The opening of a new emergency shelter in McAllen is providing a reminder of the needs of humanitarian shelters as they adjust to large numbers of people released from CBP processing. 

Unfortunately, the shelters’ courageous activities welcoming people seeking safety and protection have been overshadowed by a series of alarmist and racist statements and declarations by RGV elected officials — including an emergency disaster declaration by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez — that associate immigrants with disease.

Arriving migrants deserve dignity and safety; shelters and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are providing that the best they can with the resources they have.

  • In a statement last week, Sister Norma Pimentel reiterated the values of Catholic Charities of the RGV: “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…’”
  • Shelters and local governments are not receiving the resources and support they need from the Biden Administration.
  • As pent-up demand from the pandemic to migrate as well as continued exclusions under Title 42 result in greater and greater numbers of people arriving at the border, shelters and local governments are feeling strained.
  • Nonetheless, shelters are testing for COVID-19, offering vaccines to migrants in their care, and isolating individuals who test positive. As their facilities approach capacity, they have found a solution in contracting with local hotels, where families can isolate if one of their members is COVID-19 positive.
  • These practices, including contracting with hotels where individuals and families can isolate, are in line with recommendations of public health experts.
  • The City of McAllen has taken steps to help Catholic Charities expand their capacity, including opening emergency shelter space. To address the challenge, though, it is essential that any added capacity the city provides be in line with the recommendations of public health experts.

The alternative to releasing migrants to shelters is expelling them or leaving them in detention

  • Local electeds who call for the federal government to stop releasing people to shelters after processing have not been clear about what that means.
  • The only real alternatives are rapidly expelling people under Title 42 or keeping them in ICE or CBP detention.
  • Physicians for Human Rights explains why subjecting arriving migrants to detention and expulsions undermines public health: “[E]very aspect of the expulsion process, such as holding people in crowded conditions for days without testing and then transporting them in crowded vehicles, increases the risk of spreading and being exposed to COVID-19.”
  • Detention centers are hot-beds of COVID-19 transmission and death.
    Only when they are released can migrants safely isolate themselves in the care of shelters or loved ones.

The racist fear-mongering that associates immigrants with disease puts both arriving migrants and RGV residents at risk

  • Statements like “infected migrants” and characterizing migration as a “surge” draw attention away from what really makes us safe: individual practices — like mask wearing, social distancing and vaccinations — and systemic solutions — like funding health care and public services.
  • Anti-immigrant scapegoating fuels harmful policies that criminalize immigrants and border residents alike. For example, the governor’s mass arrest and criminalization of migrants and his order against giving released immigrants rides.
  • By laying the blame on immigrants, local elected officials are not addressing the more pressing challenges: persuading RGV residents still on the fence to get vaccinated and pressuring the Biden Administration to fulfill its duty to welcome migrants with dignity.

In her statement, Sister Norma Pimentel emphasized how actions of public officials that distract from her charity’s mission undermine her ability to give those in her care the dignified welcome they deserve: “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 we work to keep our community safe.”

As Dani Marrero Hi, LUPE’s director of communications and advocacy, said: For generations, border residents have welcomed people and families seeking protection. Individuals and organizations fill the gaps left by government inaction to ensure that people are welcomed with dignity and compassion. Instead of echoing Gov. Abbott’s anti-immigrant fear-mongering, our local leaders should be fighting to end Gov. Abbott’s attacks on border communities and pushing President Biden to restore asylum and give us the resources we need to welcome newcomers with dignity.”

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by John-Michael Torres, communications coordinator for La Unión Del Pueblo Entero. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Torres can be reached by email via: [email protected].

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows John-Michael Torres. (Photo credit: Carson Frame/American Homefront)

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