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City commission orders Respite Center in McAllen to re-locate

(Source: KGBT Photo)

The Catholic Charities Respite Center in McAllen is now unknown.

On Monday night, McAllen city commission members voted to disapprove a conditional use permit for the center, which means the respite center will have to re-locate.

Last month, the commission had allowed the conditional permit if the Respite Center leaders stipulated to conditions, including hiring a security guard and preventing spillover traffic from the center onto the neighborhood.

But on Monday night, residents from the McAllen neighborhood petitioned the commission to not move forward with the permit, citing safety and public health concerns.

"None of us could get away with not following the ordinances and regulations of the city,” said Alicia Zamora who has lived in the area for 28 years. “We can't pick and choose who gets to do that.”

Zamora presented the commission with a petition signed by about 40 residents who oppose the center’s location. The residents asked the commission to re-locate to a commercial area instead.

“I’ve seen private cars dropping off immigrants off at night,” said Zamora. “Where are they coming from and why are they being dropped off in private vehicles?"

But Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs the center, said to the city commission that the migrants and asylum seekers the center houses do not wander outside the facility.

“The community has nothing to fear,” she said.

Several city commission members voiced their concerns, including District 3 commissioner Omar Quintanilla and District 6 commissioner Veronica Whitacre.

McAllen City Mayor Jim Darling urged commission members who opposed the approval of the permit to consider the long-term effects the decision could have, including leaving hundreds of asylum seekers without housing.

District 1 commissioner, Javier Villalobos echoed that concern.

“The concern I have is the Respite Center doesn't have to do this. What if they pick up and say ‘we are done?” he said. ”We are going to have hundreds of people walking and running around the city of McAllen without help.”

Villalobos thanked the Catholic Charities, who voluntarily house asylum seekers, adding that the organization helps those in need despite not being obliged to by the federal government.

“I don't think we took the right action today,” he said.

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