Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
City Council unanimously approved $141,000 in emergency funding Thursday to help the thousands of asylum-seekers passing through San Antonio – some of which is a matching grant contingent on corporate and individual donations.
The money will go directly to the San Antonio Food Bank and Catholic Charities, starting with $86,000. And for every $2 the charities raise in donations, the City will give $1 – up to $55,000. The goal is to raise $110,000 in private donations.
The Greehey Family Foundation donated $50,000 Thursday to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which is managing donations to help asylum-seekers stopping in San Antonio. City Manager Erik Walsh and his executive team also contributed $2,500. Donations are being accepted here.
The federal government informed City officials on Monday that San Antonio should expect to see an influx to the already record number of migrants traveling through San Antonio, legally seeking asylum in the United States. Most stay one or two nights before traveling on to host homes or their families elsewhere across the country.
The City has been working with nonprofit organizations since late March, helping 8,000 migrants who needed assistance as they passed through the city on their way to other U.S. destinations. In his memo issued Wednesday, Walsh said that 339 City employees also have volunteered their after-hours and weekend time at the migrant resource center organized by the City, as well as at Travis Park Church, which has provided nighttime shelter to migrants. But that model is no longer sustainable, the memo said.
“What started as a short-term situation has now escalated to a longer-term problem,” Walsh wrote. “At the beginning of this effort, Travis Park Church sheltered, on average, 50-60 people per night. Over the last week we have noticed a steep increase in the number of migrants being sent to San Antonio and now are averaging 120-150 individuals sleeping at the shelter each night.”
San Antonio is not the only place to feel the effects of increased numbers of migrants seeking asylum. A small border town in New Mexico declared a state of emergency Wednesday after U.S. Border Patrol agents dropped off 170 migrants Monday. Deming, New Mexico, has about 15,000 residents, and became the third border community to declare a state of emergency over immigration, Reuters reported Wednesday. Meanwhile, immigration courts around the nation continue to work through a backlog of more than 850,000 asylum cases, the Washington Post reported earlier in May.
The City first opened the migrant resource center to give migrants a place to rest or seek other assistance earlier in the spring, when more asylum-seekers than usual were released by CBP at the U.S.-Mexico border and dropped off in San Antonio. Since then, Travis Park Church has housed more than 3,000 migrants overnight before they continued to their final destinations.
Travis Park Church Associate Minister Gavin Rogers said the church has contingency plans for an increased number of migrants passing through the city.
“If we see an increase, we’ll open up more rooms, more cots, more bathrooms, and manage that with volunteers and staff … keeping that rolling so we don’t have temporary migrants all around the streets of San Antonio,” he said.
This is not the first time the City has considered using funding to help migrant families. In 2017, San Antonio allocated $150,000 from its emergency fund to provide legal services for low-income and vulnerable residents, including migrant and immigrant communities. Outgoing Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) led the effort to secure that funding. He told the Rivard Report that it’s the City’s responsibility to take care of its visitors and make sure migrants are not sleeping in the streets or at the bus station.
“These are folks who are going about the process in the exact legal way that is outlined by our system,” he said, so politics shouldn’t play into the City’s decision to help. “I don’t think we should get any protest even from those with a more conservative bent.”
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio also has helped asylum-seekers in San Antonio for many years, CEO and President J. Antonio Fernandez said. He has led Catholic Charities in San Antonio for six years, and in the Chicago Archdiocese for another six before that. He said he is familiar with struggling to make ends meet while helping those in need, but not like this recent influx of asylum-seekers.
“We don’t see an end to this,” he said.
Catholic Charities has spent more than $117,000 since late March sheltering and purchasing bus and plane tickets for migrants stopping in San Antonio, Fernandez said. The San Antonio Food Bank has provided about 11,000 meals and 34,000 pounds of supplies in the same time frame, while community and Interfaith Welcome Coalition volunteers have given more than 4,000 hours of their time to help migrant families.
The $86,000 going to the nonprofit organizations will allow them to continue feeding and sheltering asylum-seekers through the end of June. But if there is no funding after that, Fernandez said, he’s unsure what the next step would be.
“From the Catholic Charities perspective, I’m concerned,” he said. “I’m worried. If we keep going at this pace, Catholic Charities will have no money at the end of summer and more people will keep coming and coming.”
Nirenberg said he supports providing City resources to help manage the influx of migrants and that the City is looking for federal reimbursement of all expenditures. San Antonio is a compassionate city that supports the vulnerable, including asylum-seekers, he added.
“When people need help, our community steps up,” he said. “This is the right thing to do.”
Travis Park Church intends to continue providing its services no matter what, Rogers said.
“Our stance is the same – we’re serving our neighbors just like we’d like to be served,” he said.
Fernandez stressed that the families entering the United States – mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – are seeking a better life for their children. In April, the Rivard Report spoke with parents who made the journey to the U.S. because of dangerous conditions in their home country.
“This is families crossing the border for a better life — not just for the American Dream, but to be able to live in a free society where they feel safe and can have a better life for their children,” Fernandez said. “I think anyone would try to do the same thing for their children.”
Community members interested in donating can do so on the Catholic Charities’ website, or call Christina Higgs at 210-222-1294.
Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick contributed to this report.