McALLEN, Texas (CBS) — A group of Chicago priests recently traveled more than 1,500 miles to check on conditions along the southern border with Mexico.
They went to McAllen, Texas to check on people living in the margins. But as CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reported, the people were nowhere to be found.
In McAllen, a former nightclub where young people once danced the night away now operates as the Humanitarian Respite Center. Priests from Chicago and across the country came for a tour.
The building was filled with food, clothing and hygiene items all meant for migrants hoping to immigrate into the United States.
“Well, as you can see, we don’t have families,” said Sister Norma Pimentel of the Humanitarian Respite Center Director.
Pimentel was right. There were no migrants in sight when the group of priests from Chicago’s Catholic Extension stopped by last month.
But the signs of migrants who had passed through recently were everywhere, in the form of art still adorning the walls.
Many parents were deported, and the parents and children who had not been deported were in many cases back in Mexico – waiting to petition for asylum.
The respite center in McAllen was absolutely swarming with people a few months ago, but since policies have changed in the country, the number of people has slowed to a trickle.
Those policies force the vast majority of migrants to try to seek asylum outside of America. According to the U.S. Border patrol, tens of thousands of migrants are now waiting to ask for asylum in Mexico.
Pimentel said up until the administration changed the requirements for asylum seekers, 600 to 800 people a day were flocking to her Center.
But now, essentials that have been collected at the Catholic Charities facility are not being used.
“It’s sad only because I know that they are here somewhere,” Pimentel said. “They’re in Mexico and they’re suffering, and that’s why I know it’s sad.”
Victims’ rights activists say those migrants are routinely being preyed upon by criminal gangs.
“Now to realize that so many of them are in Mexico and living in tents, and with not much security and much opportunity to do anything but suffer,” said the Rev. Jack Wall of Catholic Extension Chicago.
The pastor of St. Agatha Church in Lawndale agrees saying the suffering of migrants should be unacceptable.
“All these people are the suffering Christ,” said the Rev. Larry Dowling.
And he believes the immigration crisis is the civil rights issue of our time.
“We should be embarrassed by what is happening now, but we are on the right side of history, because we are standing with those who are less fortunate,” Dowling said.
The priests next headed across the border into Mexico to check on conditions there. Puccinelli will have more on that trip in the coming days.