The recent actions and statements of state and local leaders restricting the ability to assist and care for recently-arrived immigrant families fills me with great sadness. 

In these difficult times, when so many are struggling, our work as a community must be one of treating all human life with compassion. It is more vital now than ever to follow the example of our savior Jesus Christ who noted: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me… I was sick and you looked after me…” (Mt 25:35).

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV) with the support and partnership of our exceptional community in McAllen and the greater Rio Grande Valley, including the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), have worked tirelessly to provide humanitarian assistance to the many immigrant families who have been given permission to be in the United States.

The families we assist at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, have been released from federal custody and arrive at our shelter through daily coordination with CBP, the city and local community volunteers and CCRGV staff.

Throughout the pandemic we have taken extra precautions so that our local community is safe. We, in collaboration with city and county officials, established COVID testing facility. Our effort has been to test every person released in the community. Thankfully we have seen a low percentage of immigrants testing COVID positive. Nevertheless, this is a concern for us, as staff, as community members and as people of faith concerned about the well-being of all human life. 

For this reason, we take the necessary measures to make sure the families who have a family member test COVID positive are isolated with their family in hotels designated for quarantine. Even though most of the family often tests COVID negative, mostly, the family chooses to remain together with the family member that tests COVID positive.

These individuals remain in isolation until they test negative. In the meantime, we provide the care the family needs so that they do not have to leave their room. This way they are in compliance with public heath and safety precautions to the greatest extent possible.

All this has been done to protect our communities from COVID while simultaneously protecting and caring for the family, who needs assistance. At no time have the COVID positive immigrant families walking around exposing others in the community. They are kept in isolation until they test negative.

The La Joya incident is an isolated case, in a new location we had just begun to use. This one incident has caused a great deal of misinformation and unfortunately serious consequences that threaten our community with catastrophic outcomes if we can’t continue to isolate and care for the families.

My hope is that we do the right thing to keep our communities safe by supporting efforts that are in place to keep COVID positive families in isolation with the care they need.

Together we can protect and make our community safe while also treating our guests who need our care with dignity and respect.

Any law or policy that contributes to human suffering is wrong and needs to be corrected. I urge state and local leaders to reconsider their actions and work with us and other community partners to help ensure that all individuals, whether long-term community members or newcomers fleeing violence are treated with dignity and that together that we work to keep our community safe. God bless us all.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Her commentary was made in response to an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott that restricts the transportation of migrants released into the community by the Department of Homeland Security. Abbott said he issued the order to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Editor’s Note: Here is a podcast of an interview Sister Pimentel gave to Brenda Nettles Riojas, Diocesan relations director and editor of The Valley Catholic:

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