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This NASA satellite image shows the Rio Grande Valley at night. The yellow lights are concentrated in the metro areas. The red dots denote colonias. Many do not have street lights. John Henneberger, LUPE's representative at the state Capitol, presented this photo when testifying in support of LUPE's street lights for colonias legislation.

SAN JUAN, RGV – La Unión del Pueblo Entero Executive Director Juanita Valdez-Cox says securing more street lights for Hidalgo County colonias was her group’s No. 1 success in 2015.

In an appeal for donations sent out via a newsletter on social media, Valdez-Cox lists the ten most memorable moments for the non-profit group over the past 12 months. The street lights campaign was No. 1, she says.

“Hidalgo County commissioners, with the leadership of Joseph Palacios, and pressure from LUPE and ARISE, took an historic step and committed to creating a pilot program to install conventional streetlights in Hidalgo County colonias,” Valdez-Cox wrote. “They committed to working closely with us to make sure the pilot program meets the needs of colonia residents and serves as a spring board for a successful county-wide and comprehensive program to bring streetlights to all Hidalgo County colonias.”

Juanita Valdez-Cox
Juanita Valdez-Cox

Legislation was passed in the state Capitol this year to assist with LUPE’s push for more street lights in Hidalgo County colonias. The legislation was authored by state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and state Rep. Armando ‘Mando’ Martinez, D-Weslaco.

LUPE’s representative at the state Capitol for this legislation was John Henneberger, co-founder of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. When Hinojosa’s bill was heard by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, Henneberger testified. He held up a large photo taken by satellite of the Rio Grande Valley at night. The McAllen-Edinburg area was lit up and so was Brownsville and Harlingen. The largest colonias were outlined on the photo and they were in total darkness. Henneberger provided the senators with copies of this photo to make his point.

“We have had a number of children struck walking to or getting off school buses,” Henneberger testified. “Security and public safety are a big concern. The colonias are so dark it is really difficult for the sheriff’s department to patrol the areas. Children are often playing outside in the colonias at night and there have been some tragic accidents with children being struck by automobiles. There are literally no street lights in these areas.”

La Unión del Pueblo Entero is a non-partisan, non-profit group that assists low-income families in the hundreds of colonias situated in Hidalgo County. Its head office is in San Juan and it has satellite offices in Alton and Mercedes. It was founded in 1989 by labor rights activist César Chávez to build stronger, healthier communities through the civic engagement of colonia residents. “From fighting deportations, to providing social services and English classes, to organizing for streetlights and drainage, LUPE responds to the needs of the community, and takes action that creates a chance for a better life. LUPE’s strength derives from our 7,000-plus members throughout the Rio Grande Valley.”

In her overview of 2015, Valdez-Cox wrote: “This has been an exciting year for our staff and families at LUPE.” She said the group’s successes in forging social change in the Rio Grande Valley would not be possible without the support and dedication of its members. “From continuing our fight to protect immigrant families to improving the lives of colonia residents, we are proud of the work we did in 2015 and look forward to continue working together in the Rio Grande Valley,” Valdez-Cox wrote, in her end of year message. “We appreciate you standing with us as we work together to make this Valley a better place to live for all.”

Here are LUPE’s Top Ten Memorable Moments of 2015, with Valdez-Cox providing the narrative:

1. Out of the shadows – Colonia residents get streetlight program in Hidalgo County

Hidalgo County commissioners, with the leadership of Joseph Palacios, and pressure from LUPE and ARISE, took an historic step and committed to creating a pilot program to install conventional streetlights in Hidalgo County colonias! They committed to working closely with us to make sure the pilot program meets the needs of colonia residents and serves as a spring board for a successful county-wide and comprehensive program to bring streetlights to all Hidalgo County colonias.

2. LUPE fights back after injunction on DAPA and expansion of DACA

After Judge Hanen from Brownsville placed an injunction on DAPA and the expansion of DACA, LUPE members protested in front of the federal courthouse in Brownsville to demand for the protection of hundreds of immigrant families in the RGV. Other local groups, such as ARISE and Equal Voice Network, also joined these efforts.

3. 1st UTRGV medical students toured LUPE and colonias

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Medical Residents at Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance took a tour of the Colonias of Hidalgo County in June, where they witnessed firsthand the disparities of access to healthcare.

4. LUPE members get Advanced Parole case approved I

sidoro Sánchez and Bryan Monrreal, two students who made their application for DACA at LUPE, obtained permission to travel to Iguazu, Argentina with their school’s mariachi group, Mariachi Oro, at Edinburg North High School. They were part of the only group representing United States in an international event. They are very appreciative of LUPE for helping them in this process.

5. DACA and DAPA resolutions approved in various RGV cities

As part of our campaign on behalf of DAPA and Expanded DACA, LUPE, CDCB, MVDH, and our partners in the Equal Voice Network have asked city and county governments to adopt resolutions declaring their support for the Deferred Action programs created by the Obama Administration in late 2014. Commissioners’ Courts in both Cameron and Hidalgo County adopted strong resolutions of support as did the cities of Brownsville and San Juan among many others.

6. LUPE 2nd Biennial Gala

Our gala was a night of remembrance as UFW and Chicano activists reunited for a night to honor the progress that has been made through the years.

7. 1st same-sex marriage immigration case submitted by LUPE approved by USCIS

After the Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the right to marriage in June, LUPE received its first same-sex marriage immigration case. The couple’s case was approved, and LUPE is proud to have been part of that process!

8. LUPE protested against Greg Abbott for his stance on immigration in McAllen

LUPE members took the streets of McAllen in September when Texas Governor Greg Abbott visited a local restaurant, Cowboy Chicken. We protested outside of the restaurant asking Abbott to drop his lawsuit against DAPA and the expansion of DACA.

9. LUPE member’s new RAPIDO home did not flood despite heavy rains

After heavy rains swept the area, the Aldape family’s home was one of the only homes in their Mercedes-area colonia that did not flood. They received their home in 2014 as part of the RAPIDO disaster recovery program, and RAPIDO homes are elevated in anticipation of flooding.

10. More than 300 letters signed by RGV businesses in support of DACA and DAPA

With our partners in the Equal Voice Network, we collected over 300 letters of support from business in the Rio Grande Valley who stand with immigrants! The businesses joined us in our call for Texas Governor Greg Abbott to stop standing in the way of progress for immigrants and drop his lawsuit against the President’s immigration programs.

Valdez-Cox concluded her message by saying: “Help us continue making change in the Rio Grande Valley in 2016. Make a donation today.” Click here to make a donation.

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