I assume an early start to the Labor Day holiday weekend is the reason U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-San Antonio) has not yet issued a press release correcting the widely shared disinformation he spread in an Aug. 24 appearance on Fox News.
Gonzales used one of his frequent moments in the conservative media spotlight to label San Antonio a “sanctuary city,” and to target Mayor Ron Nirenberg for allegedly misdirecting San Antonio firefighters to run the Migrant Resource Center.
“The Mayor of San Antonio is using the San Antonio Fire Department to run the new migrant center in town,” Gonzales wrote on Twitter promoting his appearance on Fox’s “America’s Newsroom” program. “This is what America Last looks like. Call his office at 210-207-6000 and tell him to reverse course and let the Fire Department do the job it’s designed to do!”
Fox producers used misleading video footage of migrants queuing in Eagle Pass as Gonzales spoke about the San Antonio center and urged watchers to storm the mayor’s office with complaints. Fox News might not be pleased to learn the national callout produced only 12 emails and about 10 calls, according to the mayor’s office.
By the way, the city has a Strategic Immigration Plan dating back to initial work in 2019 when the flow of asylum seekers first became a challenge and President Trump was still in office. City officials and their nonprofit partners have garnered national praise for their humane and efficient treatment of migrants stopping here on their journey north from the border.
San Antonio is not a sanctuary city, which Gonzales knows full well. The Migrant Resource Center is run by the city and participating nonprofits. Firefighters are emergency responders, and thus are appropriately assigned to help staff the location. Firefighters, as Gonzales also knows full well, spend relatively little time fighting fires. They are first responders who answer many calls in the realm of public safety.
It was a bush league partisan move on Gonzales’ part to read aloud Nirenberg’s office telephone number and to urge viewers to call city hall to complain, and equally partisan of Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer to display the number on screen while making no effort to present the city’s side of the story.
What Gonzales and Hemmer did not tell viewers in this: Asylum seekers have been flooding into Texas since Trump occupied the White House. The latest surge began in April 2021 and accelerated in May of this year.
The city has counted 235,000 migrants arriving in San Antonio since April 2021, with 42,467 arriving between May 1 and July 7 of this year, when the Migrant Resource Center opened in a former CPS Energy building at 7000 San Pedro Ave.
Half the arriving migrants have arrived with a destination city in mind and an airline or bus reservation in hand. The other half — 21,234 — were served at the center. For people who blame Mexicans for this country’s immigration influx, city officials note that 90% of the arrivals are from Venezuela, and after that, most come from Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Colombia.
Here is what else Gonzales neglected to share with viewers: Before city officials opened the Migrant Resource Center, hundreds of asylum seekers were being dropped off at San Antonio International Airport and left to sleep on terminal floors. Others who were dropped off at the downtown Greyhound Station and did not have a departing bus ticket decamped to Travis Park and downtown streets without a plan.
The resource center enabled the city and its nonprofit partners to increase public safety, remove migrants from the park and streets, and offer services enabling them to reach their destinations. Most head to Houston, Dallas, New York, Florida and Georgia, according to city officials, and do not remain in San Antonio.
Xenophobia is alive and on the march in Texas and across this politically divided country. For centuries now, immigrant groups have made easy political targets, and while a nation built on immigration — as well as genocide of indigenous groups and the African slave trade — relies on immigrant labor to keep the world’s largest economy growing, people often turn against outsiders and newcomers in politically or economically charged moments.
Especially if those immigrants do not look or speak like the people sounding the alarm, even if almost all of us count immigrants on our family trees.
I will credit Gonzales for joining Democrat U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) in calling for a significant increase in immigration courts and judges to speed up the years-long process of adjudicating asylum applications.
But he was off base when he went on Fox News and threw gas on the immigrant-fear fires. He should be lauding the city’s selfless work and its leadership.