Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Jasari rested her head against mom Sarahi Flores’ shoulder. The 1-year-old was dressed in a bright turquoise tracksuit, her eyes bleary from weariness and a mild fever. Jasari had been taken to the hospital the day before, Flores explained, where she was given medicine to help with her fever, but it was back.
Flores, 21, and her daughter arrived in San Antonio after spending nearly three weeks in an ICE detention center in a city Flores couldn’t pinpoint. The mother and daughter had spent 15 days on the road traveling from Honduras when ICE detained them after crossing the Texas-Mexico border. The detention center was cold, and Jasari got sick, Flores said.
“They didn’t give me anything [at the detention center],” Flores said. “When I got here, they took us to the hospital and gave us medicine. That was able to reduce the fever a little bit.”
Flores and Jasari were two of the many asylum seekers either released in San Antonio by ICE or who had made their way to the city after being processed and released at the border.
According to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo), 51,500 asylum seekers have been released into the San Antonio area of responsibility from Dec. 21 to March 26. He said on Friday that 73 percent of recent undocumented migrants come from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, compared to the 90 percent from Mexico in 2006.
Many of these people, including Flores and her daughter, were trying to get to other cities such as Miami, and had no intention of ultimately staying in San Antonio. However, with no food, no money, and no means to keep traveling, migrants have found San Antonio to be a safe haven to figure out their next moves.
But the influx of asylum seekers, which is estimated to be at least 500 since last Thursday, has taxed the resources of the nonprofits, such as Catholic Charities, that are normally tasked with handling the fewer than 50 migrants that filter through the city daily. To lessen the strain, the City of San Antonio has provided additional relief spearheaded by Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, who is in charge of overseeing public health and human services in the city.
The City of San Antonio opened a vacant storefront across from the Greyhound bus station and near Travis Park Church to serve as a migrant resource center. Nonprofit organizations such as American Gateways are using the space to offer legal advice while City staffers hand out food and provide books for children to read. Travis Park Church is one of several organizations housing and helping migrants passing through.
On Monday night, about 30 people spent the night at Travis Park Church, Associate Minister Gavin Rogers told his staff. They were also able to shower for the first time in weeks, he said.
“At Travis Park Church, we will live out our faith do all we can to ‘treat strangers in a foreign land like our native born’ because we were once immigrants ourselves,” Rogers said.
Along with food and travel plans, migrants also are able to get basic health care, Bridger said.
“We have a medical integrated health unit going into the resource center twice a day, just to do a little medical check-in, to see if anybody has any medical concerns,” she said.
Many of the people in the migrant center are eager to resume their trips. Some are trying to get to family while others are fleeing violence in their native countries. Alvaro Bueso waited at a port of entry on the southern border with his wife and two sons for more than a week because border patrol officials would not let them enter right away, he said. He’s anxious because his court date in Miami for asylum is set for April 8, and he has experienced multiple delays on his bus trips.
Heidi Rivas left for similar reasons. It was dangerous to stay in Honduras, the 21-year-old said, so she and her 1-year-old daughter Meradi made the trip to the United States.
“In Honduras, I don’t see a better future for myself,” she said. “So I decided to come to the United States because I know in the U.S. my daughter will have a good future and will be able to get an education.”
But Bridger stressed the makeshift center would not stay open indefinitely and there are ongoing discussions about when the center will close and the City will reduce its role.
“This is higher than normal and that’s why the City is working with our nonprofit partners who usually handle this exceptionally well,” she said. “This was beyond their capacity to be able to process and handle, so that’s why we’re involved. When this goes back to baseline normal, we’ll step back and let nonprofit partners do what they do so well.”
JJ Velasquez contributed to this report.