Category Archives: Front Page

A Moral Case for Reining in Drug Companies, Lowering Drug Prices

A Moral Case for Reining in Drug Companies, Lowering Drug Prices

The cost of health care should not be a matter of life or death. But for millions of Americans, the cost of prescription medication forces them to ration their treatment or even go without medication entirely. That fact, which is completely at odds with core principles of fairness and health care as a human right, is why I joined more than 7,000 nuns to speak out against the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and it’s why I am now calling for Congress to take action to lower drug costs. 

While the ACA has addressed a number of the ways insurance companies reap record profits on the backs of patients, huge pharmaceutical companies continue to control too much of our healthcare system. This goes against our values as Americans — and against Catholic Social Justice. 

Rather than caring for our neighbors, we are seeing the same kind of corporate greed we’ve come to expect from massive health industry companies who routinely pad their profits by putting patients’ lives at risk. This time it’s the giant drug corporations and manufacturers that are making the rules that allow them to set prices as high as the market can bear.  Last year, roughly 28 million Americans saw the costs of their medications rise, while pharmaceutical companies benefited from huge tax breaks and pulled in record profits. 

The numbers are especially stark for Americans with diabetes. Three Pharma giants control the country’s supply of insulin — Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly and Sanofi — and they are using their power to rake in as much profit as possible, no matter the human cost. Each of them charge at least $270 per-vial for insulin, meaning diabetic patients are often paying $800 or more for their monthly supply of medication. To put this in perspective, that’s three times what patients in countries like Pakistan pay. 

I recently learned the story of Nick, a 68-year-old retiree living with Type 2 Diabetes in Bellingham, Washington, who has started traveling to Canada to buy insulin across the border because his copays kept increasing. He told the Catholic Sisters that I work with that his insulin ultimately cost him $500 out of pocket for a two- or three-month supply. In Canada, he can get the same amount of insulin for $40 out of pocket. 

Over the past 10 years, the cost of insulin has tripled despite no changes to the formula itself. It’s no wonder one in four diabetics report rationing their insulin because they can’t afford the exorbitant cost. Meanwhile Eli Lilly, the nation’s largest insulin producer, continues to reap billions of dollars in revenue. In 2018 alone, Eli Lilly brought in $9 billion in revenue from their diabetes medications but paid $0 in federal taxes thanks to the 2017 GOP tax law.

The greed of these corporations — and of the companies making millions off of essential drugs like those that treat cancer and HIV — is a moral crisis, and we need Congress to pass legislation that puts power back in the hands of the people and patients. 

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act (HR-3) is the first step to stopping drug companies’ from prioritizing their bottom line over our health. The legislation will allow Medicare to directly negotiate hundreds of drug prices, extend those prices to people with private insurance, and hold drug corporations accountable for charging U.S. patients many times more than what people in other countries pay for the same medicine. 

Make no mistake: Big Pharma is fighting tooth and nail against this legislation, lobbying hard to stop lawmakers from supporting it. They are even claiming new drug innovation will be negatively impacted by the bill, when the reality is that most drug research and development is funded directly by taxpayer dollars. In fact of the 210 drugs approved by the FDA for use between 2010 and 2016, all were developed with National Institutes of Health (NIH) publicly funded research. Americans are literally dying because they are unable to afford the drugs that their taxes paid to create.

Industry opposition has nothing to do with concern for patients. Companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are against this legislation because it will cut into their record profits. Rather than helping the patients he promised to protect, President Trump is pandering to the corporations and protecting the status quo. 

Trump talks a big game when it comes to lowering drug prices, but he’s dragging his feet now that there’s viable legislation to do just that. If the president really wants to help seniors and the millions of Americans struggling to afford their prescriptions, he should tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to support HR-3. 

As a Catholic, I believe — I know — we are better off when we take care of each other. We are better off when we recognize that there is more than enough to go around if we share. Everyone deserves access to affordable medicine, and legislation like HR-3 is a big step toward ensuring no one is forced to choose between skipping a prescription and putting food on the table.

Our elected leaders have a moral obligation to take bold action to ensure everyone can access the medicines they need. After all, we are a country founded on principles of ‘We the People,’ not ‘We the Corporations.’ It’s time we started acting like it. 

Sister Simone Campbell is executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. NETWORK is a member of the Lower Drug Prices Now coalition. 

