McALLEN — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi visited the Rio Grande Valley yesterday with a message of faith, hope and love.
Pelosi, the former House speaker, was joined by U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and started her tour of the Valley at a luncheon followed by a visit to the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen where volunteers welcomed her with the same type of ovation that they have welcomed nearly 70,000 migrant families who have used the facility over the past two years.
“When I ran for Congress, I made a promise that I would bring members of Congress and members of our Senate and world leaders to our region,” Gonzalez said.
“I want them to get to know us and I want them to get to know them.”
Last month Gonzalez and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, hosted a similar Valley tour with several members of the Hispanic Caucus during a weeklong flurry of Washington lawmakers visiting the border.
This time it was only Pelosi and Gonzalez who flew down to discuss President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders, and listen to the concerns of community members living here.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which runs the center, was the first one to hug Pelosi after she walked into the center at Sacred Heart Catholic Church for the first time.
“Bienvenida, welcome,” Pimentel said as about a dozen volunteers in aqua green vests, some from as far north as Nebraska, clapped and cheered.
A man from El Salvador who arrived at the center Friday stood quietly at the end of the row along with his two sons, not really sure who Pelosi was. They were one of three families staying at the center yesterday which was processing about 300 per day just two months ago.
“Right now, as you see, there are not a lot of immigrants because of a recent change in policy,” Pimentel said, referring to immigration authorities. “They are being held in detention, and it’s concerning because it hurts to see these mothers and their children in the conditions that they arrive here, and it’s important for us to have the opportunity to take care of them.”
After her half hour tour of the parish hall, Pelosi took pictures with the center’s staff and before leaving pointed out a knit blanket with the picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hanging before them on a wall next to the kitchen.
“This image reminds me that it’s important for us to have hope because hope lies right between faith and love,” Pelosi said. “Faith gives people hope because they believe somebody will express love, and that gives them hope and you are the source of that love. You are the personification of the virtues that give people hope, so thank you for what you do.”
Pelosi’s visit to the Valley included detractors.
After a quick stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle, Pelosi joined other faith leaders, immigration attorneys and members of the community for a roundtable discussion and press conference at La Union Del Pueblo Entero.
During the press conference, Samuel Freeman, a retired political science professor from the University of Texas Pan American, asked Pelosi why the Democrats were unable to pass immigration reform when they had control of the House.
“What about when you were speaker and there was a Democratic Congress? Why wasn’t there comprehensive immigration reform then?” Freeman asked. “Why didn’t you do your job as speaker in 2009 and 2010?”
Pelosi said they didn’t have 60 votes, and told Freeman she didn’t appreciate his accusatory tone. Freeman interrupted Pelosi responding, “Why didn’t Senator (Harry) Reed break the filibuster..,” but before he could finish Gonzalez chimed in telling Freeman he had his chance and told him to, “Get out of here.”
Frustrations among many immigrant supporters have been running high in the Valley since President Trump took office. Some of it is caused by fear, some of it by misinformation, according to the testimonies and comments voiced by the 10 people who joined Pelosi during the roundtable.
Sitting next to her was Eva Carraza, 40, of Alamo, an undocumented mother to a 17-year-old daughter who was born in the United States. Carraza said she was afraid to be sitting there Saturday, because she knows law enforcement could be watching, but it was important for her to tell the congresswoman her story.
“I had to tell my daughter recently, because I work and her grandfather works, that someday she will get home from school and she might not find us here,” Carraza said in Spanish. “She needs to be ready, and know where to find the necessary documents, the money, so now she can’t just focus on her studies because she has to be thinking about the fact that one day we might not be there.”
Pelosi said she took an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution and the rights that the American people and that any person who steps on American soil have. She also denounced the Trump Administration for considering a proposal to separate immigrant parents from their children after they are caught at the border.
“The very idea that they would say, ‘We are going to protect America by separating mothers and children,’ shows you how bankrupt they are in terms of values,” Pelosi said. “I want you to know you have many friends who share your values and your beliefs.”
She called Trump’s recent ban on travel from six Muslim majority countries un-American, and said the wall, “Is not protecting American people,” calling it an “indecent” and “immoral initiative that should be stopped.”
Also sitting in on the roundtable discussion was Bishop Daniel Flores, of the Diocese of Brownsville, who thanked Pelosi for her visit, but asked her to go back to Washington, D.C., and let other members of Congress know that they cannot talk about immigration and immigration law without first talking to immigrants.
“It is so important to hear the voices of the people who live and who work here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Flores said. “Immigrants are not often criminals but are often fleeing criminals.”
Flores said it is also important for her to highlight that local law enforcement should not enforce immigration laws because if a local community does not trust their local police department or sheriff’s office, they will not report the crime that is really happening. He also asked her to keep fighting for a just and comprehensive immigration reform.
“We cannot give up,” Flores said. “There may be setbacks, but surely we have enough common sense and reasonableness that people can work together to achieve something that helps families…this community will not give up on that if those in Washington don’t give up.”