McAllen grants permit to migrant facility; Likely leading to new building ownership

DECKHED:

McALLEN — City commissioners on Monday approved a permit for Sister Norma Pimentel, on behalf of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, to be the operator of the migrant relief center in downtown McAllen, the site Pimentel’s organization was forced to move after city commissioners in February voted for the migrant care center to move out of its previous location.

Various city staff toured and inspected the new site since Pimentel began the migrant operations earlier this summer, which was outlined to city commissioners on Monday.

There are 18 toilets, nine urinals, 13 sinks and 10 showers in the building — a former nightclub — near the downtown bus station, and the new permit said the migrant care operations there will only take place on the first floor of the two-story building. The first story is 28,000 square feet.

Monday’s meeting was a stark contrast to the last time Pimentel appeared at city hall for an agenda item at a city commission meeting. In February, Pimentel sought to explain to commissioners and the public the unique services her organization provides, which has been receiving asylum-seeking immigrants for a short period after federal authorities have dropped the migrants off downtown since 2014.

But commissioners at that February meeting voted to order Pimentel to vacate the building Pimentel had previously run operations out of, which was near the intersection of Hackberry Avenue and Second Street, sending Pimentel and city staff scrambling to find a new building.

On Monday, commissioners did not even call Pimentel to the podium. They quickly approved the permit, and Pimentel, who was joined at city hall on Monday by U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, soon left the commission chambers.

“I’m just very happy we have the city’s support,” Pimentel said. “I am concerned about the well-being of everybody — not just immigrations. My goal is for everyone to be safe.”

Gonzalez, who has supported the respite center, helped host a high-profile visit to the migrant relief center on Sunday, which featured U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pimentel and Pelosi shared several embraces, and Pelosi presented an official congressional gift to Pimentel.

Monday’s decision will also likely carry ownership implications for the downtown building where Catholic Charities now runs the migrant care operations. McAllen commissioners earlier this summer moved to buy the building. Some creative maneuvering with the Federal Transit Authority led to City Manager Roel “Roy” Rodriguez disclosing that the federal agency would pay for a large percentage of the building.

But as of Monday, the city’s purchase of the building had not been finalized, City Attorney Kevin Pagan said, and Catholic Charities is in talks to purchase the building from its owner. The deal for Catholic Charities to own the building could be complete by next week, Pagan said.

Catholic Charities is expected to run the migrant care operations on its own, but asked the city for security assistance.