McAllen applies for migrant aid reimbursement

In this 2018 file photo, Central American families wait by the entrance of the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center downtown McAllen on Tuesday, June 26, 2018, before boarding a van to be shuttled to a nearby church in Alamo to spend the night. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — This week, 71 immigrants seeking asylum in the United States arrived at the migrant relief center in downtown McAllen. It was a slow week.

Earlier this year, and over the last five years, federal authorities dropped off hundreds of — and at times over a thousand — migrants in McAllen in a single day. Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, with contributions from the City of McAllen, has aided the migrants. This year was perhaps the busiest, during the winter when the authorities released mass groups of migrants into border cities.

Now, border cities like McAllen and non-governmental groups like Catholic Charities have the opportunity to get reimbursed for migrant aid costs incurred during the first six months of 2019. McAllen submitted its application for reimbursement this week, for just over $71,000. Those costs cover transportation, portable toilet rentals and some labor costs, Assistant City Manager Michelle Rivera said. Catholic Charities will reimburse the city for some other costs, Rivera said.

The applications submitted by McAllen and other entities were supported by a letter sent by U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, to the acting administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in charge of providing the reimbursement funds.

“Throughout Texas, local communities and NGOs have felt the effects of the historical levels of migrant influx into the United States,” they wrote. “Cities, counties, and NGOs have gone above and beyond the call of duty in meeting the needs of transiting asylum seekers, UACs, and migrants through the diversion of millions of dollars to provide transportation, food, shelter, and other services which are traditionally provided by the federal government.

“As individual entities within Texas apply for this funding, we want to express our support for those applications that will meet the needs of these communities, and those they serve. We appreciate your diligent and expeditious attention on this matter. Finally, we would request that you keep us informed on the progress of applications, the status of obligations and overall funding amounts, advanced notification of public awards, and any changes to the policy or processing of applications.”

While city officials are hopeful the reimbursement request will be accepted, there is still roughly $1 million the city has spent on migrant aid since 2014 that has gone without reimbursement from the federal government. Mayor Jim Darling has said the city has had no choice but to assist the migrants when federal authorities drop them off at the downtown bus station.

The respite center has moved locations multiple times over the years, and is now in a former nightclub on 15th Street near the bus station. The facility has already received high profile visitors, including NFL star Josh Norman and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Norman, during a visit in June, paid $18,000 for appliances — a commercial washer and dryer.

“Kudos to Josh Norman with the Washington Redskins for visiting the humanitarian respite center/McAllen today and contributing to our response to restore human dignity,” Catholic Charities of the RGV Director Sister Norma Pimentel said at the time.

For Pelosi’s part, she said she wanted to show the migrants that they were welcome in the U.S.

“We come here to make sure that we’re honoring the dignity of the migrants coming into our country, that the conditions they’re being met with meet their needs, but that also respect their dignity and honor the values of America,” Pelosi said. “When we don’t respect the dignity of all of those migrants, we lessen ourselves.”

mferman@themonitor.com