MCALLEN, RGV – Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, says a new community and respite center could be built in McAllen by the end of 2019.

A reception was held at NIU Urban Living in McAllen to promote the $5.5 million project. 

“We are kicking off our vision to have a permanent respite center. It will be a community and respite center where we can help the families, a space where we can help the families we currently help. It represents a compassion and care that this community has for the families that we see here arriving in our area,” Pimentel told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Pimentel explained that CCRGV is teaming up with Georgetown University to find the best architectural design for the new center.

“Georgetown University is helping us out to reach out across the United States to get people to submit a design for our community and respite center. We will select ten finalists sometime in November. By the beginning of December we hope to have one finalist. We will then give them the time to design the plans and then get the constructors to build the design.”

Asked when the center would be up and running, Pimentel said: “Possibly, we will see the final construction completed by the end of next year, or the start of the next year (2020) It takes time to do all of this.”

Pimentel said it “would be nice” if the respite center was not needed. For that to happen, the federal government would not need to apprehend and process undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers at the South Texas border.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we did not need a respite center. That is why the center can be a community center that can respond to the humanitarian needs of our community. At this point, the need is the immigrants we are receiving but if, in the future, the needs are another aspect of humanitarian response, we can definitely use the center for that,” Pimentel said.

CCRGV started a Humanitarian Crisis Relief some years ago due to an influx of immigrants crossing the border who didn’t have an adequate place to rest. With the help of the Sacred Heart Church, the City of McAllen, as well as volunteers and donations, CCRGV used a room next to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, in McAllen. 

The current center provides a place for the countless men, women, children, and infant refugees to rest, have a warm meal, a shower, and change into clean clothing as well as receive medicine and other supplies, before continuing on their journey. CCRGV has assisted tens of thousands of immigrants. 

The group now wants a bigger and better center and has been accepting donations from across the nation.

Temple Emanuel 

Commercial land estate specialist Mike Blum spoke at the NIU Urban Living event. He said he had been asked by Temple Emanuel in McAllen to act as point person for donations raised for the CCRGV project.

“Through our Pay Pal account and our Social Action Fund, individuals or congregations from Jewish organizations from the east to the west coast, from north and south, have responded to the call to do something on behalf of the children and the separated families,” Blum told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“We (Temple Emanuel) were designated as the recipient. The word went out, if you want to do something to help the kids, send your donation to the Temple. I was designated as the point guy,” Blum said. “The response has been unbelievable from across the country. We have had donations from all kind of folks, all kinds of places. It has been very rewarding.”

Blum presented a check for $27,850 at the event. “But, we’ve also delivered another 3,000-plus Walmart and Amazon gift cards,” he said.

Mike Blum

Blum did not pull any punches in his describing the actions of the federal government when it comes to its “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy.

“It is unconscionable, simply unconscionable, there is no compelling reason to have done this, except they are mean-spirited. They are trying to equate illegal immigration with not having crossed at a border entry point. That if you did not cross at a border entry point, you must be illegal, therefore you are a bad person. That is just not true. It is also not true that all people are bad people because they came across the border. These are people who are entitled to refugee status but the government is not prepared to set up and do the things that need to be done,” Blum said.

“The Zero Tolerance policy was put in place without any thought on how they were going to handle it and they didn’t call FedEx to arrange an arm band that could track the package, 24/7. They did not have that in place. That is why so many of these kids are lost. They do not know where they are. They do not know where the parents are. It is just unconscionable.”

Blum said the federal government’s policy towards those seeking asylum is now being compounded.

“Now it is being compounded by this new policy of declaring people who have had citizenship for two or three decades, they are suddenly illegal aliens because it is time to renew their passport and they question their citizenship. It is just crazy.”

Blum said he understood the need to protect the nation’s borders. 

“We need to protect our borders. But illegal border crossings are down 30, 40, 50 percent from what they were a decade or so ago. So, we are doing something that is working. Maybe it it not working at the level those people who do not like brown folks want it to work. But, they are not doing this on the Canadian border. I would why?”