Chicago priests travel to border to see immigration crisis firsthand

McAllen, TEXAS (WLS) -- A group of Chicago priests traveled to far southern Texas to see how migrant families are being helped after crossing the border. ABC7 was there when men, women and children who were just released from border patrol detention arrived at McAllen's Humanitarian Respite Center for assistance. They've already endured a lot, most coming from Central America hoping to be granted asylum in the United States.

"I guess just coming close to it here and hearing personal, very personal stories, you have no idea what these people are fleeing from. The danger, the horror that they're coming from," said Fr. Terry Keehan, pastor of Holy Family Church in Inverness.

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A group of Chicago priests traveled to far southern Texas to see how migrant families are being helped after crossing the border.

Sister Norma Pimentel founded the center that's now housed in a building borrowed from the local sheriff's department. Inside, there's food, clothing and a plan to connect these migrants with their relatives or other sponsors throughout the United States to give them a place to stay while they go through their court process.

"This is really one more step along the journey," says Sr. Norma Pimentel, the Humanitarian Respite Center's founder. "What happened here in this community is that families in our community saw the families in distress at the bus station, they realized needed to reaching out to them and helping them, so what I did is organized the desire of the community to respond in a humanitarian way."

When ABC7 visited the center, there were 150 people there. Chicago's Catholic Extension helps to fund their relief efforts.

"It really is about human dignity and the sacredness of every person, it really references the Pope talking about a revolution of tenderness," says Fr. Jack Wall, Catholic Extension President.

Just blocks from the border Wednesday evening, at a special mass to dedicate the new Sacred Heart Church in Hidalgo, Texas, hundreds of people streamed into the church to hear special prayers for immigrant families.

In McAllen, Humboldt Park pastor Fr. Gary Graf and a group of Chicago priests saw first hand the crisis and care. Fr. Graf spent time comforting a mother and her young son who traveled from Honduras looking for help. She says she's trying to reconnect with her husband and her sick five year old daughter who are now in North Carolina, the family somehow separated during the journey.

"They're willing to risk their lives to come here. The dire need," said Fr Graf of St. Jose Sanchez del Rio Parish. "They're not just coming to this country to check it out so to speak, made several weeks months journey impossible odds, just to get here."
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