Immigration has been a hotbed political issue. However, this election season, fewer people have been talking about the topic. Cardinal Blase Cupich is teaming up with Sister Norma Pimentel in an effort to change that and keep hope alive.
The immigration ministry spearheaded by the archdiocese of Chicago is looking for inspiration from a woman dubbed “the angel at the border” who was named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people of 2020.
For years, Pimentel was a smiling face greeting immigrants hoping to make a better life in the United States.
“I believe the whole issue of immigration, human crisis that we see at the border and throughout, has been politicized so much,” she said. “And it’s a life issue. And it doesn’t matter what side because they use the whole issue to support their political agenda and it should not. It should focus on humanity.”
WGN visited the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas in 2018 where Pimentel and her team fed, clothed and helped families get on their feet after a long journey from their home country.
Fast forward two years to the same care in a new setting. Similar families are now waiting in Mexico until their cases come before the courts in the us.
“People are still hurting and suffering, and those faces I used to see in McAllen, children that were crying, asking me ‘Help me,’ are still happening but on other side of border in Mexico in Matamoros,” Pimentel said.
So Pimentel makes the trek to Matamoros, Mexico with the same personal items she provided in Texas.
“We have to be able to distinguish between,” she said. “An immigrant doesn’t make you a criminal just because you are an immigrant. It’s a human being, it’s a mother, a father. They are very concerned about their children. Now that I’m going to Matamoros to the refugee camp, I get to see the families interact with one another and help each other. They’re worried about making sure they are safe and protected. And this is something that we would do here in the United States if we saw our children in harm’s way.”
She is a voice of hope for them and a call to action for those at home.
“I think one of the things that keeps somebody away from helping is fear,” Pimentel said. “Because of all the rhetoric we hear that we should be afraid and it holds us back, it paralyzes us.”
The church is providing marching orders led by Chicago’s Archbishop Cupich.
“The families we’re talking about, these young people, they are fleeing violence and crimes. Not just in Mexico but mostly in countries in Central America, Latin America, where the drug lords are the ones perpetrating this violence so often,” he said. “And, of course they are being fed by the casual use of drugs in this country. So, we do have a responsibility as a nation for helping people who are victims of this crime.”
Pastoral Migratoria is fulfilling the mission.
“The other thing we’re involved in is making sure people are connected with resources out there, public health, safety, their labor rights, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and also free immigration legal consultation,” Cupich said. “We are building a whole network of our people through this leadership.”
They are leading the way, hoping others will follow.
“My grandparents were immigrants. They were not criminals. They were looking for a better life for themselves and their children and future generations,” Cupich said. “And that’s the connection we need to make personally. Each one of us as an immigrant nation but also as an immigrant church.”
The 8th annual Keep Hope Alive fundraiser is Thursday at 6:30 p.m.. This year it is virtual. Sister Norma will be the keynote speaker sharing her stories at the border and her passion for immigrants.