SAN ANTONIO — In the last few weeks thousands of migrants have boarded buses in Del Rio, and in most cases, their next destination is San Antonio.
“San Antonio is the transit hub for many of the migrants who are released from immigration custody all around South Texas,” said Tino Gallegos, the Immigration Services Liaison with the City of San Antonio.
Gallegos said most of the migrants are not staying in San Antonio, but headed to other cities all over the U.S.
“San Antonio is the first big city that has a big airport and has a larger bus station with lots of connections where you can buy those tickets to go there,” said Gallegos. “So, that's why you see people end up bottlenecking here.”
Gallegos said at least 4,500 migrants have come through the San Antonio International Airport in the last few weeks, and an average of 800 to 1,200 a day at the bus station.
In 2019, the city created the Migrant Resource Center when an influx of migrants flooded transportation depots, but according to Gallegos, that’s not an option during the COVID pandemic.
“COVID limits our ability really to do a lot of sheltering in large spaces. or having people indoors large numbers, which was something we could do in 2019 that we can’t do now,” said Gallegos.
He said the city is working with non-profits like Catholic Charities to provide support to the migrants while they wait to leave for their next destination.
“We have staff at the airport that's there from eight o'clock in the morning until 11 o'clock at night, seven days a week, and are providing assistance to migrants that are arriving, identifying who has tickets, who doesn't, and then making arrangements for those who may not need to stay at the airport overnight to be at hotels,” said Gallegos.
He said the migrants are responsible for their own air or bus tickets and overnight stays while in town.
Gallegos said city tax-payer dollars are not going to towards the efforts. The majority of funds spent are to provide long-term quarantine to COVID positive migrants who were released from ICE custody.
“That's paid for with federal money to have them quarantined there for a certain period of time, and we are reimbursed with federal funds to do that,” said Gallegos.
Gallegos said the vaccine clinic open at the airport during the week is also available to migrants passing through the airport.
He said they are working with border county officials to monitor the number of migrants leaving the border region and heading to San Antonio.
“Planning for that hospitality is really important, and being able to get a couple hours heads up is really crucial,” said Gallegos.