The growing influx of undocumented immigrants to our southern border has now outgrown both processing centers and the Catholic shelter in the Rio Grande Valley.
The Catholic Charities, its dioceses, and the City of McAllen, symbolically broke ground on a new $2 million permanent shelter. The new facility will accommodate the growing number of immigrant families that have flooded the border since 2014.
“Since that day to now, we’ve helped way over 65,000 almost close to 70,000 immigrant people that have come through the valley asking for help,” said Sister Norma Pientel, RGV Catholic Charities director.
The current shelter is over capacity. Adults sit and stand outside and children make a playground out of the parking lot.
The costs to run such a non-stop operation keeps mounting. Some are covered by donations, while the city has footed nearly half a million dollars alone. That money has not been reimbursed.
“If we didn’t have what we’re doing now with the Catholic charities and supporting them, the people would be walking around these neighborhoods,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said.
Mayor Darling hopes that the surge will die down soon. But he argues that as long as the current rhetoric in Washington D.C. continues, there will be gridlock on the fronts of border security and immigration reform.
“When [immigrants] are released by Border Patrol or CBP, they’re here legally to await their hearing,” he said. “So when that news gets up north, it kind of fuels ‘Hey, we need to protect our border.’ And really, what the Border Patrol needs it social workers to process the people.”
Then there’s the cartel and gang violence in Central America.
Kevin Martir says he left El Salvador after his sister was killed. Family members in Los Angeles helped him pay his way to McAllen. Martir says that as long as poverty and violence persist, people like him are going to seek the American dream.
The situation has not only created a need for a new shelter, but a new, temporary processing facility 20 miles east, which Homeland Security has begun to build.
Now, the Department of Health and Human Services says that they are reallocating $167 million in federal funds to assist operations at the border. Border Congressman Henry Cuellar says that despite that promise, $750 million already appropriated by Congress to the State Department last year to help Central America has not been disbursed.
McAllen's mayor along with other local, state and federal officials are to meet with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz for a security roundtable in the Rio Grande Valley on Friday, where immigration and federal reimbursement to border communities are among the topics expected to be discussed.