Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
More than 100 migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola will spend Thursday night at Travis Park Church after a brief storm blew a transformer and knocked out electrical power at the Frank Garrett Community Center.
The community center should have power restored by tomorrow morning and Congolese migrants can return there for temporary shelter, said Jessica Dovalina, assistant director of the City’s Department of Human Services.
The City plans to host Congolese migrants separately at the community center. City officials expect more than 200 additional Congolese migrants to arrive in San Antonio soon.
Similar to the influx of Central American migrants passing through San Antonio, the Congolese and Angolan travelers were processed and released at the border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), said Edward Gonzales, assistant director of the City’s Department of Human Services. But instead of going to a sponsor family, the Congolese migrants listed shelters in the Northeast U.S. as their final destination, all of which are at capacity, Gonzales said.
And because they have not contacted relatives in the United States, they also have no resources to pay for more bus or plane tickets to move on, Gonzales said.
“With the Central American migrants, they’re calling families, getting tickets, and going on their way,” Gonzales said. “With these individuals, the majority don’t have any funds. They have a location to go to – a shelter, which is at capacity, and they don’t have any means to get there. That’s the challenge.”
The City had planned to transfer more Congolese asylum seekers to the Frank Garrett Community Center before the power outage, said Gavin Rogers, Travis Park Church associate pastor.
“It’s probably going to be another jam-packed night, because if all the same people now are at Travis Park, plus whoever has arrived today … it’s going to be interesting,” Rogers said.
Travis Park Church opened its doors to 375 migrants on Wednesday night, while 10 others were given shelter by Catholic Charities and the San Antonio Mennonite Church. Around 120 of those migrants were from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. They will stay in San Antonio while the City figures out what the next step is, Gonzales said.
Rogers said the increased numbers of migrants staying overnight have initiated a conversation about how many migrants the church could actually hold and for how long.
The City is unsure how long it will need to provide housing and assistance for the Congolese migrants and are taking the situation day-by-day, Gonzales said. Interviews with the migrants led the City to believe up to 350 Congolese migrants might make their way to San Antonio, a number that sounded accurate to CBP, he added.
CBP did not immediately return requests for comment.
The City will continue to use the migrant resource center and Travis Park Church for asylum seekers staying in San Antonio for less than 48 hours. The City opened the resource center across from the Greyhound bus station eight weeks ago to give asylum seekers a place to rest before continuing their journey to their final destinations.
The City also has requested French-speaking volunteers to help interview Congolese migrants. Gonzales said intake had been manageable with help from volunteers, who were offering service by the hour. But the issue of ensuring migrants have the means to leave the city still remains, he said. City Council approved up to $141,000 from its emergency fund to support local nonprofits assisting migrants, but it’s not enough.
“We definitely need more donations,” Gonzales said. “Monetary donations are always a plus. And Catholic Charities is reviewing their budget and they know how much they can spend on tickets every month based on their budget. I can’t speak to what their need is, but I can say monetary donations are highly encouraged.”
Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio has been spending around $13,000 a week on bus tickets for asylum seekers to continue their journey. Spokeswoman Christina Higgs said bus tickets make up the majority of expenditures, but Catholic Charities also provides necessities such as hotel rooms, blankets, and medication, as needed. She said the nonprofit will continue to assist with migrants as much as it is able.
“We typically see higher numbers in the summer anyway, and I think these numbers are going to grow,” Higgs said. “I don’t know what our max is. I don’t know what the next steps are. When Travis Park Church is too full, I don’t know where are we going to go next or what that’s going to look like, but we’re stretching our limits.”
Catholic Charities is managing the donation effort. People interested in supporting the efforts to assist migrants can donate at the Catholic Charities’ website, or call Christina Higgs at 210-222-1294.