A Report From The Border

A Report from the Border

Ness Perry
December 2, 2019

At the United States Southern Border, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants are looking for a place to find safety. They are asking one thing of our nation – to accept them with open arms. While this is a basic request, our policies do not represent what our morals say. Our faith teaches us that all immigrants deserve basic human dignity, and that we should love thy neighbor, despite their country of origin. Trump administration programs like the Migrant Protection Protocol puts people in danger in Mexico while they await their asylum and immigration hearings in the United States, thus stripping them of their dignity. To learn more about this specific administration order, watch these interviews where we spoke to two specialists from the field.

Imelda Maynard is the Senior Staff Attorney at Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico, located in Las Cruces New Mexico. She specializes in immigration and holds her J.D. from The University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Alejandro Olayo-Méndez, S.J. is an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work where he works on issues surrounding humanitarian aid and migration processes.

Follow @NETWORKlobby on twitter for more updates about MPP and other immigration policies

The Supreme Court Holds Lives of Millions in Their Hands

The Supreme Court Holds Lives of Millions in Their Hands

Joan Neal
November 26, 2019

As the Supreme Court deliberates the fate of more than a million young undocumented immigrants who arrived or were brought to this country as children, it is important to be clear about their real identity and history. Contrary to the prevailing rhetoric in some corners of our country, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, are educated, hardworking, upstanding, tax paying, individuals who are American in every way except legal citizen status.

The Center for Migration Studies, a research and think tank organization headquartered in New York, has just released a comprehensive statistical study of this group of more than 1 million people. The report also documents the many ways in which these young immigrants have and continue to contribute to the United States, which for most of them is the only country they have ever known.

CMS’ timely report shows how deeply DACA recipients are embedded in society and the web of ties that bind them to their communities and country. It shows how they are spread out across the United States, how educated they are as compared to the general population, and how extensively they participate in the U.S. labor market. Perhaps some readers will be surprised by these findings. Some may even ignore them, or worse yet, refuse to believe them. But facts are facts, and CMS’ research is comprehensive and verifiable. The report clearly shows that, over time, these undocumented immigrants have made our country stronger, more diverse, and more economically productive. Rather than being a drag on our country, DACA recipients as a group have contributed significantly to American society and prosperity.

It is imperative, therefore, that the Supreme Court avail itself of all of the relevant facts surrounding DACA recipients and those who would be eligible if the program were still in force. And so should we. Read the report at https://cmsny.org/publications/daca-supreme-court-alulema-111119/. Then pass it on. The lives of millions of people, indeed the future of our country, depends on what we do next.

NETWORK FY 2020 Appropriations Updates

NETWORK FY 2020 Appropriations Updates

Appropriations Bill
House
Senate
Subcommittee Committee Floor Subcommittee Committee Floor    Reconciled?
Labor-HHS-Education (H.R.2740) Passed
(April 30)
Passed
(May 8)
Passed
(June 19)
Transportation-HUD (H.R.3163) Passed
(May 23)
Passed
(June 4)
Passed
(June 25)
Passed
(September 17)
Passed
(September 19)
Passed
(October 31)
Commerce-Justice-Science (H.R.3055) Passed
(May 17)
Passed
(May 22)
Passed
(June 25)
Passed
(September 24)
Passed
(September 26)
Passed (October 31)
Financial Services Passed
(June 3)
Passed
(June 11)
Passed
(June 26)
Passed
(September 17)
Passed
(September 19)
Department of Homeland Security Passed
(June 5)
Passed
(June 11)
Passed
(September 24)
Passed
(September 26)

Friday, November 22, 2019

Yesterday, President Trump signed a short-term funding bill into law, temporarily preventing a government shutdown. This Continuing Resolution (CR) funds the government until December 20, 2019. Before then, the House and the Senate need to reach agreement on funding the government for Fiscal Year 2020, which they have yet to do, or risk a shutdown. We are disappointed our elected officials still have not found a way to pass a full year budget that promotes the common good, nearly two months into this fiscal year.

There is good news, however, in funding for the 2020 Census. In the CR, the 2020 Census received a special funding boost of $7.3 billion to prepare for the upcoming national count. This amount is $2 billion more than the insufficient funding President Trump’s budget would have allocated to the Census and will allow the Census Bureau to adequately plan and put plans in motion for the upcoming Census.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

On October 31, 2019, the Senate passed its first “minibus” or package of four appropriations bills, which included funding for Transportation-Housing and Urban Development as well as Commerce, Justice, and Science. The bill passed out of the Senate by a vote of 84-9. In the four-bill package, the Senate included $6.7 billion for funding the 2020 Census, which is $1.37 billion above the president’s budget but $804 million lower than the House approved level. The minibus bill also included an increase of $1.37 billion for affordable housing programs, which is $6.352 billion above the president’s budget but $941 million lower than the House approved version.

