By Equal Voice Action
In April, dual Equal Voice Action and Proyecto Vida Digna member Yareli Ivictoria Herrera completed her journey of becoming a U.S. citizen. Yareli passed the U.S. citizenship exam after she participated in a free six-week citizenship course provided to shared members of Equal Voice Action (EVA) and Proyecto Vida Digna (PVD) through the PVD + EVA partnership.
This partnership, which launched in December 2018 and is now in its second six-month pilot period, is rooted in PVD and EVA’s shared mission to improve the quality of life of low-income families – in this case, those in San Benito, Texas, and the surrounding Rio Grande Valley.
Through the partnership’s dual membership program, members access benefits through both PVD and EVA. The PVD + EVA collaboration takes a multi-faceted approach in helping families access essential services and resources, equipping them with the tools they need to take collective action on the issues that are important to their community.
The ultimate goal is to help families access their power to have a stronger say in the policies that affect their communities. And in the Rio Grande Valley, the need for family and community-led advocacy has never been greater.
Home to large numbers of Latinx migrant families, this expansive border region has been profoundly impacted by the openly cruel and inhumane immigration policies of the Trump administration, which have criminalized and terrorized migrant families and their communities.
In a region already struggling with entrenched economic and racial inequities, policies like family separation and indefinite detention have only increased the need for services led by and focused within the Rio Grande Valley’s own communities – services like those provided by Proyecto Vida Digna, as well as organizational members of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network.
Among many key resources, the region suffers a detrimental shortage of affordable assistance for those who are seeking citizenship or have other immigration-related needs. Those who need legal help are routinely exploited by unqualified, unethical, and fraudulent attorneys and notaries who charge exorbitant fees.
Working together, PVD and EVA have aimed to provide direct support to address these and other specific needs, along with training and ongoing support to activate members to identify and solve these kinds of persistent challenges through community organizing and membership in a network of active families, from the local to national level.
As these families look to build their collective strength and power, Yareli Herrera is one of more than 250 community members in the Rio Grande Valley who have signed up as shared PVD + EVA members.
In addition to citizenship classes, PVD + EVA members have received access to free, quality immigration legal services, as well as computer and internet resources at the PVD center and additional administrative supports for completing citizenship applications, including copying, faxing, and notary services.
As another important benefit, members have received PVD + EVA membership ID cards that they have used for opening bank accounts, registering vehicles, and confirming their identity with local schools and other civic institutions. As members attest, this support has helped meet the pressing need for formal identification – and corresponding access to services – among low-income and undocumented families in the region.
PVD + EVA members have also enjoyed special opportunities, including a back-to-school community resource event where member families received free health check-ups, school supplies, haircuts, and other supports to help them kick off the new school year.
While accessing essential resources that foster inclusion, stability, and opportunity, PVD + EVA members are also looking at the bigger picture of addressing their shared priorities through collective action and policy advocacy.
Expanding on the program’s initial community organizing work, members used a gathering in May to identify a number of community-level concerns that could be addressed through collective advocacy, such as securing effective drainage, more streetlights, and clean water systems for their largely unincorporated neighborhoods.
Since then, PVD has hired two community organizers, who are leading the charge by bringing community members together to address these issues. In support of these efforts, EVA will conduct a campaign development training for shared PVD + EVA members in September.
“As we continue to grow our shared member base, the opportunities to make lasting change in Brownsville are expanding,” said Rose Berry, EVA’s Community Organizing Manager. “More people power means more leverage to demand that community voices are taken seriously. Simultaneously, community members are being trained in organizing and PVD has been expanding their on-the-ground team to engage members in real action. We are excited for the change underway – change that this project has contributed to in major ways.”
Learn more about the PVD + EVA Partnership here.