HOUSTON — So much global focus is on the Rio Grande Valley. The area located in the tip of Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border is dealing with a wave of undocumented immigrants, some illegally crossing the Rio Grande in groups of 100 or more.
But the crisis at the border doesn’t stop along the riverbank. Some of those families will then move to Houston for shelter at Casa Juan Diego.
The Catholic center for immigrants and refugees is located at 4818 Rose Street near Durham in the Rice Military neighborhood of Houston.
If you’ve driven along Durham toward Washington Avenue, you’ve likely seen the mural painted on the fence surrounding the 41-year-old shelter. The facility was started by Mark and Louise Zwick in 1980.
When asked of what the crisis at the border has been like for the last four decades, Louise Zwick said, “it ebbs and flows, but it never goes away.”
Mark Zwick passed away years ago. His widow and volunteers run Casa Juan Diego which includes nine houses.
“Right now, we’re really concentrating on receiving families coming from the border,” Zwick said.
Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement call Casa Juan Diego daily, said Zwick, to get a count of available beds for families. ICE agents transfer some families from Laredo, other families are coming from ICE’s largest family immigration detention center in Dilley, Texas.
“We’re receiving several families a week, and they’re from many countries," Zwick said. "They’re from Central America but they’re also from Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Ivory Coast. The children of the families who come are not well. The feet are in very bad shape from all the walking. The children are very small. Obviously malnourished from the situations they’ve been coming in. So it’s very difficult for the families."
Potential donations range from diapers for babies and adults to baby formula, financial assistance and tutors or ESL teachers.
“People are so worried and devastated," Zwick said. "A woman’s been calling me from Oregon, worrying about the children and families at the border. So we know there’s a lot of concern out there.”
The devout Catholic believes Americans are so willing to help, “because we’re all human beings, and we hate to see people suffer unnecessarily," Zwick said.
Some families stay at Casa Juan Diego for just a couple of weeks. Others will stay months.
Families eventually move on to more permanent housing as they navigate the immigration court system, a legal process that immigration lawyers say can take years.