We are deeply concerned that the uncertainty around the FY 2020 appropriations cycle will cause undue hardship on census activities and more than 80 safety net programs. Particularly, the 2020 Census is at-risk to be woefully ineffective if lawmakers fail to negotiate a final agreement on spending allocations by the November 21 deadline. Currently, lawmakers are negotiating details of another continuing resolution that will extend funding through December 13 or 31.

To that end, NETWORK urges the Senate to Prioritize our Democracy: fund the 2020 Census, do not short change human needs programs for the border wall, and extend expiring health care programs. These programs serve the common good and provide critical support to communities; continued funding lapses will have devastating rippling effects.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Yesterday, Congress and the Trump administration reached agreement on a 2-year budget deal to raise our nation’s spending limit. The main points of debate were the Trump administration’s desire for significant spending cuts, and Congressional Democrats’ desire to curb the administration’s ability to transfer federal funds to finance the construction of a border wall.

This deal would raise spending by $320 billion over existing caps and raise the debt limit to allow the government to keep borrowing money. Spending on domestic and military programs would both increase, a key demand of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. This increase is offset by $77.4 billion in spending cuts, half the $150 billion in cuts the White House initially demanded. By lifting spending caps for the next two years, this deal will effectively dissolve the “sequester” imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) which was written to take effect through 2021. This is a huge relief, as NETWORK and partners have been fighting sequestration that leads to cuts to human needs programs every year since the BCA was passed.

Now that the budget deal is agreed upon, the House of Representatives needs to act quickly and pass the budget bill before they leave for August recess next week. The Senate has been waiting for a budget deal before beginning its appropriations work, so we may see the Senate appropriations bills beginning to take shape soon.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The House passed the Fiscal Year 2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill on a 224 to 196 vote. In total, the bill includes $24.55 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $1.4 billion over the 2019 enacted level and $355.5 million over the President’s 2020 budget request. Additionally, the bill includes a provision to increase Federal civilian pay by 3.1% in 2020.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Today, the House passed its second “minibus” or package of spending bills, this time including funding for Transportation-Housing and Urban Development as well as Commerce, Justice, and Science. In the $383 billion five-bill package, the House included language to block a citizenship question on the 2020 Census and bar the Department of Justice from using federal funds to dismantle Obamacare in the courts. The final vote was 227-194.

Before the vote, NETWORK sent the a vote recommendation to the House in support of the funding package. Read the vote recommendation here.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Today, the House began consideration on another package of spending bills, this time including Transportation-Housing and Urban Development as well as Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations. The House is expected to vote on this package tomorrow. These appropriations bills are critical to provide funding to housing programs serving millions of families and the Census Bureau to execute a fair and accurate census.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Tonight, the House of Representatives voted 226 – 203 to pass a package of four appropriations bills, including Labor-HHS-Education appropriations. These appropriations would provide critical funding for the Office of Refugee and Resettlement and support for children at the Southern Border. We encourage the Senate to pass similar appropriations to care for vulnerable children and families at the border.

Before the vote, NETWORK released a statement encouraging members of the House to vote yes on the package. Read NETWORK’s statement of support here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Right now, Congress is working on federal budget appropriations for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 (FY2020). This process is critical because the result determines how much funding federal programs that mend the gaps receive for the following year.

Appropriations Background

Members of Congress decide our nation’s federal budget every year through a process of writing 12 different appropriations (or spending) bills before the annual fiscal deadline of September 30. The process begins in the House after the President submits a budget proposal to Congress for consideration (which is usually rejected all or in part by Congress). House and Senate Appropriations Committees draft and modify spending bills through a series of committee votes before advancing the bills to the full House or Senate for another round of votes.  Typically, the House and Senate bills are not identical and thus must be reconciled before sending a final bill to the President for enactment.

However, in recent years due to partisan politics over spending allocations, many of the spending measures bypass floor debate after committee action and are instead consolidated into an omnibus or minibus spending bill.  Above, you can see the progress of the bills that include NETWORK priorities.

This year, the appropriations process has added uncertainty because there has not been any agreement between the House and the Senate on overall funding levels. This sets up a future showdown with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump on one side and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the other; likely coming down to the amount of funding President Trump wants to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border or other controversial issues.

House Appropriations State of Play

So far, the House Appropriations Committee has passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills. These 10 bills are now ready for votes on the House floor. The committee expects to complete their work on all 12 appropriations bills this week. Democratic leaders want to pass all the appropriations bills on the House floor by the end of June to allow time for negotiations with the Senate before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

They plan to do this by first passing a package of five bills (totaling nearly $1 trillion in spending), which they began considering this week. Passing this package of bills could take several days. The package includes the two biggest appropriations bills: Defense (HR 2968) and Labor-Health and Human Services- Education (HR 2740) as well as the Energy-Water (HR 2960), State-Foreign Operations (HR 2839) and Legislative Branch (HR 2779) bills. After this five-bill package, House Democrats plan to combine the remaining seven bills into additional packages.

Homeland Security and Financial Services appropriations bills will be taken up by the House full appropriations committee this week. NETWORK is following Homeland Security appropriations closely and calls on appropriators to reduce funding for deportation, immigrant detention, and border militarization and instead to prioritize alternatives to detention, implement robust Congressional oversight over Homeland Security practices, and support refugee resettlement and asylum seekers.

Another NETWORK funding priority is Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations. This bill, as it emerged from the House Appropriations Committee included $7.5 billion in new funding for the 2020 Census, as well as a restriction against using the Census appropriations to fund a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire. The House CJS appropriations bill also restricted funds from being used to be used to hire more immigration judges, and instead would establish a pilot legal advocacy program for nonprofit organizations to provide legal representation to immigrants seeking asylum and other forms of legal protection in the United States.

Of course, federal housing programs, which are included in the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill, are a NETWORK focus. While President Trump’s budget proposed cutting Housing and Urban Development funding by $9.6 billion, the House Appropriations Committee’s bill provides a total of $50.1 billion for HUD, an additional $5.9 billion over the FY19 funding.

Senate Appropriations State of Play

Appropriators in the Senate have held off working on any of their bills so far. They are waiting while talks proceed on a budget deal to set overall spending levels.

On Tuesday, June 11, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and other Republican appropriators met with acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought. They discussed making a budget deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown or automatic spending cuts in October, and have agreed to proceed with bringing the President’s $4.5 billion southern border humanitarian aid package to the floor next week.

Inflation Inequality and the Common Good

Inflation Inequality and the Common Good

Claire Guzdar
November 6, 2019

In the summer of 2013, I accepted a position at NETWORK as the incoming Field Associate and prepared to pack up my things and move to Washington DC. It was a big change, but I knew it was the right choice when I saw Sister Simone testify in front of Congressman Paul Ryan’s House Budget Committee.

In her testimony, Sister Simone emphasized the injustice of people being hungry, bankrupt, and without healthcare in our wealthy nation. She painted a picture using statistics and stories to reinforce one another. And she refused to accept the conservative, neoliberal economic narrative Representative Paul Ryan tried to advance about the “free market” being the solution to inequality.

NETWORK taught me there are changes we can make to have a more just economy today. There is no such thing as a “free market”–our economy is made up of millions of interactions each day, and the rules of the economy are set by a series of choices made by policymakers to deliver the desired economic outcomes. To influence economic outcomes, reduce inequality, and improve the lives and well-being of people experiencing poverty, we need policymakers to make different choices.

I’m still advocating for those better choices as the Associate Director of Campaigns and Partnerships at the Groundwork Collaborative, where we’re working to develop and advance a coherent progressive economic worldview. To do this, we’re supporting research that helps us more clearly understand the ways in which our economy excludes marginalized communities.

This week, Groundwork partnered with Christopher Wimer and Sophie Collyer from the Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy and Xavier Jaravel from the London School of Economics on a new policy brief that reveals we have undercounted the number of Americans in poverty and the real wages of low-income families. This research shows there are at least 3.2 million more people in poverty in 2018 than official reporting suggests because of a phenomenon called inflation inequality, which essentially means that inequality is so extreme it has been driving inflation to rise more quickly for low- and middle-income people than for the wealthy.

Further, when adjusted for inflation inequality, household income for the bottom quintile of income earners declined from 2004 to 2018 by more than 7% — much more than the 1% originally reported. Stunningly, the average middle-income household lost about $1,250 in 2018 due to higher prices caused by inflation inequality.

The data Groundwork released this week is also proof of what lived experience has been telling us — what people all over the country continue to tell Sister Simone as she travels and brings back their stories back to DC: inequality is not just an outcome of an unjustly designed economy, it is a cause of the squeeze being felt by economically struggling people. During the 2016 and 2018 Nuns on the Bus tours, I watched as NETWORK traveled the country calling for policies that mend the gaps and advocating for tax justice. All around the country, families and individuals shared stories of wages stagnating while the cost of housing, transportation, and healthcare continue going up. Along with these stories, this research on inflation inequality from Groundwork helps us more accurately understand the state of poverty, wages, and inequality so we can work for the best, most affecting solutions. It is time for us to reshape our economy so that it works for the common good, not just for those at the top.

Claire Guzdar is the Associate Director of Campaigns and Partnerships at Groundwork Collaborative, working to advance a cross-cutting economic narrative for the progressive movement. Prior to her work with Groundwork, Claire was Associate Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress and a Field Associate at NETWORK.

Restoring Trust and Faith in Our Democracy

Restoring Trust and Faith in Our Democracy

Sister Quincy Howard, OP
November 5, 2019

We know how quickly a year passes. Today is the first Tuesday of November; we have exactly one year before Election Day 2020 and so much is at stake. The presidency and control of Congress depend on the outcome next November, but the well-being of our democracy itself also hangs in the balance.

Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” Over 70 years later, his assessment still rings true.

Our democracy has never been perfect, but in 2020 we are at a pivotal moment for the democratic ideals of our nation. It is time to affirm that the people elect their government and that every vote counts.  Creating a fairer, more representative democracy should always be the goal.

While our democracy has always been a work in progress, there are key ways that it’s been undermined, particularly in the past 20 years. We are watching as these broken pieces come together, culminating in very real implications for how our government works — or doesn’t — and who benefits. NETWORK and our partners in the faith community are marking this benchmark occasion with a call to Restore the Voters Covenant. Our statement of purpose highlights the moral concerns about the state of our democracy in 2020 and articulates the principles we hold dear.

We at NETWORK are working with the Faithful Democracy coalition, a multifaith collaborative effort.  We are united around these basic democratic principles and are called to draw attention to the ways that our foundational democratic systems are under threat. Our community of congregations and faith-based advocacy organizations are ready to take a faithful and hard look at the state of our democracy. Together we will commemorate this important year by highlighting some of our biggest democratic hurdles and how we can overcome them as faithful individuals, communities and policy makers. Beginning in late November 2019, Faithful Democracy will roll-out bimonthly toolkits, each focusing on a different threat to our democratic systems.  It is time to faithfully repair the voters’ trust in our elections and ensure that our system aligns with our democratic ideals.

Stay tuned for future information about:

  • Protecting the right to vote and equal access to the ballot
  • Ending the corrosive influence of money on our democracy
  • Securing the integrity of our elections systems from foreign interference
  • Ensuring that redistricting and representation is fair and reflective of voters
  • Getting out the vote!

Updating Tax Policy in Public Education Works Toward Racial and Economic Justice

Updating Tax Policy in Public Education Works Toward Racial and Economic Justice

Daniela Zelaya
October 29, 2019

Every year, our lawmakers decide where they are going to spend taxpayer dollars. The past few years, the administration has unfortunately decided to cut funds for welfare programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, Social Security Income, housing assistance and a few others. Along with cuts to the welfare system also goes the education system. Last year, entire school systems around the country had to go on strike due to lack of funding. In fact, the Washington Post declared 2018 as ”The Biggest Year for worker protest in a generation.” They not only went on strike for their unfairly low salaries, but also for the overall lack of support from the government to fund public schools.

 

As many know, funding for public schools comes in many ways but mostly derives from property taxes. In turn, public schools benefit when they are in areas where property values are high. However, it is the opposite in areas where property values are not as high. That tends to be in areas with a high population of low-income families and families of color. As a result, teachers in these schools earn less and receive less and outdated resources for their students. No matter how much the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Common Core State Standards aim towards closing the achievement gap, the education of minority and low-income students is still incomparable to the education of white wealthy students. It is hypocritical for the United States government to want its students to rank high in comparison to the rest of the world but refuse to support their education. That is why this tax policy should be updated to create another mode of funding for the public education system in the United States.

