Sister Norma Pimentel says she is “truly disappointed” that she did not get a chance to speak during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump Jan. 10, during the president’s visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, Texas.
Pimentel, a sister of the Missionaries of Jesus, is director of Catholic Charities for the Rio Grande Valley.
“I was looking forward to this roundtable discussion, but there was no discussion unfortunately,” she told The Valley Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville.
“There were certain people selected to speak, to really support the president’s agenda.”
President Trump visited Texas on Thursday in an effort to drum up support for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico, in the midst of a government shutdown that began over funding for the wall. Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House staff were with the president.
“I don’t know that [Trump’s] interested in hearing anyone else but those who are simply wanting to applaud what he’s doing and what he wants to hear,” Pimentel said.
The sister highlighted the work of the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, now housed in a former nursing home, has helped close to 150,000 people since 2014, sometimes up to 300 a day.
Pimentel said most of the people they help are women and children who have been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a court date to consider their request for asylum.
“I think as Catholics, as people with faith, recognize that God asked us to support, defend, and protect all human life. And that’s what we’re doing here at the Respite Center,” she said.
Though the Jan. 11 discussion with the president included U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, local officials, and others working with immigrants, it was reported that representatives of local agencies and local elected officials were not invited to speak during the discussion.
Pimentel said if she had had the opportunity to speak, she would have emphasized that she understands the importance of border security and keeping the country safe, and that the Border Patrol - with whom she says she has always had a good relationship, and prays for daily - should be supported.
”We also must recognize that there are a lot of families, innocent victims of violence, that are suffering,” she said.
“And we find them here in our community, and we as a community are so generous in responding to help them, to be there for them. It’s a part of who we are as Americans, very compassionate. And that is a side that unfortunately our president was not open to listening to.”
Pimentel wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post ahead of Trump’s visit that she said she hopes he reads. The Jan. 9 op-ed is a letter welcoming the president to the Rio Grande Valley and inviting him to visit the Respite Center.
“Before the respite center opened, dozens of immigrant families, hungry, scared and in a foreign land, huddled at the bus station with only the clothes on their back, nothing to eat or drink, and nowhere to shower or sleep. They waited hours and sometimes overnight for their buses,” she wrote.
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened the first respite center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen to provide the migrants with basic necessities, including a shower and a bowl of soup. In need of more space, they later moved to their current location in the former nursing home.
“You will see volunteers arriving to offer a hand either preparing hygiene packets, making sandwiches, cutting vegetables, preparing the soup for the day or sorting through donated clothing,” Pimentel wrote.
“We witness daily how, working together, people of all faiths can focus on helping the person in front of us. Regardless of who we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.”
Pope Francis personally thanked Pimentel and her order for their work during his visit to the United States in 2015.