To all those giving clothes and supplies to the Guatemalans, Hondurans, and El Salvadorians that show up at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, spare a thought for the undocumented immigrants from Mexico.
Mexican nationals that cross the Rio Grande without a permiso are treated very differently to those from Central America. Families and unaccompanied minors from Central America get booked in at a detention center and are then released and asked to reappear in federal court sometime in the future.
Many of those Central Americans “captured” in the Upper Rio Grande Valley are dropped off at the McAllen bus station and make their way to Sacred Heart, a respite center run by the Catholic Church, where they can get a shower, clean clothes, medical help and a good meal. They then board a bus to be with family or friends throughout the U.S.
Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs the respite center, said last week that Sacred Heart was getting about 2,000 such immigrants a week. Captured may be the wrong word because many Central American immigrants give themselves up to Border Patrol.
Contrast this with undocumented families from Mexico. Most of the Mexican nationals who are “captured” by Border Patrol do not get the opportunity to stay in the United States to make a case for why they should be allowed to stay. They are immediately sent back across one of the international ports of entry and expected to fend for themselves on the other side.
I am pretty sure that is what happened to Francisco, Yudith and Pablo, who knocked on the door for water a couple of nights ago. They had been walking around in the hot sun all day, having lost their coyote at 6 a.m. that morning. Unable to get across the border wall they walked around aimlessly for hours, without food or water.
The knock on the door came around 10 p.m. The house is on the Mexican side of the border wall in Hidalgo, Texas. The light was on inside and so Francisco, Yudith and Pablo took a chance. Francisco was a friend of Yudith. Yudith was the mother of Pablo, who was 15 years of age. They said they had come up from Michoacán, Mexico, to escape cartel violence. “The family was in danger. It is not safe to live there,” Francisco said.
The undocumented immigrants asked if there was any way to get around the border wall. They were told it was very difficult and that in all probability they would get picked up. There is a Whataburger half a mile down 23rd Street, close to the Hidalgo International Bridge. If they made it to Whataburger they might be able to catch a ride to McAllen. They asked how far McAllen was. It is only eight miles north but how are you going to get there at this time of night, they were asked. Besides, they were told, Border Patrol is everywhere. It was amazing they had not been picked up yet. They would have had to walk a couple of miles to get beyond the border wall.
Alternatively, they could hide in the bush and wait for the irrigation district workers to come through the border wall gates at about 5 a.m. They could then, potentially, walk through the gates. They choose to keep walking, looking for the end of the border wall. Border Patrol says it is okay for residents living on the Mexican side of the border wall to give immigrants a glass of water. That is considered humanitarian. On this occasion they were given water and pan de dulce. The family renting the house were celebrating Mexican Independence Day and had a lot of cake left over.
Francisco said they would keep walking because they really did not mind being picked up. They were hungry and thirsty and would not mind being sent back to Reynosa if it meant getting a shower, a hot meal and a good night’s rest. The coyote had promised he would get them to Houston. But the immigrants lost him when chased by Border Patrol earlier in the morning.
Disheveled, dehydrated and desperate, the idea of going back home seemed appealing at 10:30 at night. Home, however, would be Reynosa, a city they hardly know, not Michoacán. Francisco said it would not be safe to go there.