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San Antonio Scrambles To Provide Emergency Services To Influx Of Migrant Families


Federal officials estimate that more than 100,000 people were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border last month. And they say April could be even worse. All along the border, overwhelmed immigration officials are releasing migrants onto city streets. San Antonio, Texas, is 150 miles inland from the border. But there, hundreds of asylum-seeking families are showing up at the city bus station. Texas Public Radio's David Martin Davies reports.

DAVID MARTIN DAVIES, BYLINE: At the Catholic Charities' community center on San Antonio's west side, an infant is struggling to breathe. He's only a month old and already has seen more upheaval than most adults. His family says they were forced to flee their home in Guatemala. The child was born in Mexico while they journeyed to the United States.

After being detained by immigration authorities at the border, the family was released. Now in San Antonio, the heavy oak pollen in the air is overwhelming for the baby. A nurse uses a blue rubber suction bulb to clear the mucus in Antonio's nose. He calms down. All he needed was a little help.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller says that's exactly what the volunteer community is trying to do.

GUSTAVO GARCIA-SILLER: We are blessed to help. We will not stop helping them.

DAVIES: The archbishop believes these asylum-seekers do not pose a threat.

GARCIA-SILLER: You can see there's many families - mothers, fathers, babies. It's a young population. And, of course, we were not expecting that many now.

DAVIES: The spike in numbers of asylum-seekers has raised concerns across the South Texas border. In San Antonio, approximately 300 families arrived over the weekend, and they're still coming. And the Border Patrol has begun releasing many directly from detention without travel plans, bus tickets or money.

So for the first time, the city of San Antonio opened a pop-up immigration resource center. Across the street from the Greyhound Bus station, it's in an empty storefront. On the floor, children are playing while volunteers help parents figure out their next steps. San Antonio Interim Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger says setting up the resource center was an emergency response.

COLLEEN BRIDGER: We set this up to get us through the weekend because folks were getting real tired. We had a lot of people coming in, and our nonprofit partners were just stretched beyond their abilities.

DAVIES: But the city doesn't know how long they'll be keeping it open.

BRIDGER: Even when we talked to Border Patrol and ICE, they're not sure how many people are going to continue to come across the border seeking asylum.

DAVIES: So many immigrants were released this past weekend that almost all of the buses leaving San Antonio were sold out, leaving the families stranded. Nonprofits scrambled to buy bus tickets and rent hotel rooms. Antonio Fernandez, the CEO of Catholic Charities, said unless they get help from the city, they will soon run out of money.

ANTONIO FERNANDEZ: I asked financial support today from the city. I hope they can give it to us because, you know, sooner or later, I will not be able to do this anymore.

DAVIES: And with these Central American families continuing to arrive, the question for many is, how long can San Antonio sustain its welcoming response? For NPR News, I'm David Martin Davies in San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Martin Davies is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering Texas, the border and Mexico.