Religious activists push back against immigration crackdown

July 15, 2014. The Sun-Sentinel.

Fender benders and minor traffic stops aren’t supposed to send someone to jail. But that’s the risk faced by immigrants living in Palm Beach County without U.S. citizenship, local religious activists say.

A coalition of nearly 30 religious congregations maintains that too often identification problems and citizenship questions result in the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office taking someone to jail who otherwise just would have faced a ticket or a requirement to appear in court.

People Engaged in Active Community Efforts, or PEACE, maintains that jailing immigrants after minor traffic offenses because of citizenship questions is unfair, adds costs for taxpayers and breeds fear among immigrant communities, making people in those communities less likely to cooperate with law enforcement.

PEACE is calling for Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to make changes so that fewer interactions between immigrants and sheriff’s deputies lead to deportations that separate families.

“It is part of an effort to break down that barrier of fear of the sheriff,” said Jill Hanson of PEACE.

Impact fees go to affordable housing

West Palm Beach, FL – Throughout the fall of 2008, PEACE worked closely with the County’s advisory board on affordable housing issues to come up with viable funding recommendations for a locally funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Affordable Housing Trust Funds, once capitalized, are designed to provide communities with funds to build, preserve, and rehabilitate housing that are affordable for extremely and very low income households. The Commission on Affordable Housing recommended utilizing the buyout money from the County’s Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance and the interest earned on impact fees to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. As a strong statement of support, 175 PEACE leaders attended the January 2009 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners where the Commission on Affordable Housing presented these recommendations. In April 2009, 950 people attended PEACE’s Nehemiah Action where Commissioners Koons, Santamaria, and Vana committed to support a resolution that will dedicate these two funding sources to the County’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. By October 2010, $1.037 million had been allocated to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Starting in October 2014, 50% of the interest earned on impact fees will be used to pay for the impact fees of approximately 400 units of affordable housing each year, an ongoing revenue source estimated at $1.9 million.

PEACE battles wage-theft

West Palm Beach, FL – In 2010, the PEACE organization began research into the issue of wage-theft, a widespread practice in some industries of non-payment or under-payment of agreed-upon wages after the work has been completed. Similar to the example of Miami-Dade County, which passed an ordinance in February 2010 prohibiting wage theft and establishing a process for workers to file complaints to be investigated by the County, PEACE sought for the same protection in Palm Beach County. On April 19, 2010, 1,313 people attended PEACE’s Nehemiah Action Assembly – the largest turnout in the organization’s nineteen year history. At this Action, PEACE secured commitments from the four County Commissioners in attendance to support the passage of a Wage Theft Ordinance. In October 2010, the County Commissioners voted 6-0 for a first reading of the ordinance, scheduled February 1, 2011. After significant pressure from special interest groups, the issue broadened to the state level later that year where PEACE blocked passage of a state law that would have prevented local counties from passing protections against wage-theft. PEACE is now working with county officials to finally pass the ordinance