Many asylum seekers to the U.S. come from Central America, fleeing extreme violence and poverty. The three most represented countries are Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The South Texas border region, which is served by the Diocese of Brownsville, provides outreach to this vulnerable population.
Many Catholic organizations along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border provide the first line of humanitarian relief to these asylum seekers by providing shelter, clothing, and food.
On June 9, 2014, the Diocese of Brownsville created an outreach center at Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen, TX to respond to the people migrating to the U.S. from Central American countries. The center has served as many as 100 people a day, whose average stay at their facility is 8-24 hours.
This ministry, known as the Humanitarian Respite Center, mainly serves women and children who have traveled together as a family and have been paroled from detention centers while they await their asylum court hearing. This special Catholic Ministry provides welcomed relief and support, especially for those fleeing traumatic and life-threatening circumstances in their home countries.
The center offers the following services to asylum seekers:
- Warm shower & bathroom facilities.
- Beds (40-50 people spend the night on average).
- Clothes, shoes and infant essentials, such as diapers.
- Phone services, so that asylum seekers can contact family members.
- Safety courses on traveling and living in the U.S.
The center benefits from the help of 5,000 volunteers who help provide all of these very important services. The ministry is led by Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, whom a news agency dubbed the “Next Mother Teresa” after she was publicly commended by Pope Francis on national television.
With a $100,000 matching gift from Catholic Extension, the diocese is planning facility renovations to the current building that will add showers, sleeping quarters for families, and updated restrooms.