While the immediate fate of Title 42 is unclear, those assisting migrants passing through San Antonio say the flow is already increasing.
As nonprofits work to offer shelter and guidance, Mayor Ron Nirenberg has requested additional federal aid to handle the massive flow expected with the end of Title 42.
President Joe Biden has sought to end the pandemic-era policy that turned away asylum seekers at the U.S. border, but on Monday, a federal judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked the administration’s efforts. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has also filed a lawsuit aiming to stop the rule from being lifted.
In the past two weeks alone, more than 8,000 migrants have arrived in San Antonio, according to the city’s Human Services department. Almost three-quarters arrived at the airport, the rest at bus stations; some arrive without plans for where to go or what to do next.
Last month, Nirenberg wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requesting “immediate action to increase funding for humanitarian infrastructure and resources.”
The letter was obtained by CNN; Nirenberg’s office declined to immediately provide a copy to the San Antonio Report and said CNN did not receive the letter from the mayor’s office.
Nirenberg said in a statement that his office is in regular communication with federal officials.
“There might be some who are eager to politicize a change in federal policy,” he wrote. “But in San Antonio, we just want to ensure that the migrants passing through our city are treated as humanely as possible, while guaranteeing that our local partners and resources are not stretched beyond their limits.”
It’s unclear if or how DHS responded to the mayor’s letter.
“DHS values the partnership of communities along the southwest border and their feedback as we work together,” officials wrote in a statement to the Report. “They are critical to ensuring we can enforce our immigration laws and process asylum claims in a safe, orderly and humane manner.”
Meanwhile, on the ground in San Antonio, nonprofit and religious organizations are working to address the needs of the thousands of migrants passing through the city. Leaders say they have sufficient resources — for now.
Catholic Charities of San Antonio, the Interfaith Welcome Coalition and Corazón San Antonio are working together to assist migrants in getting transportation to the airport, getting hotel rooms, getting overnight shelter, food from the San Antonio Food Bank and other necessities, such as children’s clothing.
Last week, 700 migrants were provided local hotel rooms as they journeyed to various host cities, said Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities. The organization has spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” since January doing the same for other migrants, said Fernandez.
“How do we prepare and provide services to so many people coming? That’s what keeps me awake at night,” he said.
Fernandez said he fears aid groups’ resources will be overwhelmed when — or if — Title 42 ends.
“Resources are always going to be a huge issue. Housing is a big issue. We need places to put the people. … At the end of the day, if we have Title 42 [ending], I don’t know if anyone knows where we’re going to be able to put people,” said Fernandez.
The Interfaith Welcome Coalition needs volunteers, said Coordinating Director Victoria Salas. The coalition works to help migrants get from bus stations into either a hotel with Catholic Charities, or to Corazón San Antonio’s center at Travis Park United Methodist Church.
Corazón’s migrant center reopened just three weeks ago after being closed during the pandemic and because of the Remain-in-Mexico order, said Gavin Rogers, executive director of the nonprofit and associate pastor at Travis Park Church.
In 2019, Corazón served 23,000 people, Rogers said, and the center is on track to see more migrants now than it did in 2019. Most are coming from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, as well as Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Mexico, he said.
Olbin Funez and his family of four were among those seeking shelter at the center on Thursday. He and his family escaped Honduras in 2018 and fled to Mexico due to threats of gang violence. The family never planned to leave the country, Funez said, but even after relocating to different states within Honduras and even fleeing to Mexico, it was impossible to escape the gang violence of their home country.
“There were four of us brothers, and because we didn’t want to work with [the gangs], they decided to kill us, and because they couldn’t … it was more dangerous,” Funez said.
In Mexico, Funez found a humanitarian aid group, Al Otro Lado, which offers legal resources to migrants. The family signed up for help getting into the U.S.
After waiting a full year, the family received permission to enter the country through Eagle Pass. They were only spending a few hours in San Antonio before leaving for California by bus Friday morning.
The family now awaits their court hearing, during which they hope to be granted legal status.
“Being over here… I feel that I can sleep peacefully, get around peacefully, without the fear of anything,” said Funez in Spanish. “This is one [story] of many and worse you’ll hear. Independently, everyone fights a battle.”
According to the Migration Policy Institute, since its implementation in March 2020, 1.7 million immigrants have been denied asylum through February 2022. Since January 2021, more than half of migrant encounters at the border have led to expulsions, allowing some to seek asylum.
Rogers said that despite city concerns about how to care for the wave of migrants expected to flow across the border, he believes the resources are plenty, if the will can be found.
“If we actually share and team up in communities … not just in San Antonio. If Houston steps up, if Austin steps up, if this nation steps up, we will have plenty of resources to serve those in need,” said Rogers.