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Immigration Border Crisis

In Some Towns, Immigrants Met With Aid Instead of Anger

Image: Migrants sit at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church temporary migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas

Migrants sit at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church temporary migrant shelter in McAllen, Texas June 27, 2014. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church has a temporary shelter where detained immigrants, most of them fleeing violence from their Central American countries, have been taken for temporary food and shelter after being ordered to appear in immigration court, local media reported. STRINGER / Reuters

While the eyes of many have been on Murrieta and the raucous protests there that blocked the transfer of undocumented immigrants to that California town, groups in another city are welcoming with open arms the women and children who have fled violence in their own countries.

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In McAllen, Texas, more than 20 doctors have been volunteering their time to care for the mostly women and children who came across the border illegally and are awaiting transfer to other federal facilities in the north for processing. And Catholic Charities set up a center near the bus stop where undocumented immigrants are given a chance to shower, to receive clothing, and to rest before the trip.

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“Right now it’s not about politics. It’s about a humanitarian crisis,” said Ofelia de los Santos of Catholic Charities, whose group helps about 200 people a day. McAllen and the other small towns in the Rio Grande Valley were described as a region where most are first-, second- or third-generation Mexican-Americans.

“We are the sons and daughters of immigrants, we understand the plight of immigrants, we welcome them. We built this great valley and they will continue to help us build our country,” she said.

Thousands of people have streamed across the southern border with Mexico since October, fleeing violence in crime-ridden countries like Honduras. More than 50,000 unaccompanied children have also been sent across the border, in some cases because parents mistakenly believe they will be allowed to stay in the U.S.

Doctors like Martin Garza are volunteering their time to check out the undocumented immigrants and treat what have mostly been colds, respiratory infections, and stomach problems that are common after a long journey. Most of the people Garza has seen spent about 15 days traveling to and across the border, and then another three to five days in federal detention.

The effort started when physicians began helping the immigrants in a parking lot next to the bus stop, and grew from there, Dr. Garza said. There are now 22 physicians working 10-hour shifts to treat the refugees.

“They’ve been through 20 days of travel. They’ve been through conditions we can’t fathom,” Dr. Garza said. “There is a need and people are saying, ‘I can help.’”

“When I said I wanted to become a physician, I said I wanted to help.”

— Reporting by Amy Calvin