Timeline: A 5-year History of the Humanitarian Respite Center


June 9 — Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, visits the downtown McAllen bus station and decides to ask permission to use Sacred Heart’s parish hall to accommodate the increase of immigrant families being dropped off by U.S. Border Patrol.

In this 2014 file photo, Sister Norma Pimentel with Catholic Charities speaks with media during a visit with Honduran officials who came to McAllen on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

June 10 — Humanitarian Respite Center opens and starts providing clothes, food and showers to immigrant families as they are released from federal custody.

June 27 — Two weeks after the respite center opens, McAllen City Attorney Kevin Pagan estimated the cost to the city and Hidalgo County to provide services to the influx of immigrants at $68,000 since June 13. He said it was difficult to nail down an exact figure because some costs, like payroll, will be delayed.

June 28 — On the heels of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s visit to the Rio Grande Valley, Texas U.S. Attorney General Greg Abbott visited the Valley. Abbott visited a Border Patrol detention facility and blamed the Obama administration for causing the surge of immigrants arriving.

July 29 — Actress America Ferrera visits the respite center. Ferrera, an Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning actress, took a step outside the limelight and visited the shelter, run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

America Ferrera in NBC’s “Superstore” panel during the NBCUniversal TCA Winter Press Tour on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in Pasadena, Calif.. (Richard Shotwell | Invision via AP)

July 31 — Valley mayors discuss billing the federal government for the caring of immigrants. Jim Darling believes expenses could surpass $500,000.


March 19 — Sister Norma Pimentel speaks at the United Nations. She was part of a panel with four other influential women who are fighting for equality and empowerment of women. “Women Promoting Human Dignity” was the topic of the panel.

July 25 — More than a year after Sacred Heart opened the respite center, officials say more than 20,000 people had gone through the center.

Aug. 10 — City workers install an additional tent outside the Sacred Heart respite center to deal with a record number of migrants staying overnight.

Sept. 1 — Pope Francis visits with arriving immigrants via a television. Pimentel, who spearheaded the efforts at the church’s shelter, said Pope Francis’ appearance was an acknowledgment of McAllen’s response to the influx of immigrants last summer.


Nov. 4 — Officials say they processed the most immigrants in October since the center opened in June 2014, with more than 5,600 immigrants processed.

Immigrants are dropped off at the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Dec. 1 — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials begin building a tent facility in Donna to address an overflow of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Dec. 4 — McAllen Mayor Jim Darling says the respite center has helped more than 53,000 immigrants since its opening in June 2014.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling looks over the wording of a resolution against the building of a border wall, but in favor of border security, during a special city commission meeting Tuesday September 5, 2017 in McAllen.


Feb. 28 — Nearly three years after the respite center began helping immigrants, city officials once again reiterate the city is not a “sanctuary city.” While statewide conversation swirls about Senate Bill 4, commonly known as the anti-sanctuary cities bill, Darling wanted to be clear at a commission meeting that McAllen is not a sanctuary city.

March 11 — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi visits the respite center during her recent tour of the Rio Grande Valley.

MCALLEN,Tx- U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sister Norma Pimentel outside the Humanitarian Relief Center at Sacred Heart in McAllen, Texas Saturday March 11,2017. Photo by Delcia Lopez dlopez@themonitor.com

April 18 — Respite center officials say the center had its lowest number of people come through in March since it opened in 2014. There were only 258 people the entire month, with just 65 staying overnight.

Nov. 28 — Pimentel represents the United States during a ceremony at the Vatican. The Vatican reached out and invited her to attend the launch of a two-year campaign called “Share the Journey.” The initiative, spearheaded by the Vatican’s Caritas charity, aims to build bridges of understanding and hospitality toward the displaced.


May through June — Zero tolerance begins, separating thousands of immigrant children from their parents until President Trump ends the policy with an executive order on June 20, 2018. During this period, respite center officials processed at least 300 people a day.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised Texas lawmakers for passing legislation aimed at prohibiting sanctuary cities.

December — Due to the spike in immigrants during zero tolerance, Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opens additional center, on Hackberry Avenue, near Second Street.


Jan. 10 — President Trump visits the Rio Grande Valley, but does not stop by the respite center.

President Donald Trump flanked by John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, and border patrol Raul Ortiz on the banks of the Rio Grande River near Anzaldua’s Park on Thursday, Jan.10, 2018 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Feb. 11 — Citing resident’s concerns, city commissioners ordered Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley to vacate their central McAllen respite center, located on Hackberry, within 90 days.

March 12 — City officials say negotiations are underway for a new immigrant respite center.

April 22 — McAllen commissioners narrowly approved a permit for a new immigrant respite center in downtown McAllen.

June 9 — Sister Norma and other members of the Diocese of Brownsville bless the new temporary respite center in downtown McAllen. The center is set to open June 15, 2019.

Auxiliary Bishop Mario Aviles and Sister Norma Pimentel at the the blessing of the new Humanitarian Respite Center on Sunday, June 9, 2019 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)


December — Expected opening of new permanent respite center, located on the corner of Chicago Avenue and 16th Street. The new building, which will likely be several stories tall, will cost no more than $4 million, according to Pimentel.