DONNA — In a gesture that came as a surprise to McAllen city leaders, the Donna City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday evening to give McAllen $10,000 as it continues to deal with an influx of migrants and asylum seekers.
The idea came about after Donna Mayor Rick Morales, along with other Rio Grande Valley mayors, recently attended a meeting with Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin A. McAleenan to discuss what federal officials have dubbed a “humanitarian and security crisis” of asylum-seeking migrants entering the country.
A large number of the migrants wind up in McAllen — dropped off at a local bus station by immigration authorities, and then later, in the care of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
“(We) were talking about how the city of McAllen has been putting up all the money for everything and so I thought it would be good if worked together,” Morales said after a special commission meeting in Donna Tuesday.
McAllen has devoted hundreds of thousands of dollars to migrant relief efforts and in assisting Catholic Charities, whose migrant respite center has had to change locations several times since it first began aiding migrants in 2014. Recently, city leaders have urged authorities to drop off migrants in other Valley cities, such as Harlingen and Brownsville, to help mitigate the burden which has largely been borne by McAllen alone.
For Morales, McAllen’s plight is not their issue to shoulder alone. The Donna mayor spoke of the issue as a regional one.
“They’ve been overrun with a lot of illegal immigrants coming over and so city of Donna, showing solidarity with the region and our city of McAllen, we’re going to be helping them out,” Morales said.
“Even though it’s a drop in the bucket — it’s $10,000 that we’re going to be helping them out with, but, I think it shows unity in this community that when one hurts, we all hurt. Mayor Darling is a great guy and I just want to let him know that he’s not alone in this,” he added a moment later.
Reached by phone Tuesday evening, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was unaware of the act of solidarity his fellow mayor had initiated just over a dozen miles down the expressway.
“That’s fantastic!” Darling said. “It’s kind of a Valley situation so I appreciate their assistance.”
District 3 McAllen Commissioner Omar Quintanilla was equally surprised by Donna’s decision to give McAllen $10,000 for migrant relief efforts, but expressed gratitude for their help.
“For the city of Donna to step up, I think it’s a great effort and a great first start from one of our neighbors there to contribute to the relief efforts,” Quintanilla said.
Though the news came as a surprise to McAllen city leaders, one commissioner had a front row seat to Donna’s act of generosity.
District 1 McAllen Commissioner Javier Villalobos, who also serves as Donna city attorney, was on hand to watch as the Donna city commission committed to helping their neighbor.
“Once Donna did that, it’s amazing,” Villalobos said. “They (Donna) took the reins and said, you know what, it’s something that’s important and they were going to help,” he said.
Villalobos added he hopes other municipalities will be spurred to offer similar help, echoing Mayor Darling’s sentiment that providing migrant relief is a regional issue.
“It has nothing to do with sanctuary cities. It has nothing to do with whether we want immigrants coming or not. It has to do with public safety and taking care of our citizens,” Villalobos said of the city of McAllen’s efforts to aid asylum seekers thus far.
“But when they (federal government) put a concern or problem on our lap, we gotta act and protect our citizens. And that’s what we have been doing and that’s what I hope the rest of the cities start helping with,” he said.
His fellow McAllen city commissioner agreed.
“I’d agree with Villalobos — this is a regional concern, a regional problem and I think the cities in Hidalgo and Cameron County would work best if every city contributed,” Commissioner Quintanilla said.
Donna hopes the city of McAllen will use the funds to promote public safety. It’s a condition spelled out in the resolution the commission passed Tuesday evening.
“The City of Donna is in support of the City of McAllen’s efforts and makes a finding that assisting in the above efforts is a legitimate public purpose, specifically, promoting public safety,” the resolution reads.
Donna leaders hope to disburse the funds as soon as Friday.
McAllen City Attorney Kevin Pagan said he expects the city to accept the funds in due course. “I’m sure we will gratefully accept it,” Pagan said.
“We’ll probably do some sort of resolution of acceptance through what’s called a memorandum of understanding,” the city attorney explained.
“I know $10,000 is not a lot of money — it’s a lot for us, but we need to show unity on this,” the Donna mayor said.
For McAllen’s mayor, the magnitude of the gesture was not lost on him.
“It feels good. It feels good. That’s what we’re all talking about,” Mayor Darling said. “It’s one region and I feel good that they’ve done it and we appreciate it — it’s tax dollars from their city and we appreciate their citizens,” he said.