South Texas nonprofits receive migrant aid reimbursements

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities, smiles as she greets a large group of people who had just been released from an immigration detention center in McAllen on Monday, June 17, 2019. (Joel Martinez |

McALLEN — Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley will receive $601,557.88 in migrant aid reimbursements from the federal government, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar announced late Thursday.

Also receiving federal reimbursements from the pot of $30 million passed by Congress in for money spent on immigration assistance, Cuellar announced, were McAllen’s Salvation Army Corps Center ($108.371.25) and the United Way of South Texas ($2,599.32).

Since 2014, the Catholic Charities, with assistance from other non-profits and the city of McAllen, has temporarily taken in asylum-seeking migrants who federal authorities drop off downtown as they await their immigration court hearings.

This has played out for years in other border cities as well, with non-profits and municipalities spending money on migrant aid but the legislation passed this summer allowed only for reimbursement applications for costs incurred during the first six months of 2019.

The city of McAllen, which has not yet been notified of a reimbursement, submitted its application in September for about $71,000, for money spent on transportation, portable toilet rentals and some labor costs, according to Assistant City Manager Michelle Rivera.

“No one is surprised that Texas communities have gone above and beyond to care for migrants crossing the southern border in record numbers, putting their own needs on hold to help others,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement. “But since they’ve had to fill a role traditionally held by the federal government during this humanitarian crisis, I’m pleased border communities and the non-profits that serve them are receiving reimbursement for their expenses.”

The city’s application and others sent from the region were supported by a letter sent by Cuellar, U.S. Sens. Cornyn and Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. 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.”