In a letter last month to the Department of Homeland Security, Mayor Ron Nirenberg urged federal officials to create a plan to transport migrants from the border to other cities in Texas, including Houston and Austin.

The letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the complete contents of which have not previously been reported, was obtained by the San Antonio Report via an open records request.

Nirenberg’s entreaty was part of a larger plea to DHS for assistance with what he described as an ”unsustainable increase” in migrants passing through San Antonio after release from federal immigration custody. More are “arriving in San Antonio without a clear sponsor, a destination, or the resources to reach their destination,” wrote Nirenberg in the March 31 letter, parts of which were first reported by CNN

The city is bracing for an even larger influx when Title 42, the pandemic-era policy that has kept a significant percentage of migrants from entering the country, is lifted.

Whether that will happen by the original May 23 deadline is unclear. A judge on Wednesday extended the temporary restraining order blocking the Biden Administration from lifting the policy as a lawsuit filed by 21 Republican states, including Texas, proceeds.

The city’s resources and local migrant aid groups are already stretched thin, and the uncertain status of some migrants is making support more difficult and costly.

Creating a transportation plan that would distribute migrants more evenly throughout the state “would help keep the numbers of migrants transiting through San Antonio at a manageable level,” he wrote.

Nirenberg didn’t communicate with leaders from these cities before making the request according to a spokesman from his office on Wednesday, who added that he was in no way “attempting to prescribe where migrants go,” but was instead pointing out that Texas has additional transportation hubs capable of sharing the burden.

San Antonio and its nonprofit partners served almost 148,000 migrants from April 2021 through March 2022, Nirenberg wrote. He said prior to March, most migrants had travel plans and sponsors. “More recently, the volume of arriving migrants and those arriving without host sponsors and financial means for travel has significantly increased.”

According to the city’s Department of Human Services, an estimated 8,200 migrants arrived in San Antonio from April 26 to May 10. Although it varies daily, as many as a third arrive each day without onward travel plans, said a spokesman with the department.

San Antonio has the capacity to support roughly 600 migrants a day with existing travel plans; at the end of March, an average of 628 individuals “stayed in shelters, slept overnight at the airport, or slept in city parks,” Nirenberg wrote.

“These surges in migrants, along with insufficient humanitarian infrastructure and funding along border communities, creates a domino effect that strains available support resources in our region,” he wrote.  

San Antonio is the primary transportation hub for migrants released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities in Pearsall, Dilley and Karnes City, and migrants released from border patrol custody in the Del Rio sector, Nirenberg noted.

Some migrants who arrive in San Antonio appear to have unrealistic expectations of finding shelter, Nirenberg wrote, “when the reality is that a person seeking asylum is not entitled to any housing support until asylum is granted and may not work.”

He suggested that migrants who do not have a place to stay should be transferred to a federally funded shelter.

A spokesman from the mayor’s office said it has not received responses to Nirenberg’s specific requests, but the city is being reimbursed for some costs through the $150 million appropriated by Congress for the Emergency Food and Shelter program.

“We remain in communication with our federal partners, including Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas,” said Bruce Davidson, the mayor’s communication director.

Since the letter was sent, City of San Antonio officials have had four conversations with representatives from DHS, Davidson said, and Nirenberg has been in direct communication with Mayorkas.

DHS released a beefed-up plan for Southwest border security on April 26 to deal with the post-Title 42 influx that includes adding personnel to the border, cracking down on unlawful entry and increasing the capacity of non-governmental organizations to receive migrants after they have been processed and who are awaiting the results of their immigration removal proceedings.

“We are operating within a fundamentally broken immigration system that only Congress can fix,” wrote Mayorkas in the plan.

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.