This article has been updated.

The City of San Antonio will maintain a migrant resource center in the coming year — and potentially much longer — as South Texas communities gear up for more asylum-seekers passing through the city with the end of a policy that has prevented many from entering the country.

A copy of the city’s lease for the center located at 7000 San Pedro Ave., obtained by the San Antonio Report, indicates the agreement runs 10 years, expiring in June 2032.

The city estimates it has assisted more than 300,000 migrants since January 2021. City Manager Erik Walsh told City Council on Thursday that roughly 35,000 migrants had come through the center in November alone. That’s up from about 17,000 in October.

City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Thursday allowing San Antonio to accept roughly $3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Board Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) as reimbursement for feeding, transporting and sheltering migrants in the first quarter of 2023.

The move also gave city staff permission to continue the “necessary contracts and lease agreements for facilities, operations, and support services” for its migrant aid. It opened a resource center in July to help alleviate the crowds of migrants awaiting transportation at the airport, bus station and downtown in Travis Park.

When the center on the city’s North Side opened, city leaders said they planned to operate the center through the end of the year, then reassess, though Mayor Ron Nirenberg noted the city would likely need the facility until Congress acts on immigration reform.

A copy of the city’s lease with KEM Texas Ltd. indicates the city pays a base rent of roughly $82,000 per month, plus additional rent of $31,000 per month for operating expenses.

“We executed a 10-year lease for the building, but in that lease, we have a 30-day out,” Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told City Council. “… If we provide that 30-day notice, we can terminate the lease.”

The city periodically receives reimbursement from the federal government for its work assisting asylum-seekers on their journeys to other U.S. destinations, providing temporary shelter and other services.

The city had previously authorized asking the federal government for reimbursement of up to $12.7 million for the entirety of 2021 and 2022. It received $2.7 million from the FEMA grant for expenses between January 2021 and June 2022 the first half of the year, according to city staff.

“We have been completely reimbursed … within a couple hundred bucks” through June of 2022,” Walsh said.

It requested $5.8 million for the months of July through September, but that reimbursement has not yet been approved. It will also request money to cover the months of October through December.

Houston said most of the money the city receives goes to fund overtime pay for San Antonio police officers, firefighters and city staff who help facilitate the process of moving migrants through San Antonio.

The EFSP grant was created to help border communities pay for helping migrants. It’s been under strain since Gov. Greg Abbott and other elected officials started transporting migrants to other cities, whose leaders have also requested reimbursement from the grant’s limited funds.

“I struggled for years to put $130-plus million [into the EFSP grant],” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) said in an interview during an October campaign stop in San Antonio. “Now that there’s other communities coming in, the question is are we going to have more money?”

Cuellar serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which is calling for $280 million for the EFSP program, including $150 million for humanitarian assistance at the border, his office said. Congress still needs to pass its appropriations bills for the coming year.

“I did tell the chairwoman … the way we started this program, it was a border humanitarian relief,” Cuellar said. “We cannot let the big areas suck up all the money from San Antonio and Laredo and McAllen and El Paso.”

Houston said the city is already seeing more migrants passing through San Antonio leading up to the end of Title 42, which has kept some migrants from entering the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re seeing a peak right now,” Houston said. “We see peaks throughout the year, but it continues to increase prior to Title 42 being lifted.”

The Biden administration planned to end the program on Dec. 21, but an appeals court is expected to rule on whether it’s allowed to do so by Friday evening, the Texas Tribune reported.

Meanwhile, El Paso is coping with the mass crossing of some 1,500 migrants that has strained the resources of the border patrol and non-governmental organizations in the city.

Houston says the city anticipates a 30% rise in migrants coming through San Antonio after Title 42 is lifted, but the city will focus on streamlining its efforts to move them along quickly, as opposed to increasing capacity.

“We’re not going to be opening another center,” Houston said.

This article has been updated to correct the time span over which the City of San Antonio has assisted 300,000 migrants.

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.