More than 100 women and young children from Central America arrive each day at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, covered in sweat and exhausted from a treacherous journey in unforgiving 100-degree heat. A team of volunteers greets each new arrival and then ushers the newcomers through the welcome center, which has portable showers, tables of donated clothing and nutritious meals.
Now, with the addition of a new, air-conditioned tent from AmeriCares, the migrant families are ensured a safe place to sleep before they continue on their journey. The 650-square-foot tent erected this week is expected to be in use as long as there is a steady influx of migrants into McAllen, situated just a few miles from the Mexico border and at the epicenter of the border crisis.
AmeriCares partner Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley opened the support center in June to provide respite for up to 200 immigrants passing through each day. Already, more than 5,000 people – mostly women and children – have come through this U.S. version of a refugee camp, and there are no signs of the traffic stopping anytime soon. Many of the families are fleeing gang-related violence in their own countries in Central America to seek safety in the United States.
“The pace of individuals crossing the border elsewhere has slowed, but there is still a steady influx of new immigrants in this part of Texas,” said AmeriCares Associate Director of Emergency Response Kate Dischino, who is overseeing AmeriCares response to the border crisis. “Without these emergency relief centers, women and infants would be sleeping on the bus station floor. It’s a humanitarian crisis not unlike what we see in the developing world.”
By the time the immigrants get to the welcome center, the families are physically and emotionally exhausted from the harrowing journey and need support to begin to heal, said Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
“After having the opportunity to shower, eat, and talk to their family, they are then taken to the tents to rest,” Pimentel said. “Being able to lay down and sleep for a couple of hours in the tents completes the total transformation of the families, mostly mothers with their children. Thanks to AmeriCares, we have tents for the families to rest and receive the care they need.”
After their stay at the center, many families travel in the U.S. to reconnect with relatives already living in the States.
AmeriCares is also supporting similar relief centers in Arizona, supplying diapers and pediatric nutritional supplements for migrant families passing through Tucson and Yuma.