Austin Interfaith reported to the Austin American Statesman that the organization teamed up with judges to build a hybrid model that would improve indigent defense. She lobbied County Commissioners to support the establishment of a defender’s office that would assign lawyers to the cases of poor defendants.
The first year, Travis County would receive about $700 thousand to establish the new office, which would ensure that indigent defendants would have an opportunity to meet with their lawyers so that they understand their situation before going to trial.
[Photo Credit: Felipa Rodrigues, KUT News]
Travis County Accepts State Funding to Create Private Defender’s Office, Austin American Statesman
Austin Interfaith is calling for an organized, coordinated effort to receive a large number of unaccompanied minors. This, they say, shouldn’t be political. For AI strategy team leader Ofelia Zapata, the future of migrant children hits close to home. She sees the face of her own grandchild when she looks at them.
In a presentation to the Travis County Commissioners Austin Interfaith described the arrival of unaccompanied children a humanitarian crisis that requires a thoughtful and proactive response. Specifically leaders are calling on the County to coordinate the use of public buildings to temporarily house children before they are sent to relatives or a foster family and wait for their day in immigration court.
Religious Groups Ask County for Immigration Aid, Time Warner Cable News
Austin Interfaith Urges Travis Officials to Aid Migrant Children, Austin American Statesman
Koreena Malone knew she couldn’t do it alone. The single mother of three didn’t know how she could lead the charge to save 173 affordable housing units at her apartment complex. But if she did nothing, she risked losing her family’s apartment on a quiet tree-lined street that was close to her children’s school.
'I begged people – I can’t do this right now,” Malone said. “I was studying for the CPA, I’m a mother. I was, like, someone else has to take this on. There has to be somebody else.'
Lifting Up Leaders, National Catholic Reporter [Photo Credit: Nuri Vallbona, National Catholic Reporter, Global Sisters Report]
At the urging of Austin Interfaith, Central Texas Bishops, Catholic Charities and immigration reform allies, Austin City Council unanimously passed an official denunciation of Travis County's "Secure Communities," directing the City Manager to explore alternative ways to book arrests. High achieving 13-year old Alan Gonzalez Otero, from Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and Austin Interfaith, testified against Secure Communities, describing an occasion when he was 9 years old and thought he might never see his father again. Rev. Thomas VandeStadt of the Congregational Church of Austin reminded the Council that Central Texas Bishops opposed cooperation between law enforcement and immigration, and that "on principle" was opposed to Secure Communities. City Hall Chambers, filled with 300 supporters of the resolution, erupted in cheers as the Mayor announced the 7-0 vote.
After Austin Interfaith leaders and allies rallied at AISD to urge school board members to vote in support of federal prevailing wages for bond project construction workers, the AISD votes in support of living wages a little before midnight. Barbara Budde of the Austin Catholic Diocese started off testimony that night with a letter from Bishop Joe Vasquez urging the school board to support the proposal. Leaders of Austin Interfaith member institutions IBEW, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, Education Austin, LiUNA, Workers Defense Project, Painters Local 1779 and the Equal Justice Center delivered impassioned testimony to the same end.
In the 5-4 vote, trustees Tamala Barksdale, Gina Hinojosa, Jayme Mathias, Ann Teich and Amber Elenz voted for the federal prevailing wages. [Photo Credit: Austin American Statesman]
Austin District Approves Prevailing Wages for Bond Work, Austin American Statesman
"Kayvon Sabourian, an attorney with the Equal Justice Center and a representative with Austin Interfaith, said he wants the district to move forward with the federal rates because they are readily available and can be adopted immediately, rather than pay 2005 rates to workers for some projects and then paying them a different wage later once the district has updated its pay rates. 'There’s a real concern about spending the bond money using 2005 standards,' Sabourian said. 'Morally, we shouldn’t as a community use taxpayer money to pay people under the prevailing wages of today. We should be paying construction workers what they’re owed: the prevailing wages of today, not 10 years ago.'"
Labor Groups Ask Austin District to Adopt Federal Wage Rates, Austin American Statesman
At a Social Justice Shabbat organized by Temple Beth Shalom, Koreena Malone regaled the crowd with her story of community triumph, a modern day David & Goliath battle between tenants of low-income Oak Creek Village and "lots and lots of lawyers" on the side of the developer. Through conversation between tenants, neighborhood council, the developer, lawyers and the City, an affordable housing convenant addressing all stakeholders' interest was negotiated.
Austin Interfaith leaders (including representatives from Education Austin) descended on an Austin Independent School District (AISD) meeting to urge Board members to support fair wages for construction workers on AISD-funded projects. Philip Lawhorn, of member institution International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), urged the Board to adopt the Davis-Bacon wage rate, which relies on federal wage standards for laborers. AISD is currently using wage rates based on a 2005 study, something Kayvon Sabourian of the Equal Justice Center notes "doesn't cut it in 2014 Austin."
Austin ISD to Reexamine Wage Rates for Construction Workers, Community Impact
University United Methodist Church Delivered at Press Conference on Fair Housing April 17, 2014
Whenever I, or one of my colleagues from Austin Interfaith, speaks in support of an issue of consequence before the halls of government, I can almost guarantee that someone will say, why don’t those preachers stick to spiritual stuff, stick with the Bible. Why do they have to stick their noses in politics?
In the western Christian tradition, it’s Holy Week. Today is Maundy Thursday. Over the next several days, in powerful and dramatic worship services, each of our faith communities will recall the final days of Jesus’ life to discern meanings for life in our own time. Whenever I return to these readings from our sacred texts, I’m struck not by how spiritual they are, but by how earthy and political they are.
Jesus, who could not remain quiet, who spoke up against empire and the powers that be, was arrested, tried, jailed, beaten, tortured and executed. It doesn’t get much more physical than that.
And his crime?
Proclaiming a vision of a new world, an egalitarian world where the poorest among us are lifted up, where everyone has a place at the table, where every family has their own vine and fig tree, which means everyone has what they need for a life of dignity and purpose and no one lives in fear.
It doesn’t get much more political than that.
Jesus was executed for daring to talk about the way the world might be, the vision of God’s desire for the world, what the gospels call the kingdom of God.
When the pastors of your city get together before the halls of government, as Pastor Joseph and Pastor Katie and Bishop Vasquez have this morning, to talk about discrimination in housing in our city, to talk about the need to open up more housing for folks who live and work in our city and are the poorest in our community—when we do that, we are speaking from the very heart of our faith. When we advocate for legislation that has a direct impact on getting more families off the streets and out of shelters and into housing, we are speaking from the very center of our historic religious traditions. I believe that the mark of a great city is not how it cares for those who have wealth and power. That’s easy. The mark of a great city is whether that city cares for everyone, and especially for the ones who have nowhere to lay their heads. I hope that our city council will vote to support amending the language of the fair housing ordinance to prohibit blatant discrimination and provide more housing for the most vulnerable members of our community.
Austin Interfaith leaders point out the rise in children and immigrants in District 4. Angela Baker, a leader with St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, points out that apartment owners don't keep up: "You can kind of seethe shabbiness as we pass by," she says.
Children, Immigrants Flavor Cultural Stew in Austin's District 4, Austin American Statesman