After a close vote, McAllen, Texas officials approved a new downtown location for a Catholic immigration relief center that was ordered by the city in February to leave its location in a residential neighborhood.
On Monday, the city commissioners voted 2-3 to move the Respite Center of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley during a contentious public meeting in the border city of less than 150,000. The center will have to move to a new location downtown by June 15.
Following complaints from several residents, the immigrant service center was notified earlier this year that it would have to abandon its current location at a former nursing home. Neighbors claimed that foot trafficking from the Respite Center was disturbing the area’s peace.
Before moving to the residential area, the center had functioned downtown for a few years - first at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and then at a rented space near the courthouse.
Overseen by Sister Norma Pimentel, the Respite Center has helped an estimated 150,000 migrants since 2014, sometimes up to 300 a day. Most of the clients are women and children who are waiting on court dates in asylum hearings.
The center provides temporary housing to people who often move onto find families or sponsors in cities throughout the US. It also offers food, medical attention, and hygienics. The facility even has a chapel where the clients can pray.
Asylum seekers are dropped off at the McAllen center shortly after being released from the custody of federal authorities. Located right on the Mexican-U.S. border, McAllen is a hub for immigrants and concerns have been expressed by locals about the transient population of asylum seekers and other immigrants in the town.
“The need for care and support has far outpaced the capacity of the current facility,” said a statement from CCRGV.
According to The Monitor, City Manager and Police Chief Victor Rodriguez has also expressed concern about the city’s immigration. He said he has requested federal authorities to release immigrants at the nearby towns of Harlingen and Brownsville.
Although the city is overwhelmed, he said, it is still the responsibility of the town to keep everyone safe.
“Nobody would be happier than people here at city hall for somebody else to be responsible for this,” he said.
“It’s our responsibility not only to keep those immigrants safe, but to keep the people that don’t want them here safe,” he further added.
In response to the immigration crisis, Catholic Charities plans to build a new humanitarian respite center on a piece of land already purchased by the organization. To fulfill this initiative, an architectural design competition is currently underway.
“In this time of crisis, providing migrants with hope for their future and working to restore their human dignity has become a national imperative,” read CCRGV statement.
“To continue to effectively serve, CCRGV plans to build a new Humanitarian Respite Center capable of serving all those who come to its door and bring respite to the most vulnerable.”