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Charities scramble to help dozens of migrant families dropped in San Antonio

March 31, 2019

Within a few hours, blank sheets of paper taped to the wall of the Guadalupe Community Center on San Antonio’s West Side were covered with red ink — each line of text representing a migrant family in limbo.

Migrant families filled the center Saturday morning as volunteers and employees of Catholic Charities of San Antonio scrambled to provide them with food, clean clothes and added them to a list of people needing bus or plane tickets to friends and relatives in other cities. The migrant families are among hundreds who arrived unannounced at San Antonio’s bus station over the last few days without plans for shelter.

“Catholic Charities cannot do all this,” said Antonio Fernández, head of the nonprofit that has been working to temporarily house families. “I have volunteers working at 5 o’clock a.m.; I have an employee who worked until 3 o’clock in the morning Thursday night.”

When immigration authorities released migrant families in the past, they would usually tell charities workers how many people were arriving and when. But a recent surge of migrants has left immigration officials overwhelmed and detention facilities out of space, spurring the release of thousands of migrants who were given notices to appear later in immigration court. An estimated 51,500 migrants have been released along the South Texas border and in San Antonio since late December alone.

On Friday, between 200 and 300 people were dropped off at San Antonio’s bus station, forcing Fernández and other volunteers to work overtime to shuttle families to shelters and hotels. On Saturday morning, they bused the families to the community center, which had been converted into an intake room to link them with resources and transportation out of San Antonio. Most of them are seeking asylum, he said.

The center smelled of donuts, coffee and newborn babies. Toddlers giggled, playing with toy cars and books provided by volunteers. Parents wiped chocolate icing from their children’s faces. They sipped orange juice, milk and coffee, waiting for their names to be called by volunteers who would arrange bus or plane tickets out of San Antonio, to cities like Houston, New York, Orlando and Baltimore. Volunteers hurriedly typed on the center’s four computers, their screens lit up with the Greyhound bus website.

Yensi Romero, a mother of three, was one of the people waiting. Romero, her common-law husband and their children, ranging from ages 5 to 10, left Honduras on Dec. 10, she said in Spanish through a translator. They traveled through Guatemala and Mexico before entering the U.S., then spent 12 days in a detention facility.

On March 29, her family arrived in San Antonio. But despite their long and exhausting journey, her children are all right, she said. Her two sons, 5 and 6, played with toy cars and makeshift maracas, fashioned out of plastic easter eggs, spoons and tape. On Saturday morning, children made up roughly half of the 50 people who received help.

While directing volunteers, Fernández balanced a toddler on his hip, her curly hair tied back with a headband. His charity doesn’t have enough resources to accommodate all the families, he said. But he expects more to arrive over the coming days — and has no idea when the influx will stop.

“I truly don’t know what the government is doing,” he said.

Marina Riker is a staff writer at the San Antonio Express-News. | marina.riker@express-news.net | Twitter: @MarinaStarleaf