The city’s migrant resource center has been open for two weeks now on San Pedro Avenue, and retail employees nearby say they’re beginning to see the effects on business.
That’s in part because many migrants prefer to stand outside rather than wait inside the center, several said on Friday, because they’re hoping to pick up day work to help pay travel costs to their ultimate destination.
Victor Guerrero, who arrived Thursday from Venezuela with his three family members, said they were trying to get to their host city in New Jersey, but were short two tickets. Guerrero said the family is hoping to earn enough money to buy the tickets and leave San Antonio by Monday.
The city re-opened its migrant resource and processing center at a new location on July 7 to assist the growing number of legal migrants being brought to San Antonio from the U.S-Mexico border.
Guerrero and his family stood for hours Friday near Cici’s Pizza in the North Towne Plaza shopping center next to the resource center, hoping to get picked up for jobs. Guerrero said last night they heard a fellow migrant mention he worked from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and was paid $120.
“It’s not a secret that a migrant person requires much help to continue the journey,” he said. “That’s what we need. Clothing, food, drink, work.”
The Guerrero family waited in the blazing heat with at least 15 other migrants near the corner of the restaurant. A woman standing nearby she’d been able to take a painting job the day before. Remnants of that job were seen on her tennis shoes.
Those standing outside Friday afternoon said they’re willing to take any jobs offered to them, including cleaning, painting and construction.
Their needs are apparent.
Several women wore socks with old sandals. Debora Zuniga, who came from Colombia, showed her swollen feet and said she was in need of shoes. Another woman said she has a seven-month-old child and needs baby clothes. Others said they needed deodorant, toothpaste and mouthwash.
The migrants stand between the center and the restaurant in a dead-end, paved area; a large trash bin sits nearby. Many of the migrants take calls or look at their phones while they wait.
In addition to the promise of jobs, some migrants stand outside to receive the donations people drop off, including clothing, food and bottled water.
Phoenix Gillihan, manager of Cici’s Pizza, said when cars approach with donations, the migrants run toward them, creating safety problems. The loitering is also affecting customers, she said. “They feel like they can’t get out of their cars for fear of safety.”
Gillihan also said trash is now a problem. On Friday, the restaurant received a violation notice from the city because of trash outside the trash bin in the back.
She said they’ve communicated with resource center officials about their concerns. The landlord of the plaza has even hired a security officer, though there hadn’t been any violent activity, Gillihan said.
Sometimes, resource center officials send migrants outside early to clear up the trash for the restaurant.
“I don’t mind helping people out. … I just want customers to feel safe,” Gillihan said.
One way Cici’s Pizza is trying to help is by offering a special for the waiting migrants: a large pizza and two fountain drinks for $10.82, about $5 less than what it would regularly cost.
The only requirement: It must be ordered to go.
Gillihan suggested the city could invest in picnic tables and umbrellas in the dead-end area between the resource center and the plaza. She said police have been out warning migrants not to trespass.
“So if they come out here [again] and they’ve already asked you to leave, they’re going to be arrested,” she said. “That’s not something that we want, but if they’re not wanting to listen … it could easily be fixed, if it was run different.”
Cricket, a national chain that sells prepaid cell phones, has a location next to Cici’s. Employees there said the migrants’ impact on business has been very positive, with sales over the past week more than three times higher than a regular week.
Manager Deissy Moreno said she hasn’t seen anyone running toward cars.
“They’re here just like us,” Moreno said she tells customers. “I came here and I’m working. Some people don’t like it, but. …”
At 2 p.m. near the entrance of the resource center gate, the official in charge didn’t appear to speak Spanish. He used Google Translate to communicate with newly arrived migrants who were not wearing wristbands to signal they had been processed at Travis Park Church.
But among the hardship and uncertainty were signs of hope and stability.
At one point, a Tesla arrived at the center, the car full of a family welcoming a relative waiting at the center. As they reunited, the family shared hugs, happy tears and jumps of happiness, screaming “El sueño Americano” — “The American dream.”