Trump not expected to visit respite center, Sister Norma

CRISTINA M. GARCIA AND MOLLY SMITH | STAFF WRITERS

Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities said she welcomes President Donald Trump to visit the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, which has seen hundreds of asylum seekers pass through weekly.

The nun, who serves as executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, is not scheduled to meet with the president as of Wednesday evening, but is open to the possibility. She frequently hosts national visitors to the center, including politicians and celebrities, and has received international acclaim for her work with migrants.

“I encourage him to be open … to see not only the detention facilities, but also the respite center where he will have the opportunity to meet families and children and understand who they are, and why they’re here,” Pimentel said in an interview Wednesday.

The center, which Pimentel founded more than four years ago during the Central American migrant crisis of 2014, assists those released from Border Patrol’s Central Processing Center in McAllen — a likely stop during Trump’s visit — and other area detention facilities. At the center, migrants receive a meal and change of clothes. Volunteers help them secure bus tickets for the next leg of their journey north and walk them through legal paperwork detailing their court date before an immigration judge.

A schedule of Trump’s visit has yet to be released, with the White House only confirming his plane will land shortly before noon at the McAllen-Miller International Airport. Secret Service has been on the grounds of Anzalduas Park in Mission this week, another likely stop on his border tour as the park sits along the Rio Grande and is frequented by U.S. Border Patrol agents attempting to intercept those crossing into the country illegally.

“It’s good that he’s coming to the border; it’s good that he’s coming to our community,” Pimentel said. “It would be very helpful for him to really become aware, for him to understand the whole complete picture of the immigration reality, not just one aspect of border defense and border protection.”

Pimentel said the president should address the limited number of asylum seekers currently allowed entry into the United States through international ports of entry as a result of the Trump administration’s “metering” policy of restricting the number of asylum seekers let in each day.

“Families are forced to stay in the Mexican side, the south side of the border and (are) exposed to greater danger,” she said. “I think that great emphasis is being put in the reinforcement of the border, when there’s also another aspect that is not being addressed, and that is the human reality of families in great need of care.”

A Honduran woman, who presented herself at the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge bordering Reynosa on Tuesday, said she made the trek north “with the idea of doing something good.” Released Wednesday, the woman, who did not provide her name, awaited a bus to Fort Worth to reunite with her husband’s family.

“We’re not all bad like he thinks,” she in Spanish when asked what message she had for the president. “We’re good people.”

“He says that we’re delinquents, involved in drugs, but he can’t speak for everyone because there are some who are and others who are not,” she added. “For example, we came here with the idea of doing something good.”

Nebraska residents Carolyn, 68, and Joe Karner, 71, who spend their winters in South Texas and have volunteered at the respite center since 2017, agreed the president should tour the facility and speak with migrants.

“When you see these people on TV come into the border and trying to get over this wall, you can identify that they’re running from their lives,” Carolyn Karner said. “ … the reason we’re having all these people come here is because they can’t live where they are … If we could solve that problem, we wouldn’t have any of this problem.”

“He needs to see … they’re just poor families that are here for no other reason than to survive, which is what we would do if we were in the same position,” she added.

“That’s what I tell my friends,” Joe Karner said. “‘What would you do if we had to go their way? Would they take care of us as we take care of them here?’ And I don’t get any response from them.”

Eric Herrera, a 20-year-old self-described Trump supporter who volunteered at the respite center for the first time Wednesday, said the president should see the center, though he recognized it likely wouldn’t shift his views.

“He knows what he wants to do,” Herrera said. “I think he has his vision set.”