. (MMI), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), 111 predominantly Spanish-speaking leaders from 25 Houston-area congregations convened to learn how to be effective leaders in their communities. Most the leaders came from Spanish-speaking Catholic and Episcopal congregations.
Parish leaders participated in leadership development workshops and engaged with scripture and their religious traditions as they reflected on their roles in public life. Groups from each parish were encouraged to engage with their pastor and parish leadership to explore opportunities for local training and the development of a listening campaign this year for their parishes and communities.
Milestones: Catholic Campaign, TMO Offers Leadership Training for Hispanic Parishioners, Texas Catholic Herald
Leadership Development at Assumption Catholic Church, The Metropolitan Organization (TMO)
One day before Thanksgiving, the Houston Chronicle published a letter submitted by TMO clergy Rabbi David Lyon, Rev. Albert Zanetta and Rev. Simón Bautista.
This past week, many of us sat down with our extended families at Thanksgiving celebrations. As faith leaders, we teach that family is sacred. We are moved to keep families together, so they may thrive together.
The Trump administration has proposed a policy that would force immigrant families to make an impossible choice between caring for their children, parents and grandparents and keeping their family together in the United States. The proposed changes to the 100-year-old “public charge” regulation will make it more difficult for an immigrant to become a legal permanent resident or obtain a visa to visit the United States if he is not wealthy, have a preexisting health condition, or participate in programs that support health, nutrition and housing stability....
Don't Penalize Children for Being Poor, Especially After Harvey, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Push Back Against Proposed Changes to 'Public Charge', TMO