This week, the city of McAllen announced it is building temporary shelters to house the increasing number of migrants who have tested positive for COVID-19. The testing is done by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which has been housing the migrants. Until now, the charity has rented hotel rooms for migrants with COVID-19, until they test negative, but the organization recently sought help from the city.
Sister Norma Pimentel is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She told Texas Standard that the number of migrants being released into the United States to complete asylum claims is greater than she has ever seen. She says Catholic Charities has tested all migrants released by federal authorities in the McAllen area for COVID-19.
Pimentel says some 7% or 8% of migrants test for COVID-19, up from 4% when the release of migrants began, earlier in the pandemic.
Pimentel says she asked McAllen officials to provide shelter for migrants because the task was overwhelming Catholic Charities.
“We have been working from day one together to make sure the response is handled correctly, and that we have support from the city in every way possible,” she said.
McAllen officials have urged the Biden administration to address the large migrant population on the border. Pimentel agrees. The border remains closed to most new, northbound migrants. Under a Trump administration policy that has been left in place under Biden, many migrants are forced to return to Mexico rather than being given an opportunity to remain in the United States as their cases are processed. But children under the age of 6, and their families, must remain in the country, since Mexico refuses to allow them to return.
Pimentel says the Biden administration has started a process by which migrants can enter the United States In a safe and orderly way, through points of entry. But more migrants are coming, and she says the Biden administration should ramp up its efforts to process new arrivals.
“We need to find ways of vaccinating people on the border – immigrants – so they can be safely entering the United States if they are proceeding to come in,” she said.
Pimentel wants the federal government to encourage migrants to enter the country at official points of entry, rather than by other means.
“We must encourage people to enter at points of entry, and build capacity, so that those who are searching to enter the United States in search of protection and safety, and with credible fear for their lives – they must be given an opportunity to enter safely through the points of entry,” Pimentel said.