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City Council Approves Funding To Assist Asylum Seekers Released Into San Antonio

Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Members of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition — who assist the arriving asylees — speak to the San Antonio City Council before Thursday's vote to approve $141,000 in funding.";s:

Charities helping asylum seekers who were dropped off in San Antonio will get a financial boost from the City of San Antonio. The City Council unanimously approved emergency funding for Catholic Charities, Travis Park Church and the San Antonio Food Bank.

The council approved a total $141,000 of city funds, split into two increments. The first part, $86,000, would be provided to the three charities though the end of June. The second increment of $55,000 would be a city-funded matching donation for community contributions. For every two dollars donated, the city would donate an additional dollar.

The money was approved as part of a mid-year budget adjustment already set for Thursday’s council meeting but the aslyee funding was first considered at the beginning of the week.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has released 8,000 asylum seekers into San Antonio since March 31, according to City Manager Erik Walsh. He told the council the city received an email from the border patrol on Monday saying that more asylum seekers would be sent to San Antonio.

“And that was after a number of days of a record number of individuals at the shelter. That number had continued to increase every night, and last night we had 232 people at Travis Park Church; the highest number that we’ve had since the end of March.”

The asylees released by CBP are legally allowed to be in the United States and have court dates to have their case reviewed. CBP releases them at the downtown Greyhound bus station.

In April, the city opened a resource center to help asylees find shelter, food or a bus ticket to their final destination.

Previous data released by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in March shows that ICE had released upwards of 51,000 migrants into San Antonio between December 2018 and March. Many however, do not stay in the city and will connect with family members or sponsors in other parts of the country.

The migrants will receive help from agencies like Catholic Charities who can provide money for hotel rooms or bus tickets. Travis Park Church is set up as a shelter, and the San Antonio Food Bank has provided more than 11,000 meals to migrants.

Those three agencies will split the money approved by the city council Thursday.

“That $86,000 would, in our estimation, provide Catholic Charities and Food Bank the ability to continue doing what they’re doing. I think it’s critical we continue with this cooperative effort and rely ... on the non-profits to do much of that direct service,” Walsh said.

Asylees who need overnight stays while waiting for bus departures or deciding what to do next have spent the night at Travis Park Church. Gavin Rogers, associate pastor, said the money would fund two and half staff positions at the church to help with overnight stays.

“It’s also providing cleaning service so we better clean and not spread illness. It’s providing laundry service so we don’t waste [blankets] — we’ve been throwing away blankets because they’re coming in that fast, and it’s hard to launder,” Rogers said. “So all those things are being added to the services now.”

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the response from these agencies was an organic partnership between the faith community and non profits who are here to help people in desperate need.

“Mothers with children who got to the border seeking safety and are here legally and now have been transported to San Antonio or El Paso or McAllen or any other city in Texas on their way somewhere else legally,” Nirenberg said. “We have an obligation as compassionate communities to respond to that, and that’s why we’re stepping up and doing so today.”

WATCH: San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg Shortly After Thursday's Vote

During the council meeting, the proposal drew praise from the majority of the council and was met with concerns from two members.

District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse questioned what kind of strain the increase of migrants would have on the charities.

“They’re going to spend their money and dollars so my concern, as the leader of the community, is what are the citizens — the people we serve here in San Antonio, the taxpayers of San Antonio — what are they going to start to lose if Catholic Charities and the Food Bank falter because of their goodwill?” Brockhouse said.

District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said he was supporting the endeavor only one time.

“I guess I’m disappointed that we didn’t reach out to the federal government first before bringing it to city council. That should have happened first to get an answer from them,” Perry said.

Part of the city’s plan is to recoup the money from the federal government. Nirenberg said the city would aggressively pursue reimbursement.

“I don’t like to place bets on the federal government but I would say if they are indeed focused on the right thing to do, these cities – many of which are dealing with more volume than San Antonio – will get reimbursed for the good care that they’re giving people who are here in America legally,” he said.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules