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Migrant Families Released By ICE To Quarantine In San Antonio With Help From Aid Group, City

File Photo: A group of migrants released by ICE in 2019 required assistance from the city and local charities in getting to their final destinations or temporary hotel stays.
Bonnie Petrie | Texas Public Radio
File Photo: A group of migrants released by ICE in 2019 required assistance from the city and local charities in getting to their final destinations or temporary hotel stays.

Migrant families released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in Karnes County and Dilley will come to San Antonio in the coming days. Some families were exposed to COVID-19 while detained by ICE, and must quarantine for 14 days.

A federal judge ruled in June that immigrant children held in family detention centers must be released because of the pandemic.

The City of San Antonio will fund the use of 10 extended stay hotel rooms for the families to complete their quarantine at a cost of about $25,000 to $30,000 a month which includes cleaning. The money is coming from the federal emergency aid provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The Interfaith Welcome Coalition is a group that helps refugees, asylum-seekers and other at-risk immigrants in San Antonio. Moon Brand, a volunteer with the coalition,  said the group would be helping the migrants upon release.

“We were the ones calling our politicians and telling them, release these families out of these dangerous COVID detention centers. Release them and we’ll take care of them, and so this is holding up our end of that bargain,” Brand said.

The undisclosed hotel is equipped with kitchens and the families will undergo a quarantine process where they cannot leave their hotel room. Nine of the 10 hotel rooms will be reserved for the families; the tenth will be used by someone with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition to stay on-site and provide the families with things they need. Brand said the families will be kept separate from anyone else staying at the hotel.

“There’s no way in this configuration of this property where they would be mixing with anyone. There are no hallways that are shared, elevators, nothing like that,” said Brand.

Six families are preparing to be released by ICE to the extended-stay hotel in the coming days. Some have come from Haiti or central american countries.

Only certain families will have to have to undergo the quarantine. 

“There have been people at Karnes and Dilley who tested positive for COVID,” said Melody Woosely, Director of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services. ”Out of an abundance of caution [they need to] isolate for 14 days before they are on their way but only if they have tested positive at some point or have been exposed. Some people will be able to go on without going through the hotel.”

Woosely said the contract with the hotel would last about three months. 

Most of the families will already have final destinations set up to go to once they’ve completed quarantine. 

Associate Pastor Gavin Rogers, of Travis Park Church said other non-profit organizations assisting migrant families in a similar situation could also potentially use a hotel room. 

“They are aware of this new protocol so instead of figuring out a quick place to leave so instead of making the burden on themselves to try to figure out a quick place to live they know they can rely on this location as a safe place to quarantine,” said Rogers.

It’s common for ICE to reach out to organizations like the IWC to provide assistance to migrants upon release from detention. It happened in late 2016 when migrant families by the bus load were taken to the Mennonite Church in downtown San Antonio.

In 2019, the city saw a mass release of asylum seekers from detention over the course of several weeks, causing the City of San Antonio to open a migrant resource center near the downtown Greyhound bus station. That center has since closed.

“We are the closest transportation hub to the detention centers that ICE operates and so frequently they release them to San Antonio,” said Assistant City Manager Dr. Colleen Bridger who helped set up the use of the extended stay hotel.

San Antonio Metro Health has a similar system of hotel rooms set up for the homeless population to stay in during the pandemic via a series of contracts with the hotel companies.

“We had a number of hotels on standby for this purpose so we activated one of those hotels — ten rooms in that hotel — in order to do this,” Bridger said.

Bridger noted that migrant families using the hotel are authorized to be in the country.

“These are people who have been legally released by the federal government into San Antonio,” she said.  “ … These are migrants seeking asylum going through the appropriate process.”

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

TPR Intern Josh Peck contributed to this story.

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