 

A popular critique from people is that the government cannot just throw money at issues and expect them to be solved overnight. But governmental institutions cannot run properly without sufficient funding. Creating modern tax policies that reroute money into education helps teachers, students, the community, and the country as a whole.

 

Increasing teacher wages means giving them more time to prepare their lessons because they will not have to go to their second job after school or on the weekends. It will also give them the time to be able to pursue their master’s degrees to become even more effective teachers. Additionally, it will encourage more high school students to become teachers and pursue a traditional four-year education degree.

 

Additional funding for schools can also provide for opportunities to coach new teachers through their first two years. For most rookie teachers, the first year is the “survival” year. During this year, teachers stay at school until nine at night trying to figure out how they can improve things the next day. Because of this, some burn out and leave the teaching profession, leaving classrooms full of children without a teacher. Resources that provide a mentor to first year teachers are valuable and are mostly being implemented in alternative teacher preparation programs, like Teach For America. However, it should be offered to proper public-school teachers who have already been trained for four years.

 

Changing tax policy to reroute money into public schools is an option to help the future of the United States, no matter where children come from or what their family’s socioeconomic status is. A modern way of funding education would prevent the system from exclusively helping students from white and wealthy families.

Daniela was born in the city of San Salvador, El Salvador. She came to the United States at the age of 3. As an undocumented person, and as the first person in her family to attend college, she understands the idea that a quality education should not be a privilege, it is a human right. She is currently a senior at Trinity Washington University, double-majoring in Early Childhood Education and Sociology. Daniela hopes to one day become the first Latina U.S. Secretary of Education.  

Advocating for Justice in El Paso

Advocating for Justice in El Paso

Xorje Olivares
October 29, 2019

During a Saturday session at the ‘Jornada Por La Justicia’ Teach-In earlier this month, the lecturer asked attendees to use a single word to describe their thoughts upon hearing the word ‘border.’ I heard someone say “division,” followed by a “wall” in the back. I believe there was a submission for “political” along with “crisis.” It was at that point that I shouted, “home,” the only positive connotation ascribed to our weekend venue during that particular exercise. Honestly, that fact stunned me, but it also warmed my heart to know it was true.

Because the border has always been home for me. I grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas, roughly an 8-hour drive from the conference in El Paso, but my body knew the area well. I like to say that all border natives speak the same language of biculturalism, so I very much felt in my element. This was the second time I’d been to El Paso, but the first since the arguably safest city in the nation witnessed one of the most devastating events in recent American memory. I was nourished by the presence of #ElPasoStrong at every corner and by the devout folks seeking to use the Teach-In as an opportunity to unite, heal, and evangelize both on a spiritual and political front to make sure that form of violence never happened again. Not to mention empowering the ongoing movement led by border residents, such as those in El Paso, to protect our undocumented brothers and sisters amid this fabricated “national emergency,” many of whom are putting their faith in Christ as they literally wait in a bullpen next door.

Knowing that we were going to address several topics over the course of the conference, I was incredibly honored to have been invited to specifically participate on a panel about harnessing our political power as Latinx Catholics through mobilizing our theological narratives. My narrative, which I talk about regularly on my weekly SiriusXM Satellite Radio show and various online columns, proudly incorporates my queer identity, and it dictates how I view a myriad of issues facing the various communities of which I identify with. I was grateful to the organizers for allowing an ‘out’ gay man to talk about his grievances with the Church and its hierarchy with regards to its anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and exclusionary tendencies. Having never attended a Catholic conference before, I was thoroughly moved with just how welcoming the space felt and with how my message was received by its roughly 400 participants. I eventually spoke with three student attendees who shared their own queer struggles, which made everything so worthwhile for me. Belonging never felt so special.

I also love that I engaged with so many progressive-minded folks who use their spirituality as a motivating factor for their advocacy work. Whether with regards to ending the prison industrial complex, assisting asylum seekers, or ensuring that Latinx people aren’t erased from the national discourse, this Teach-In proved that being bold isn’t necessarily a gift, but a shining characteristic that we, as a collective, hold. And I’d like to think we hold onto it pretty tightly.

Xorje Olivares is a radio host/producer and social commentator who specializes in LGBTQ, Latino, and millennial issues. His writing on politics and intersectional identity has appeared in VICE, Playboy, Rolling Stone, them., and Vox, among others. He is the content creator behind HeyXorje.com and has been profiled by ABC News, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, and FOX News.

