An unprecedented humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the southwest: A surge in gang violence in Central America, especially in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, has prompted the parents of thousands of children to send their kids to the U.S. border, often alone or with a “coyote,” or paid smuggler.
According to the Dallas Morning News, officials say that 52,000 such children and teenagers have already arrived this year, with an estimate of 120,000 to arrive in the next fiscal year. While politicians argue about the cause of the surge and what should be done, caring people in Texas are not waiting for federal action to step up to help the distressed mothers and kids.
Sister Norma Pimentel saw immigrant mothers and children drooping at the bus station in McAllen, Texas as they waited to travel to meet relatives in other parts of the U.S. Because there are more people than local immigration officials can handle, they are permitting the migrants to travel to meet relatives and then appear before an immigration court at that location. “They are dehydrated, they are totally drained, they just fall and they need attention,” Pimentel told Karla Barguiarena of ABC 13.
Sister Pimentel began to coordinate a massive relief effort. For the past two months, she’s led a group of volunteers in assisting people at the bus station. “They don’t know who to trust,” Sister Pimentel told the Catholic News Service. “They fear someone will take advantage of them.” The volunteers reassure them that they are not going to exploit or harm them, and help address their immediate needs.
She also contacted a local priest who agreed to allow her to use the parish center at Sacred Heart Church, near the bus depot, as headquarters. Sister Pimentel set up cots for the homeless immigrants, and began to manage and distribute the donations of clothes and food that are flooding in.
“The assistance centers are an immediate and temporary response to the need,” she told the Catholic News Service. “A long-term solution is needed.”
According to Dianne Solís of Dallas Morning News, volunteers are launching similar efforts in other parts of Texas. A Catholic Charities children’s shelter in Fort Worth is doubling its capacity and aiming to open more shelters soon, and the Dallas branch of Catholic Charities is working to coordinate relief services, as well as holding immigration law seminars for lawyers who want to volunteer to help the migrant kids.
If you want to help Sister Pimentel’s efforts, you can donate through Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Catholic Charities of Dallas has set up a crisis info page and is accepting donations too, as is Southwest Key, another nonprofit that is running shelters for the kids.