Dear Friends,

The County agenda for Monday includes item 6, which allows the Commissioners Court to take further action on the proposed Segundo Barrio Historic District.

You will recall that the Court, on a 3-2 vote (with Judge Samaniego and Commissioner Stout dissenting), opted to divide Segundo Barrio between two historic districts. This plan omits Sacred Heart Church and 200 other buildings from the Segundo Barrio Historic District and cannot be allowed to stand.

Now the County has the opportunity to fix that mistake.

The petition opposing the current plan has reached 1,000 signatures in only 24 hours and is now approaching 1,300. Hundreds of the signatories are residents or former residents of Segundo Barrio.

The media has begun to cover this issue extensively, with KTSM airing reports at 6:00pm and 10:00pm yesterday and Univision covering the issue as well.

Father Rafael Garcia, the leader of Sacred Heart Church, and State Sen. Jose Rodriguez have written to the County, and I have included their letters in this email.

Please feel free to write to the Commissioners Court and Valerie Venecia if you have an opinion on this matter:;;;;;;

Max Grossman, PhD

Executive Board, Preservation Texas

Vice-Chair, The Trost Society


Hello Judge Samaniego and Commissioners Stout, Leon, Perez, Robinson.  

I hope that you and your families are well as we continue to endure the COVID-19 crisis.

I write to you to express my deep concern and disappointment with the recent 3 to 2 vote in favor of redrawing the lines, but most importantly, the impact of this in the significant history and culture of the Segundo Barrio.  At this time, I express my gratitude to Judge Samaniego and Commissioner Stout for supporting our community and parish and not voting in favor of the narrowly approved option.

Some years back, I was pastor of Sacred Heart Church from 1994-2007.  Towards the end of my time as pastor, our parish and barrio lived through a similar experience when the Paso del Norte group unveiled its plan for gentrification and demolishment of part of the barrio.  At that time, Bishop Armando Ochoa, Vicar General Fr. John Stowe and I wrote to the Mayor and Council expressing our opposition to a plan that would have destroyed history and displaced many vulnerable immigrant persons that live and have lived in the barrio for decades.  It was at that time that we commissioned an artist to paint the mural that is on the facade of the parish gymnasium, depicting historical persons and events connected to the barrio going back to the 1890’s.  Again, now in 2020, as I begin a new term as pastor, we seem to be facing the same dangers, under new labels. 

Certainly you are aware that the Segundo Barrio has been considered the Ellis Island of the Southwest.  From 1892-1924, Ellis Island island, at the mouth of the Hudson River, received large numbers of immigrants, who settled into our nation.  Similarly, and around the same dates, many emigrated from Mexico to eventually settle and populate the Segundo Barrio.  The newly arrived became workers and students who are part of the history of El Paso’s development as a city.  They came into the U.S. through the ports of entries, the international bridges that are still in existence in the Stanton St. and Santa Fe St. areas.  These bridges would be excluded from the Segundo Barrio, disconnecting them from significant history.

In 1892 (when Ellis Island began to receive immigrants) Jesuit Fr. Carlos Pinto founded Sacred Heart School, which would be staffed by the Loretto Sisters.  In 1893, Sacred Heart Church was founded with the mission of serving the immigrant Mexican community in the Segundo Barrio.  (In the same year, Immaculate Conception Church was founded to serve the Anglo community, which lived further north).  From 1893 to the present, Sacred Heart Church has continuously served the immigrant population –many now second and third generation immigrants — of the Segundo Barrio.  Fr. Pinto went on to build other parishes and schools in the central part of the city, including San Ignacio, St. Francis Xavier, Guardian Angel, Holy Family.  Also, Sacred Heart Church in Ciudad Juarez, very close to us on the other side of the Rio Grande.  But note that the Jesuit Community, the priests, that served these parishes was located here at Sacred Heart Church, in the Segundo Barrio.

As incoming pastor of Sacred Heart, I want to express my disapproval of this plan to divide the neighborhood, history and eventually, probably the culture.  I assume that like in 2006, there is an economic development plan behind this decision, a plan that one can predict will not be for the benefit of the lower income, long-time residents of the area.

The Segundo Barrio needs help and has needed help for decades.  Throughout decades, irresponsible landlords have rented out apartments to vulnerable persons who do not have many options.  These housing units often have inadequate ventilation, electrical systems and safety hazards of many types.  These have not been addressed.  The barrio has had a history of neglect.  But creative improvement plans that are win-win for all, including out of town visitors, could be developed without driving out the people.  Visitors seek out the historic neighborhoods when visiting cities.  The barrio, with an inclusive plan, could attract many.  These attractions (for example, outdoor mercados and pedestrian-only areas) could be achieved by including the present people and character, not destroying or relocating them.  

I urge you to re-consider this decision.  As pastor, I am beginning to notify parishioners and friends of Sacred Heart, as well as Bishop Mark Seitz of your 3-2 decision.  Our parish will continue to defend the rights of the impoverished and vulnerable members of our community, and thus, the mission of our historical Jesuit parish.  

Please contact me if you have any questions.  

God bless,  Fr. Rafael  

Fr. Rafael Garcia, S.J.

Pastor – Sacred Heart Church

Ministry with Migrant and Refugee Persons

Ministerio con Personas Migrantes y Refugiadas

602 S. Oregon St.

El Paso, TX  79901

Tel. (915) 532-5447

Cell (505) 288-9552