McAllen respite center serving as a model for other cities, including San Antonio

Sister Norma Pimentel shared best practices for migrant center with several cities and states

MCALLEN, Texas – For the first time in years, the Rio Grande Valley is not the epicenter of the migrant crisis.

However, Sister Norma Pimentel said there’s still a big need. Pimentel is the director of Catholic Charities in the Rio Grande Valley and has helped establish a respite center that has served hundreds of thousands of migrants over the last eight years.

The Respite Center started in the parish hall of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in June of 2014 during the surge of unaccompanied children arriving in the U.S..

“We started with maybe 200 people,” Pimentel said. “(That was) the very first group that we walked to the parish, but that was every day. And the numbers started to increase to 200 to 300, 400 (migrants).”

But Pimentel said she did not accomplish this alone.

“Every faith denomination, universities, doctors, families, governments, county governments, city governments, all of us just joined together in an effort to restore human dignity,” Pimentel said.

Throughout the years, the demand for the Respite Center’s services fluctuated, leading to relocations.

“Border Patrol was changing (their strategy to respond), and they (started) making detention facilities and the numbers dropped,” Pimentel said. “Then (numbers) went back up, and we’ve had some days… in 2019 we were receiving 2,000 people every single day.”

Now, it’s a center others are wanting to model after, including San Antonio, Washington D.C., Chicago, and New York City. Pimentel said New York City Mayor Eric Adams recently sent delegates down to get a firsthand look at the operations.

“We were able to speak to them and to share our best practices as to what we do and why and how we do it,” Pimentel said. “I tell them how it has worked for us, and how they can then move forward to define for themselves… (what) they can provide for the immigrant and the families that are arriving. We want to make sure that we empower (migrants) to continue taking care of themselves.”

Just as important as it is for Pimentel to empower migrants, she said communities must also help protect them.

“It truly is a blessing to have been given this privilege to, to defend life, to defend the dignity of people that are truly at our doorsteps here in our communities,” Pimentel said. “It’s also always important for all of us to find ways to protect the innocent, the vulnerable, those that are exposed to the dangers of someone who has no respect for human life.”

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About the Authors

Alicia Barrera is a KSAT 12 News reporter and anchor. She is also a co-host of the streaming show KSAT News Now. Alicia is a first-generation Mexican-American, fluent in both Spanish and English with a bachelor's degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. She enjoys reading books, traveling solo across Mexico and spending time with family.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.

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