Congressional group visits Border Patrol, respite center

Visit will help in developing bills, one said

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and a delegation of 16 other members of Congress hold a news conference at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center on Saturday in McAllen. (Joel Martinez/jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — A Democratic congressional delegation, which included Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, visited the McAllen Border Patrol Station, U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center and the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center on Saturday, before heading to Brownsville to tour similar facilities.

Gonzalez, who represents most of Hidalgo County, said the conditions surrounding the crisis at the border are un-American. He called for focused efforts to help Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the countries most migrants are coming from.

“Until we — the United States — really put our foot down and invest in bringing security on the ground and economic opportunity so people in those native countries want to stay in their home country, we will continue to deal with this on our southern border,” Gonzalez said. “We need to get to the root of the problem … which is economic instability and all the violence happening in those three countries.”

Gonzalez also said the U.S. should work more with the Mexican government.

“We need to engage the government of Mexico to do more on their southern border to create safe environments for people who are migrating into Mexico,” Gonzalez said.

This congressional visit comes a day after Vice President Mike Pence, his wife Karen Pence and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, also toured McAllen facilities and the Donna Processing Center. A Massachusetts senator also visited Border Patrol centers in Brownsville Friday.

The delegation comprised of 17 total members, including Gonzalez, all from different areas of the country. Rep. Jackie Speier from California said this visit served to help them develop legislation.

“We intend to go home and we’re going to develop a legislative package,” Speier said. “That’s the first thing we need to do to address this humanitarian crisis.”

When asked how much responsibility Democrats bear in the conditions inside detention centers, Speier instead called for bipartisan cooperation.

“It’s gonna take all of us to come together and come up with a plan that’s more than just creating more spaces and throwing money,” Speier said. “We have values we want to make sure are incorporated.”

The congress members described the processing center similarly to previous reports: lights on at all times, crowded and dirty. Gonzalez remarked that the respite center had better conditions than the processing center.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, gave the delegation a tour of the facility, explaining to them how volunteers and donations keep the center alive.

“I’m glad they come … so they have an opportunity to see who (these families) are and why they’re here,” Pimentel said of the congressional visit. “They need to help the whole immigration reality that we’re living in … to make sure we’re part of a solution that respects life and protects humanity, especially these families who are suffering so much.”

Afterward, the Congress members spoke to different migrants who were willing to share their story.

Another group was also visiting the respite center Saturday afternoon. 50 pro-life organizations gathered together to collect donations for the center. Members from those groups travelled to the center to deliver an 18-wheeler filled with their contributions.

Rachel Lamb, 33, felt frustrated the delegation was visiting the same day her group had organized with Pimentel to drop off their donations.

“They’re standing there having a press conference … meanwhile they’re barricading actual services,” Lamb said, referring to blocked off streets. “We have over $120,000 of material goods that we would like to unload.”

Gonzalez also donated $1,000 to the respite center.