Not Our Job: Grappling With the Struggle of Being Black and Compassionate

Not Our Job: Grappling With the Struggle of Being Black and Compassionate

Charlotte Hakikson
October 24, 2019

On September 6, 2018, Amber Guyger entered the home of Botham Jean, mistaking it for her apartment, and fatally shot him. Both Guyger and Jean lived in the same apartment building; she lived on the third floor and he lived directly above her. The details of the case are tricky but please feel free to read more about it here. After hearing the case, the jury found Guyger guilty of murder and sentenced her to 10 years in prison. While there are mixed reactions to the sentence, I want to bring our attention to a few events that happened in the courtroom during and after the trial.

Cathy Odhiambo, Guyger’s Black coworker and friend, took the stand in defense of Guyger and spoke to her character. This felt very performative. Was there not anyone else who knew her work ethic and personality, and could speak in defense of her? The Black bailiff comforted and fixed Guyger’s hair while Guyger cried after hearing the verdict. That was extremely difficult to watch. Judge Tammy left her stand to hug Guyger after the trial. That was outright unprofessional. Finally, Brandt Jean, the brother of Botham, said to Guyger, “I don’t even want you to go to jail … I love you as a person, I don’t wish anything bad for you,” then proceeded to hug her.

There was a lot of outrage with what was displayed in the courtroom and I came across a tweet that said, “If you think this is crazy, remember the cross.” As a person of faith, I agree that we should live out Jesus’s teaching to love our neighbor, however I am weary that this message is being targeted solely to Black people.

Black people should not be expected, or forced, to invoke any form labor that makes their oppressor look good. Odhiambo should not have to perform the physical labor of taking the stand in defense of Guyger. Brandt, the bailiff, and Judge Tammy should not have to perform the emotional labor of consoling her. I believe that had the roles been reversed, neither Guyger, nor the white community, would be as compassionate. It is not required for Black people to play the role of Jesus, take up the cross, and forgive their oppressors for oppressing them. I do not want people to feel compelled by any means, whether it be family, friends, or even their faith, to perform an act that has not proven to be beneficial to them in that instant. We mustn’t use the teachings as a way to be complacent and too forgiving for our own good. As Zora Neale Hurston once said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

Spirituality and Advocacy in El Paso

Spirituality and Advocacy in El Paso

A Reflection on Jornada por la Justicia
Melissa Cedillo
October 23, 2019

Right when I landed in El Paso I immediately felt a sense of home. It was refreshing to be back in a place where I could hear Spanish everywhere.

It had been a while since I was in a space that was majority Latinx. Because Jornada por la Justicia was in El Paso, the teach-in focused a lot on the massacre that took place in August. El Paso is also a border city so the themes of borderlands, immigration, and white supremacy were also present. There were various panels and workshops to attend. Everything from ‘Know Your Rights’ to Latinx spirituality were available. Most importantly, the panelists and the workshops were all lead by Latinx folks, which was empowering because the majority of Catholic conferences I have previously attended were not. I didn’t even have to tell someone the correct way to pronounce my last name.

Saturday night, we crossed into Juarez and prayed with a family getting ready to seek asylum. There were tents and families everywhere. The mother I spoke with held a beautiful nine-month-old baby in her arms. They had traveled three weeks to arrive in Juarez. Another two year old climbed across her tired father smothering him with kisses. Seeing the many families was another reminder that militarizing the border against innocent families is in stark contrast of our Catholic identity.

On Sunday, Bishop Mark Seitz introduced his new pastoral letter ‘Night Will Be No More.’ The letter is about these very topics. He signed it into action after Mass. After the massacre on August 3rd, my heart yearned for a homily that would approach the violence that had happen and extend a message of hope to our familia in El Paso. It was never brought up. But on October 13th, Bishop Seitz’s letter provided my heart with consolation. Bishop Seitz called out White Supremacy for what it is. He used his power and privilege to uplift the same people Jesus did. As the Catholic Latinx population continues to grow in the U.S., I hope Catholic communities across the country look towards Hope Border Institute and the Latinx Catholic Leadership Coalition as leaders.


Melissa Cedillo is a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School. She participated in Jornada por la Justicia, a three-day gathering of a powerful network of Catholic Latino organizers, labor leaders, scholars and activists in El Paso, Texas. The Teach-In 2019: Jornada por la Justicia was co-presented by the HOPE Border Institute and the Latinx Catholic Leadership Coalition. Learn more: https://www.hopeborder.org/jornadaporlajusticia.