The Southwest grantmaking region comprises three of the four states that share the 1,933 mile border with Mexico: Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. From 2002 through 2015, Marguerite Casey Foundation has made 218 grants, totaling approximately $50 million, to 84 organizations in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Currently there are 46 active grants in the region to 39 organizations.
Families along the border live in a unique space where Mexican and U.S. policies, the Spanish and English languages, and family ties are central components of everyday life. Families in the region interact within a constantly changing social, political and economic context. They are challenged by issues of trade, drug trafficking, prostitution, water rights, unregulated immigration, labor migration, and poverty. It is an area where some of the poorest families in the country reside. Colonias, or settlements, that often lack the basic necessities for family life, are common throughout the region, especially along the border. The region is frequently a target of partisan politics and the challenges families face are often exploited by national and local politicians to garner votes by using xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Grantees in the Southwest have demonstrated the effectiveness of the foundation’s grantmaking strategy by working across issues to confront the social, political and economic challenges in alignment with the Equal Voice framework. Across the region grantees have been building power from the grassroots, forming networks to build collective power and making positive strides to organize and build a movement that will advance the rights of low-income families.
Grantees and families in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas face the following three important challenges:
Job growth continues to steadily improve after the economic downturn but most of the jobs are concentrated in lower wage industries. In the Southwest, grantees and their constituents have successfully passed ordinances to raise the minimum wage at the local level, but have yet to see an improvement in real wages or a reduction in the poverty level. This is in part because the laws, once ratified, are not enforced, allowing employers to continue to pay the federally mandated minimum of $7.25. Santa Fe, New Mexico passed a living wage ordinance in 2003 to raise the minimum wage in Santa Fe County from $7.50 to $10.84. According to Marcela Diaz, the executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, over 25 percent of residents in Santa Fe County earn less than $10.50 because the County is either unwilling or unable to enforce the ordinance.
Wage theft – the unlawful failure to pay wages owed to a worker, including minimum wage violations, illegal deductions and working long hours without overtime pay – is rampant in the Southwest region. In Texas, it is estimated that employers withheld an estimated $35 billion in wages. There are anti-wage theft laws in each state to protect workers from theft, but the weak penalties imposed on perpetrators fails to deter employers from cheating their workers. The undocumented population in the region is especially vulnerable to wage theft. A study conducted by the University of New Mexico found that 29 percent of workers in their sample reported being victims of wage theft.
Costly and harmful short-term payday lending is prevalent across the region. Attempts to regulate predatory loans at the local level provide many challenges for grantees and their constituents. The payday loan companies have a very powerful lobby that has managed to leverage billions of dollars to pass bills that allow them to charge exorbitant interest rates and defeat bills to cap interest rates. In Texas, low-income workers take out larger payday loans than borrowers in other states ($468 on average in Texas, compared with $392 nationwide) and pay higher annual percentage rates (439 percent, compared with 339 percent nationwide).
The foundation began investing in the Southwest region in 2002. Over the last decade, grantees in the region have aligned with the foundation’s strategy to provide families with the tools and knowledge to exercise their agency and advocate on their own behalf. The Equal Voice networks in the Southwest serve as catalysts for movement building, and these local and state-level collaborations have yielded positive change and strengthened the voice of low-income families.