SAN JUAN, Texas – Sister Norma Pimentel says impediments to immigration and economic activity between the United States and Mexico need to be relaxed, with border security moved 25 miles inland to checkpoints such as Sarita and Falfurrias.

The executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley gave interviews to reporters at the San Juan Basilica soon after being named one of the 100 most influential people of 2020 by Time Magazine. 

Veteran reporter Ron Whitlock asked if Pimentel would like a return to the days when people moved freely between South Texas and Tamaulipas. 

“The checkpoint was 25 miles inland, further inland, there was an economic security zone between those two checkpoints. The river was not a dividing line,” Whitlock reminisced.

“I remember those days and I think it was so perfect for us,” Pimentel responded. 

“We knew that in this space land between Mexico and Sarita, it was a space for us to be ourselves. We had good partnerships and relationships with Mexico, back and forth. We did not have to worry.”

Pimentel said back in the day, the real border was at the Sarita checkpoint.

“People knew that you could not go beyond that point. They allowed us to go back and forth (between Mexico and the United States), to celebrate life, to celebrate our culture, celebrate our food, people and families, without feeling that something is wrong. It was a beautiful way to be. To have taken that away from us, it is almost as though they took away a part of who we are.”

In calling for the current travel ban on Mexican shoppers and tourists to be ended, Pimentel was echoing the call of local leaders like McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and groups such as the Texas Border Coalition, which is led by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Jr.

The official reason for the ban on “non-essential” travel is the coronavirus pandemic. Darling and other South Texas leaders, such as U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, have tried to persuade the Trump administration to provide health screenings at land ports of entry to check for COVID-19. However, their proposals have not been enacted. At the same time, they have called for the checkpoints to be border, during the pandemic.

Pimentel said her inclusion in the Top 100 list provides a “wonderful opportunity” for people in the rest of the United States to better understand the reality of living on the border. “Especially the goodness of people on the border. We reach out to those who need help, immigrants or refugees,” she said.

Asked by Whitlock how bad are things in Matamoros, where hundreds of asylum seekers are living in tents, Pimentel said: 

“Things in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, are very bad. Unfortunately families have been held back, because of the new policies, Remain in Mexico. Some families have been there over a year, suffering, hurting, under very difficult circumstances, exposed to so much dangerous crime. It is wrong what is happening to them.”

Asked by Whitlock what message she had for Texas’ two U.S. Senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, Pimentel said: “The border cities are twin cities. We work together, we live together, we have family on both sides. It is a natural way of operating. Stopping that stops us from living out our lives, who we are. They must listen to our local leaders to understand the true reality of what happens at the border.”

Pimentel said closing the border to asylum seekers has “100 percent empowered the criminal element.” She said: “It has given them license to continue doing the worst, the atrocities they do to the most vulnerable, the poor.”

Asked if she had a message for President Trump, Pimentel said: “Definitely, I would make a 100 percent appeal: please open the borders. Come down to the border and see and experience who we are.”

Ron Whitlock, who interviewed Sister Norma Pimentel about the way life used to be on the border, covered the subject of economic security zones on one of his Ron Whitlock Reports shows a few years back. Here is the program:

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