EDITORIAL: Giving shelter: Center needs new location to continue aiding refugees

The Humanitarian Respite Center on Hackberry Avenue is seen Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Writer Pearl S. Buck famously said that the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members. Countless people in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond have passed that test glowingly through their support for local efforts to assist Central American migrants who have come to our borders to escape violence, persecution and poverty.

Now that those efforts themselves are threatened, we count on our community to help McAllen officials find a new location where those refugees can find shelter and solace.

The McAllen City Commission on Monday asked Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to vacate the respite center it has utilized since December. The diocese moved into the 16,000-square-foot former nursing home at 2nd Street and Hackberry Avenue after it outgrew its former downtown location.

The new facility, however, is in a residential neighborhood, and some residents expressed concerns about having a transient population so close to their families. That prompted city commissioners on Monday to request that the respite center close within 90 days. Commissioners obviously were torn about seeking the eviction, which came on a split vote.

We’re certainly not alone in hoping that within that time, a new location can be found.

Norma Pimentel, a local Catholic nun, opened the center several years ago to address the needs of thousands of people, many of them unaccompanied youth, who were arriving at our border from Central America, where they faced gang violence, political corruption and little hope for the future. Sister Norma and volunteers at the center provide services for the migrants after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials process and release them.

The effort drew worldwide acclaim, bringing invitations to visit with Pope Francis in Rome and to address the United Nations in New York. And Pimentel generally has received support from residents all across the Rio Grande Valley  most likely including many who now express concerns about having the center in their own neighborhood.

Generally, the refugees who are helped at the center are mothers and children  just like the neighborhood’s residents. But residents’ fear of a foreign population, especially one that is constantly changing, is normal and understandable.

Mayor Jim Darling has pledged to help find a new location for the respite center, and we hope other members of the community are willing to help in the search.

A shuttered storefront or other facility might not be as well suited as a former nursing home, which already had a kitchen area, laundry room and bedrooms that provided privacy and relative safety to those who were sheltered there. But, especially in these late-winter days of rapidly changing weather, any facility that can help address the needs of the refugees surely would be welcome.

Ideally, conditions in Central America will improve someday and people won’t feel the need to flee; then the respite center won’t be needed. Until then, we hope the community will again show that it cares for the most helpless among us, and help the respite center find a new home.

Previous coverage

McAllen orders Catholic Charities to vacate immigrant respite center

Mayor: McAllen will find a new home for immigrant respite center

‘We could’ve done a better job’: McAllen feeling heat from respite center decision