NEW YORK — When President Donald Trump visits the southern U.S. border today as a part of his push for a security wall between Mexico and the U.S., he will meet with Sister Norma Pimentel, one of the nation’s most active Catholic leaders along the border.
Crux confirmed the meeting on Thursday with a source close to Pimentel.
In 2015, Pope Francis personally thanked Pimentel for her work with migrants and refugees.
I want to thank you,” said Francis during a 2015 virtual papal audience broadcast by ABC’s “20/20.”
“And through you, [I want] to thank all of the sisters of religious orders in the U.S. for the work that you have done and that you do in the United States…is it appropriate for the pope to say this? I love you all very much,” Francis said.
News of Pimentel’s meeting the president comes just one day after she penned an op-ed in the Washington Post, in which she invited the president to visit the Humanitarian Respite Center which she opened four years ago to welcome newcomers.
“Every day of the year, from morning to evening, families coming over the border are welcomed at our center with smiles, a warm bowl of soup, a shower and a place to rest. Most families are exhausted and afraid, carrying little more than a few belongings in a plastic bag,” she wrote.
“They come in all forms and at all ages. Few speak any English. Most are in great need of help. Some days, we see 20 people. Other days, it’s closer to 300. In recent weeks, it has been very busy. Some stay a few hours, but many spend the night before heading on to new destinations. Since we opened, more than 100,000 have come through our doors.”
Pimentel went on to note that the center cooperates fully with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and that she prays for them daily.
While she did not specifically weigh in on the border wall debate, she encouraged a response to migrants and refugees guided by human dignity.
“I am energized each day by the families I meet, especially the children. I am energized as well by the volunteers. They come from our local communities but also from across the United States,” she wrote.
“We witness daily how, working together, people of all faiths can focus on helping the person in front of us. Regardless of who we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another,” she said.
Pimentel has also launched a capital fundraising campaign to open a second shelter that will house both migrants and homeless individuals.
As Trump headed to the border on Thursday, Bishop Joseph Vásquez of Austin, Texas, Chairman of the US bishops’ Committee on Migration, issued a statement calling for a just solution.
“Secure borders and humane treatment of those fleeing persecution and seeking a better life are not mutually exclusive. The United States can ensure both and must do so without instilling fear or sowing hatred,” Vásquez said.
“We urge lawmakers to look beyond rhetoric and remember the human dignity that God our Father has given each of us simply because we are all His children,” he said. “The President and Congressional leaders need to come together and end the shut-down with a solution that recognizes the dignity of work of affected employees, respects the humanity of all regardless of immigration status, and protects the sanctity of human life.”
Pimentel has a long history of advocacy for immigrant rights. In 2018, she received the Letare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, the highest honor in the American Catholic Church.
At the time of the award announcement, she told Crux, “I never imagined that the work we do daily would be given a wider platform to bring forth the cries of the suffering for the world to hear. It helps us all realize the importance of witnessing as a Catholic Community to Christ’s suffering in the suffering immigrant.”
Since 2008, Pimentel – a religious sister of the Missionaries of Jesus – has overseen the diocese of Brownsville’s charitable operations. In 2014, she served as point person for organizing the emergency response to the surge in Central Americans crossing the border to seek asylum.
In her capacity as executive director of Catholic Charities, Pimentel is responsible for programming that includes pregnancy care, housing assistance, and emergency food and shelter programs for four countries in the Rio Grande Valley.
Pimentel was born in Texas and raised along the Mexico-U.S. border. She is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, but she grew up crossing back and forth from Brownsville to Matamoros, Mexico – the very location where she now dedicates her life’s work.
Along with Pimentel, Trump is due to meet with the mayors of McAllen and Brownsville, Texas and Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.
The president’s visit to the border comes on the 20th day of a partial government budget shutdown, in which he has vowed not to re-open the government until he receives $5.7 billion dollars for a border wall.