San Antonio’s migrant resource center served more than 20,000 asylum seekers in November, a record high. As the end of a pandemic-era rule that stopped many migrants from entering the country looms, those numbers will almost certainly rise.

But unlike at least one border city in Texas, which declared a state of disaster in an effort to deal with the influx, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said there are no plans to do so here, and that officials overseeing the migrant resource center are making preparations to handle the increase.

Catholic Charities, the religious nonprofit that took over operations in October from the city, now calls the migrant resource center Centro de Bienvenida. The organization did not respond to requests for information about how it is preparing to serve the expected increase in asylum seekers when Title 42 is rescinded.

Nirenberg’s office said he recently discussed the possible end of Title 42 with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and the two continue to maintain regular communications as it relates to the migrant resource center. 

Nirenberg told the San Antonio Report that the DHS has been a “faithful partner” in fully reimbursing the city, Catholic Charities and other community organizations involved in center operations.

“We need Congress to continue to support FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program, and we look forward to federal comprehensive immigration reform so that such efforts are not needed in the years to come,” Nirenberg said in a statement to the San Antonio Report. 

The city first opened the migrant resource center in July in response to the rising flow of migrants entering the city. Most had plans to continue their travel to other U.S. cities, but a large portion didn’t have a place to rest before the next leg of their journey. Many slept around the downtown Greyhound station and at the airport.

That month, the center served 11,960 migrants, giving them a cot and food and help with travel plans. Each month after, the center served more and more migrants: 13,935 in August, 16,783 in September, and 17,367 in October, according to data obtained from the city through open records requests.

The numbers rose in October even after the DHS passed new rules aimed at drastically reducing the flow of Venezuelan migrants into the United States.

That month, and in November, most migrants seeking asylum came from Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Colombia and Honduras, according to city data. 

City Manager Erik Walsh said during the Dec. 15 City Council meeting that roughly 35,000 migrants had traveled through San Antonio in November, including those not served at the center. 

Because San Antonio is the nearest transportation hub from border cities and federal detention facilities, more than 330,000 migrants have arrived in San Antonio since January 2021, according to city figures.

This graph shows the growth in monthly arrivals of migrants to San Antonio between January 2021 to November 2022.
City officials briefed the City Council earlier this month on the number of migrants that have passed through the city, and the amount of money reimbursed by the Department of Homeland Security thus far. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Although the number of migrants continues to increase in San Antonio, the situation in El Paso is dire. 

Over the weekend, El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser declared a state of disaster as hundreds of migrants there were sleeping on the streets in rapidly dropping temperatures.

“I said from the beginning that I would call it when I felt that either our asylum seekers or our community was not safe,” Leeser said, according to the nonprofit news site El Paso Matters. “And I really believe that today our asylum seekers are not safe, as we have hundreds and hundreds on the streets. And that’s not the way we want to treat people.”

The declaration, according to El Paso Matters, will allow officials to immediately compel migrants to leave the streets and enter shelters, and it allows the city to ask for the state’s help — although it’s unclear how much help Gov. Greg Abbott will provide.

The disaster declaration must be renewed every seven days, and requires unanimous consent of the El Paso City Council.

Implemented by the Trump administration, Title 42 was set to end Dec. 21 after a federal judge ruled the program “arbitrary and capricious.” The Supreme Court recently delayed that ending for at least several more days, leaving the exact date Title 42 will end uncertain.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) on Wednesday tweeted about the migration surge expected when it does finally end.

He wrote that as he understand it, the Biden Administration’s plan is to ask Mexico to divert all migrant traffic from Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas to the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. 

“The Rio Grande Valley Sector has the infrastructure — facilities, contractors, etc. — to help handle the expected surge in migrants,” he wrote. “But this puts great pressure on the men and women in green in the RGV who have witnessed suicides and other tragedies.”

Cuellar also took the opportunity to urge the creation of an “orderly pathway” for asylum seekers.

“The United States should immediately implement a policy for asylum-seekers where they request relief in an orderly pathway, and there should be strong consequences (including removal) for those who don’t follow the proper procedures,” Cuellar wrote. “If implemented correctly, this new policy will bring relief and order to our border communities.”

Until then, cities like San Antonio and El Paso must contend with the flow of migrants in their own ways.

On Wednesday, a 16-year-old Cuban migrant and his 40-year-old mother outside the migrant resource center asked the San Antonio Report not to name them to protect their immigration process.

The family had already purchased airplane tickets to Kentucky, but needed shelter while they waited in San Antonio for their flight. If they had not stayed at the migrant resource center, the woman/son said, they would have slept at the airport.

“We’re looking for a better life,” said the 16-year-old in Spanish.

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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.