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Central American Illegal Immigrants Welcomed as Refugees in RGV

For many families and young single mothers, immigrating to the United States from Central America seems to be the only option to escape violence and seek better opportunities; not only for themselves but for their loved ones. At a young age, Daniela Hernandez is one of many unauthorized immigrants entering this country in hope of giving her child a better lifestyle than the one she had in Honduras.  

Illegal immigration is currently one of the most discussed issues in the U.S. As of 2014, 11.1 million illegal immigrants lived in America, accounting for 3.5% of the nation’s population. What many might not know are the challenges and obstacles these people face in order to get to this country.  

Hernandez, 20-year-old mother of four month old Armando, decided to leave her country because of the violence and crimes that are so frequent and hard to escape from in Honduras. According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Honduras has had one of the highest murder rates in the world since 2010, with 79 murders per 100,000 people in 2013. Even though it was difficult for Hernandez to leave her family, she hopes her child will receive a good education, something that would most likely not occur back in Honduras.  

“All I want is for my baby to have a better life and more opportunities”- Daniela Hernandez, a 20-year-old Honduran.

“Leaving my family was very difficult for me,” said Hernandez. “But all I want is for my baby to have a better life and more opportunities than the ones I had growing up back in Honduras.”

Church Helping Immigrants since 2014

In July 2014, Sacred Heart made national news after McAllen’s Mayor Jim Darling publicly announced the creation of a new Humanitarian Respite Center that would benefit immigrants escaping the violence in their country, just the way Hernandez did. These refugees are given temporary papers and can live with family members while waiting for their assigned court date.  

In collaboration with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, the Sacred Heart Church aided over 5,000 unauthorized immigrants the summer it was created and as of 2016 the number has increased to 65,000. Due to this, Hernandez, along with other 35 illegal immigrants were able to seek asylum at the Sacred Heart Church after making it into the country safe on November 2016.

McAllen Is Not Their Final Stop

According to Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities Rio Grande Valley, illegal immigrants are brought in groups from McAllen’s bus station everyday. Sometimes they welcome up to 100 people per day.  

“We clap as they enter because we want to make them feel welcome. Making it here is already a big accomplishment for them,” said Pimentel.

Sacred Heart provides the newly arrived individuals with a place to stay for the night. Clothing, beds, food, shoes, showers and a phone to communicate with their family members are some of the things offered to these families who arrive at Sacred Heart with only a bus ticket and their family’s phone number written on a piece of paper.

The bus ticket is used to send them to other states such as, California, Virginia and Washington to join family members. Some immigrants have to take more than one bus, which can take them up to four days to get to their destination, but know that once they arrive, they will soon face court. Hernandez will be reuniting with her older sister who left Honduras over 10 years ago.

“My sister lives in Washington with her husband and two kids,” said Hernandez. “I haven’t seen her in so long, and now my baby and I will be living with her.”

Another immigrant at Sacred Heart is Hector Perez, an El Salvador native who was in the group of immigrants in which Hernandez arrived. He left his country due to gang threats and violence. Such things are common in El Salvador, which is known as the murder capital of the world with around 6,656 murders in 2015.  The 23-year-old’s bus ticket was to New Jersey, where his dad resides. Perez’s dad left El Salvador in 2010 to find a better job in the U.S. to provide for the family and would send back home $700 a month.  

“We were living on the money my father would send us on a monthly basis; that is why I’m here,” said Perez. “I want to better myself, help out my father and send money back to our family in El Salvador.”

What the Future Holds

Under President Barack Obama’s presidency from 2009 and 2015, 2.5 million people were deported. Even though he stated various times that he was willing to help illegal immigrants, he has deported more people than any other president. Starting in January 2017, negative changes on immigration are expected with the new president taking office.

President-elect Donald Trump mentioned multiple times during his campaign that a wall between Mexico and the U.S. will be built soon after he takes office. Pimentel believes immigrants arriving at Sacred Heart Church are very concerned about Trump’s presidency and his stand on illegal immigration. She thinks his previous comments make them feel unwelcome and are also very afraid to be deported to the country they left due to violence and other serious issues.  

“This election might affect the way they feel about coming to the U.S.”- Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities RGV

“Some have mentioned they are afraid to be deported when Trump becomes president in January,” said Pimentel. “This election might affect the way they feel about coming into the U.S.

Hernandez believes she has come so far and is afraid of being deported along with her son. She wants for Trump and everyone against immigration to know that she does not want to hurt anyone or become involved in illegal activities.

“I am not a criminal. I just want a better future for my son,” said Hernandez.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is only 11 miles away from Sacred Heart Church, which means any UTRGV student can go spend a day volunteering and helping those in need. For more information on volunteering and donations contact Sacred Heart Church at (956) 687-7711.

Kenia is a junior at UTRGV pursuing a degree in Mass Communication with a concentration in broadcast journalism. She is part of the university's dance team and works as a reporter for the UTRGV TV. 
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