Sister Norma Pimentel is Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Last week, when President Trump traveled to the border, he met with Pimentel and other leaders. A religious sister with the Missionaries of Jesus, Pimentel has led the charitable work of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas since 2008. She oversees emergency assistance, homeless prevention, disaster relief, clinical counseling, pregnancy care, and food programs for all four counties of the Rio Grande Valley. In a town-hall event hosted by ABC's 20/20 before Pope Francis's visit to the United States in 2015, the pope praised Pimentel’s welcoming ministry for immigrants. Last spring, the University of Notre Dame honored Sr. Norma with the Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious Catholic award in the United States. She spoke with Commonweal contributing writer John Gehring about President Donald Trump's visit to the border last week and what she has learned from working with immigrants.
John Gehring: President Trump just visited your community. You were in the room during a round-table conversation. Who was there and how would you describe the meeting?
Sr. Norma Pimentel: I was invited to the meeting with the President. Those present were politicians, law-enforcement representatives, a rancher, two relatives of fallen officers, and a pastor from Waco.
JG: Were you surprised that you and other local leaders were not allowed to speak?
NP: I was more than surprised. I was disappointed. Local people were not given the chance to speak. We (the locals) were invited to be part of the President’s efforts to state that we have an emergency at the border.
JG: What would you have said to President Trump if given the chance?
NP: I would have thanked him for coming to McAllen and asked him to visit the Respite Center. I would have spoken to him about the families we serve who are poor and vulnerable. We sense a responsibility to help them. I would also talk to him about our community. We are a very generous, compassionate community that cares about helping those we see suffering.
JG: Why do you think the President and conservative politicians are obsessed with a wall?
NP: I think that those who are convinced that we need a wall are not from here, and they don’t really know the reality of life at the border. For us it is very important that our community is safe. Our cities here at the border are among the safest in the United States. I respect our border patrol and the work they do to control who enters our country. Having safe communities depends on us building bridges that bring us together rather than divide us. We need to learn how to be united as one community. Respecting and defending all life is important and must be placed first.
JG: What myths do people have about the border?