MATAMOROS, Mexico (Border Report) — A Texas nun has been working with Mexican federal officials to request that volunteers be allowed to build over $500,000 worth of plastic portable living units for the 2,500 migrants at a refugee camp across from Brownsville, Texas.

Sister Norma Pimentel on Sunday showed Border Report three prototype units, which were allowed to be built at the camp and are currently being used by volunteer medical doctors to treat patients by Global Response Management.

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But what they really want is the green light to order 1,500 of these units from Ikea — over half a million dollars worth — and to begin building them en mass for the thousands of asylum-seekers living on these muddy banks of the Rio Grande, said Pimentel, who is commonly known as Sister Norma in South Texas.

“These are the tents that we want to make sure families have,” she said. “We are still trying to work with the (Mexican) federal government because this is federal land so they need to give the OK.”

A look inside a plastic Ikea portable structure that nonprofits want to build 1,500 of for the 2,500 migrants living at the refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Catholic Charities of the RGV, along with the nonprofits, Team Brownsville and Angry Tias & Abuelas have been collaborating to crowdsource online and have raised the necessary funds for the portables, Pimentel said.

Each portable would hold at least five people and has a waterproof tarp on the floor to help keep out dirt, insects and venomous coral snakes, which are common here, she said.

Two little boys play in mud on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, at the refugee camp for asylum seekers in Matamoros, Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Pimentel was recently put in charge of overseeing all of the various nonprofits that help the migrants here, and she was named the point-person to work with Mexican government authorities.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, is seen Dec. 22, 2019, near portable plastic structures she wants built for the 2,500 migrants living at the refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Read a Border Report story on Sister Norma’s efforts in Matamoros

The migrants are living on this swath of federal land, which is located at the base of the Gateway International Bridge, because they feel safest here from local drug cartels, she said. Thousands of migrants have come to call this camp home since the Trump administration in mid-July began implementing in South Texas the Migrant Protection Protocols program, also called remain in Mexico, which requires asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico during their U.S. immigration proceedings.

Some migrants currently have been assigned court dates into June. And with winter setting in, federal Mexican authorities have expressed growing concern about the unsanitary open-air tents that have popped up along the riverbanks, as well as the piles of trash and dangerous terrain here where venomous coral snakes also live.

Water is seen on Dec. 22, 2019, bowing the roof of these newly erected pavilion structures that the Mexican federal government recently built for migrants living at the refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

The federal government recently put up three pavilion-style structures, under which many migrants have pitched their tents. But two days of heavy rains in the past week caused water to pool on the top of one of the pavilion structures leaving many migrants fearful that it would burst and rain down upon them.

On Sunday, Pimentel gave a tour of the pavilion and the entire refugee camp to Jill Biden, wife of former Vice President Joe Biden, who is now running for president.

The bishops from Brownsville and Matamoros were on hand, along with U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, whose district includes Brownsville.

Elvida Escalante, an official with the City of Matamoros in charge of non-governmental organization relations, also toured the area.

“Our city very much appreciates your work. These people have rights. This city has been very worried about their conditions,” Escalante told Biden and Pimentel in Spanish.

“It takes all of us. It takes a village. We can do this if we all march together,” Pimentel responded.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at

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