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Joining the Interfaith Caravan of Hope

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) delegation travels to McAllen, Texas

by Rick Jones | Office of the General Assembly

Sister Norma Pimentel shares her work with a delegation from the PC(USA) and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary at First Presbyterian Church in McAllen, Texas. (Photo by Rick Jones)

McALLEN, Texas — As people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador continue to make their way to the Mexico-U.S. border, a delegation of Presbyterian ministers and leaders headed to McAllen, Texas this weekend as part of the Interfaith Caravan of Hope.

The delegation from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) includes the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón Olivieri, co-moderator of the 223rd General Assembly; Rev. Jimmie Hawkins with the church’s Office of Public Witness; and Amanda Craft and Teresa Waggener with the church’s Office of Immigration Issues.

The delegation was joined by representatives of Mission Presbytery, the Synod of the Sun and a student delegation from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

For several months now, thousands of people have been slowly making their way to the U.S. border in hopes of starting a new life. The group has fragmented in recent weeks, with many heading toward Tijuana and San Diego. The focus this weekend has been on those entering near McAllen and Brownsville, Texas.

On Friday evening, the group held an orientation at First Presbyterian Church in McAllen, where group members heard from several volunteers who are working with people seeking asylum. Among the speakers was Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She says the work is about restoring human dignity.

“It’s what God calls us to do. We are wired that way,” she said. “If you see human suffering, we automatically help. It’s amazing how God touches us. We don’t do it; God guides and chooses the way because we are God’s people and God’s people are suffering.”

Pimentel told the group violence and poverty in their home countries are what propels many to move north from Central America.

“There are so many stories. It’s sad to know people have to suffer so much and when they arrive at our border, we find every way possible to stop them and tell them we don’t want them here,” Pimental said. “We mix them with criminals instead of realizing they are fleeing violence and gangs.”

Pimentel said her group has seen a change in the way U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers treat people seeking asylum.

“I work closely with border patrol and many are fine people. They care about immigrants and know the difference between families and criminals,” she said. “The majority are families and we’re sending military and putting up walls for children and mothers who are asking for help.”

Pimentel says the border patrol has a responsibility to keep borders safe as well as the responsibility for the many people who are coming asking for safety and help.

The delegation was also introduced to representatives from Angry Tias and Abuelas (grandmothers) of the Rio Grande Valley. Organizers formed the group in June when they found more than 40 asylum seekers camped out for days on the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge near McAllen. Volunteers work to provide food, water, blankets and other items to those waiting on the international bridges across the Rio Grande River.

“We try to give them information, empower them and not forget they are vulnerable people. We want to provide strength and love,” said a volunteer, Elizabeth Cavazos. “Some will unravel on us and share their stories. They must have their wits about them and still need to be strong. One person told us that being able to share her stories strengthened her but holding it inside made her weak. Some people need to get the words out.”

On Saturday, the students volunteered at the Sacred Heart Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, while the remainder of the delegation visited the border in Brownsville.



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