July 1, 2014

What’s happening on the border

Local governments partner with community in humanitarian effort.

McAllen — grappling with the humanitarian effort brought about by the influx of thousands of immigrant families and unaccompanied youth into the country this year — has found itself at the center of an extraordinary immigration situation.

Our city is working with the U.S. Border Patrol, Hidalgo County, nongovernmental organizations like Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, and dozens of volunteers to provide modest humanitarian relief to these immigrants, most of whom are from Central America.

After an arduous journey, many (but not all) of these migrants are detained and processed by the Border Patrol.

“Family units,” mostly women with young children, are dropped off at the McAllen bus station, a modern facility that serves 3 million people a year. From that point, they are essentially guests in our city — passengers waiting to be reunited with their families in other parts of our country.

If they have to wait more than a few hours, or if they need a respite from their harrowing journey, they are taken a few blocks away to Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where they can find clothing, rest areas, showers, hot meals and, if needed, basic medical attention.

Virtually all of these family units leave our city within 24 hours. They are provided with clothing, diapers, food and drink for their bus trip north.

The humanitarian aspect has drawn local, state, national and international media attention to McAllen. Coverage has been mostly fair, but not every story has been completely accurate. I’d like to clarify a few points:

• McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley are not facing a “health crisis.” Health professionals on the ground dealing with the families have not detected or reported, at this point, any serious health conditions. That does not mean we should not remain vigilant.
• McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley are not facing an “emergency.” Our city of 140,000 is secure and going about its daily business of serving residents.
• There has been no uptick in criminal activity in our city, which is one of the safest of its size in Texas. There is a threat of increased illegal crossing by people with criminal intent, but federal and state governments must deal with that threat.

Despite that fact that the city did not cause, anticipate or set aside funds for this operation, I have no plans to declare an emergency in McAllen. This situation presents many challenges, but it is not an “emergency” in the ordinary sense of that word.

We expect to be reimbursed for our efforts, and we will push to secure a sustained funding source from the federal government or state of Texas to continue our work.

In the meantime, our city and our Rio Grande Valley will continue to treat these temporary visitors the same as we treat all of our visitors — with dignity and humanity, with open hearts and a helping hand.

Jim Darling is mayor of McAllen. www.mcallen.net

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