The hall of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas, is normally the setting for weddings and group dinners. But since June, the hall has been transformed into a makeshift crisis centre to meet the needs of some of the thousands of Central American immigrants pouring across the US border.
After processing by Border Patrol, immigrants from places other than Mexico are released into the US and given a notice to appear in an immigration court.
They are usually transported on federal government buses to the McAllen Central Bus Station just a few blocks up the road — the first stop on their journey into the rest of America.
With the influx of people into the relatively small bus station, the city and have worked together to set up this shelter as a temporary stop-over for new immigrants before they begin their bus journeys. For many immigrants, this is the first warm shower and hot meal they have had in days.
Volunteers have organised the stacks of clothing into chest high piles with signs poking out of the top designating whether the clothing is for niñas or niños — girls or boys.
In the rear of the room, other volunteers are stirring soup and preparing simple sandwiches.
“It’s become one those issues where there’s a crisis in the community and the church is responding,” said Pastor Mark Gonzales of Dallas, Texas, who has partnered with the conservative radio host Glenn Beck to provide aid to churches in this region.
“We’ve just got word that there’s a few families that we’re expecting,” an announcement declares over the intercom.
A few minutes later a small group of immigrants walks through the double doors in the front corner of the room, and appear to be taken aback by the army of volunteers welcoming them to the church.
In the opposite corner, my colleague Thomas Sparrow, of BBC Mundo, is talking to 18-year-old Aidé. She made the journey from El-Salvador while pregnant, and went into labour while being held at a US detention centre.
Later that morning, the young mother and four-day-old child began a more than 50-hour bus journey to New York.
We spent hours at this shelter during our trip, and spoke to many people. While there are many ideas about how to address the humanitarian crisis, there is little consensus.
It’s at places like this that people are casting aside their political differences and rallying around a shared sympathy for the perilous journey that these immigrants are making to get here.
- Paul Blake in McAllen, Texas in July