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Diocese Told To Suspend Construction Of New Shelter

November 26, 1986

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ The Roman Catholic Church has until Dec. 5 to move a shelter for Central American refugees, but won’t know until Dec. 8 if it can continue construction at a new site.

The Cameron County Commission voted Tuesday to suspend building permits for five mobile homes and a restroom on six acres east of here that is designed to replace a shelter in San Benito, ordered closed after complaints by neighbors.

Hernan Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Brownsville diocese, said he didn’t know what steps the church would take to find a home for the Casa Oscar Romero.

Several elderly people wearing stickers that read ″Casa Romero, no 3/8″ crowded around Gonzalez after the meeting, accusing the church of ″admitting criminals″ and bringing in illegal aliens that the government was spending millions of dollars trying to keep out.

The commission agreed to reconsider the permits Dec. 8, but told diocesan officials to suspend construction until then.

More than 200 people, many of them winter residents who live in mobile homes near the diocese’s land, attended Tuesday’s meeting to protest the shelter.

″He’s robbing these (mobile home) owners of money,″ Commissioner D.J. Lerma said of Bishop John Fitzpatrick. ″They’re losing money. The value of their property will come down if this is established down there. He should be nice to the local people, not the illegal aliens.″

Gonzalez said he had no comment on whether the diocese would consider another location.

Reynaldo Garza Jr., a lawyer representing the diocese, said he questioned whether the commission has the authority to suspend building permits.

″Our biggest fear is the illegal aliens coming into the neighborhood. There are no controls on them at all,″ said Lee Zieger, who represented the mobile home owners before the commission.

San Benito City Manager Demetrio Lucio, who negotiated an agreement between the city and the diocese to move the shelter by Dec. 5, said he believed the diocese would meet the deadline.

The diocese agreed to close the shelter in San Benito, and on Oct. 30 chartered five buses to transport 523 aliens from Central and South American to the Immigration and Naturalizaion Service in Harlingen.

Of that number, 222 were taken to a federal detention center west of Port Isabel and the others either posted bond or were released.

Illegal aliens seeking refuge continue to come to the San Benito shelter, and about 70 were there Tuesday.

San Benito is about 20 miles north of Brownsville, which is on the Texas- Mexico border.

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