Immigrant Experience Inspires Latino Leaders to Meet Current Challenges

1. Blog

Mural by Mel Waters and David Hyde Cho, Mission and 19th Streets, San Francisco Mission District. Photo credit: Nehama Rogozen, California Reinvestment Coalition

As the Senate takes up the debate on an immigration bill — and the White House ramps up deportation efforts and looks to punish immigrant families from using social services to which they are legally entitled — the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC) is taking action. CRC’s new program, “Here to Stay: Building Financial Security for Immigrants,” builds on other “know your rights” initiatives and seeks to help immigrant families navigate this changing environment.

Immigrants have long been excluded from the economic mainstream in structural ways, leading to lack of opportunity and a growing economic divide between immigrant and non-immigrant communities. But in this time of heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies coming from Washington, there is an urgent need for community-led solutions that ensure everyone has equal access to the American dream.

Along with many other allies and members engaged in this new program, Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) will work closely with CRC on this new initiative. Learning from the Mission neighborhood’s Latino heritage and history of displacement, CRC will use these lessons to inform our work across urban and rural California. In addition to a shared vision of greater economic equity for immigrant families, both CRC and MEDA are led by community leaders with their own personal immigrant stories.

Paulina Gonzalez: A legacy of immigrant activism

CRC Executive Director Paulina Gonzalez (photo, right) is well versed in the power of the immigrant experience, being a first generation American whose father who courageously headed north to create a better life for himself, and others.

“My father emigrated from Mexico, crossing the desert on foot. Despite having the limited opportunity of just a second-grade education, his innate passion for the greater good was the impetus for his later spearheading a campaign to unionize garment workers,” says Gonzalez.

Similarly, Gonzalez’ mother’s family were also immigrants, aiding Arizona miners endeavoring to form unions. Her mother even earned a bachelor’s degree in her 50s, becoming a caseworker for those with disabilities.

This compelling background led to Gonzalez’s work for over two decades leading economic justice organizing campaigns to expand the rights of immigrants, workers, and underrepresented communities of color. It’s in her DNA.

Luis Granados: An immigrant leader

Complementing Gonzalez’ experience is that of MEDA Executive Director Luis Granados (photo, left), who recently stepped into the role of CRC’s board chair.

During his formative years, Granados resided in Juárez, Mexico. Being a few miles from the United States meant regular border crossings — an experience that holds challenging memories.  

Explains Granados of his immigrant experience: “My family would cross the border — and that bridge — into El Paso, Texas on a regular basis to work or shop, or to simply visit relatives and friends. Immigration officers invariably questioned our motives, and, through their treatment, convicted us on the spot of being immigrants. We were not treated as a humble family living a normal, dignified life. Forty years later, the vitriol aimed at immigrants is disturbingly familiar. It was wrong then. It is wrong now.”

Once in California, then 13-year-old Granados and his family harnessed the power of education and hard work to obtain the American dream — as has been the case for newcomers to the U.S. for hundreds of years.

The drive for community equity has been the catalyst for Granados successfully leading MEDA from solely being a longtime direct-service provider to also being an innovative affordable-housing developer (over 1,100 homes in the pipeline), growing small-business lender (Adelante Fund CDFI), and main player in the realm of policy and advocacy for San Francisco’s Mission District and beyond.

Program Background: Devaluation of the importance of immigration

The current administration’s policies have increasingly threatened the financial well-being of low-income communities, regardless of legal status. The recently passed tax bill is an example of a regressive policy which will line the pockets of the 1 percent at the expense of low-income communities. Corresponding funding deficits from this skewed tax structure will necessitate budget cuts for social service programs for low- and moderate-income people.

This assault is mostly aimed at immigrant communities, demonized in a political ploy to activate this President’s core right-wing constituency. There are almost daily overarching references by this administration to immigrants being “less than,” rather than that of newcomers seeking lives of opportunity and dignity.

As the Trump administration seeks to push immigrants further into the shadows, the economic threat of further marginalizing our communities looms large. CRC’s members have reported immigrant clients leaving their jobs, seeking fewer services, avoiding medical appointments and even pulling their children from school due to fear of immigration raids. This is a community living in terror, with generational repercussions as incomes are negatively impacted and the wealth gap grows, with families unable to save and falling prey to predatory financial services.

Communities lead

Here to Stay is a response to these challenges, and CRC is well-placed to develop this initiative. The foundation of this initiative is allowing our communities to lead. CRC recently hired Here to Stay’s first organizer, an immigrant herself, who will work directly with immigrant communities to identify obstacles to financial and economic security. CRC will develop grassroots leaders to advocate for community-driven solutions, such as ensuring that banks serve all Californians and provide products that meet the unique need of immigrants. CRC will also work with banks to ensure access, cultural competency, and affordability in all products. Communities will not only identify corporate policies that need to be addressed, but also promote new state and local government policies.

CRC works with unbanked communities like those in the rural Coachella Valley, where banks can be more than 20 miles apart and immigrants are particularly vulnerable to devastating financial losses as a result of keeping their money in cash at home. MEDA’s work in offering small-business owners access to capital and in providing culturally relevant technical assistance helps immigrant entrepreneurs in San Francisco’s Mission District, such as Alicia Villanueva of Alicia’s Tamales Los Mayas, who started out in her home and now employs 18 community members.

The partnership between CRC and MEDA will allow both organizations to use these proven models throughout California, work closely with banks to better serve all communities, and, ultimately, result in the equitable treatment of immigrant communities.

CRC Works to Ensure Tri Counties Bank Doesn’t Cut Corners During Merger

Tri Counties Bank has applied to purchase First National Bank of Northern California. If this merger application is approved, Tri Counties will have over $6 billion in assets and a network of 74 branches in several California counties. The merger is still in the early stages, but CRC would like to see Tri Counties make a strong commitment to California communities.

