President Trump’s Missed Opportunity for Encounter in McAllen

BY CHRISTOPHER KERR | January 11, 2019

President Donald Trump was able to meet with a variety of different people during his visit to McAllen, Texas this week. His trip was framed as a way to generate support for his plan to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Hearing from law enforcement, political leaders, and people impacted by migration are vital, but he missed an important perspective from a good friend of the Ignatian network.

In a Washington Post op-ed published earlier this week, Sr. Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, whose services include a respite center for arriving migrants, made an open invitation to President Trump to visit the center.

In 2016, Sr. Norma addressed the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. She will be honored with ISN’s Robert M. Holstein Faith Doing Justice Award in May 2019.

Like Pope Francis, Sr. Norma knows about the importance of “encounter” and was hopeful that an opportunity to spend time with migrant families being served at the center would provide the President with a new experience on the situation at the border. Such a visit would have been an opportunity for the President to meet with many people he misrepresents in his speeches and tweets, generalizing nearly all those who migrate as “aliens” or “criminals.” Visiting Sr. Norma’s center would have provided the President an opportunity to speak with people about why they are leaving their home countries, risking a harrowing journey, and why they are seeking to enter the United States at all costs. Unfortunately, the President did not take her up on the invitation.  

Sr. Norma was invited to join other McAllen community leaders to be part of the audience for President Trump’s roundtable discussion on border security. In photos and video of the roundtable, Sr. Norma can be seen seated behind Senator Ted Cruz, listening to the President and other speakers offer their perspectives on the situation at the border.

What did President Trump and other government officials miss by not visiting the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center?

The Diocese of Brownsville interviewed Sr. Norma immediately after the roundtable as part of a regularly broadcast program on Facebook Live — here is what she had to say about not being able to welcome President Trump to the respite center and the reality of the border. While the President did not accept her invitation, maybe you will.

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