CRC would also like to see that no shortcuts are taken by the bank or regulators. We were disappointed that Tri Counties sought a waiver from the Federal Reserve so it would not have to apply for permission for the bank holding companies to merge. CRC raised concerns about this waiver. On her last day as Federal Reserve Board Chair, Janet Yellen denied the Tri Counties waiver request, because “a third party” started asking questions.

TrioCo Bancshares.-FNB BC–Waiver Request–FRB Response Ltr 020218

The upshot to this waiver being denied is that the bank will have to follow proper procedures, the merger application will be subject to greater transparency, and the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on whether this merger will provide a public benefit to communities.

The Federal Reserve’s waiver denial letter suggests that the third party may be objecting to the merger, but CRC has not decided whether we will object. We are hopeful that Tri Counties will make a meaningful commitment low-income communities as it enters San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. In the meantime, please let me know if you are interested in tracking this merger and being involved if we object or negotiate.

Through challenges and victories large and small, we press on together to provide regulatory and corporate accountability. We greatly appreciate the advocacy and support of CRC members. It makes a difference!

Be Aware of Phishing Attempts

The California Reinvestment Coalition has been alerted to phishing attempts occurring on Facebook. If someone contacts you on Facebook or elsewhere asking for your EBT card number and PIN in order to receive your benefits, ignore it. Phishers took advantage of a system delay that resulted in benefits being posted late this morning. That issue has been resolved.

CRC Hosts Member and Ally Meetings to Discuss 2018 Priorities

This fall, CRC hosted three regional member and ally meetings in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.

Key leaders from member and ally organizations spoke to their work on the four key issue areas we’re addressing in 2018:

  • increasing corporate accountability,
  • resisting economic displacement,
  • protecting immigrant financial and economic resources, and
  • ending predatory fines and fees.

We had robust conversations and great ideas emerge from each of our meetings and we appreciate the time, participation, and perspectives that participants shared.

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Congratulations to ACT-LA and Sharon Kinlaw: New Pictures From Celebrate LA Event

CRC was proud to honor ACT-LA last week for their important work on equitable development and ensuring the needs of working families are a priority, including housing that’s affordable and public transit that’s accessible. Sharon Kinlaw, executive director of Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley and CRC board member, was also honored for her role in leading a successful campaign to increase access for people with disabilities who live in affordable housing units. The San Fernando Fair Housing Council, along with Independent Living Center of Southern California (ILCSC), Communities Actively Living Independent and Free (CALIF), and LA resident Mei Ling filed and settled a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles. As a result of this grassroots advocacy, the City of LA promised to ensure that at least 4,000 units will be made accessible for people with disabilities.   A lawsuit against the Redevelopment Agency is still ongoing.

Celebrate Sacramento Reinvestment 2017

Last week, CRC joined with our members, guests and allies to recognize and honor our community heroes, California Human Development, and the California Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition. We had our highest turnout yet for the event and enjoyed the networking, conversations, and speeches by our awardees, presenters, and hosts. Thank you to our sponsors and guests!

The New CFPB Rule is a Testament to the Power of Community Organizing

Seniors were the largest age group of payday loan borrowers in California last year but a new CFPB rule will better protect borrowers.

Dear CRC Supporter:

Yesterday, the CFPB released a new rule that will protect working families from predatory loans and the financial heartaches they create.

This rule is a victory and is a testament to the power of community organizing by CRC, our members and our allies. Borrowers will benefit from new safeguards requiring lenders to better assess their ability to repay a loan and from restrictions preventing lenders from making multiple, unsuccessful attempts to debit their bank accounts, a practice that results in costly overdrafts and closed bank accounts.

As the CFPB began its work to write this rule, CRC members and their clients courageously stepped up to share their experiences. Working with our partners, we organized listening sessions with the CFPB and with our Congressional representatives where Californians talked about how they got caught in the payday loan debt trap- a cycle of costly rollovers that are profitable for the industry, but that extract precious income and assets away from working families.

California Consumer Leadership Academy

In 2015, CRC partnered with CRL-California and California LULAC to organize the first ever California Consumer Leadership Academy.  Eight courageous women participated in this day-long training, shared their experiences, and crafted strategies on how to stop predatory lending practices in our communities.

At the CFPB’s field hearing where it announced its draft proposal of the rule, I shared the story of a Santa Cruz borrower who had worked with a CRC member after getting a payday loan and then being illegally harassed for repayment of it. We applauded the CFPB’s initial proposal, while also highlighting where we thought the safeguards could be stronger.

Once the public comment period opened, we activated consumers, CRC members and allies, and engaged with local, state, and federal elected officials to ensure the rules were as strong as possible. Consumers shared their stories in the media and we helped them to file CFPB complaints. Local mayors voiced their support. As a result of CRC and our member’s organizing efforts, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a unanimous motion in support of strong rules. California state legislators, as well as our two senators and more than half of our congressional delegation (led by Representative Maxine Waters) weighed in with their support.

Over 100 California nonprofits also weighed in with the CFPB and our message was loud and clear: California families need a strong CFPB rule that protects their income and assets from predatory lenders.

We applaud the CFPB for its thoughtful approach to this rule and we want to extend our gratitude to our members and allies who worked tirelessly to organize and to protect our communities from predatory lending. We’re also grateful to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for their support of this work.

We anticipate the industry will attempt to get this rule overturned- either through the courts or the Congressional Review Act, but rest assured we will continue our advocacy in support of this rule and the other work the CFPB is doing to stand up for Main Street.

My statement on the rules is now available on CRC’s website and you can read a CFPB fact sheet about the rules here.

Thank you for your support.

Paulina Gonzalez

Executive Director