May 23, 2019


Trump Dumped Thousands of Immigrants in San Antonio. The City's Response Was a Lesson in Kindness. (Fernanda Echavarri, 5/23/19, Mother Jones)

Up until that point, there had been dozens of families showing up every day at the bus station in need of food and money to buy their next ticket, but never this many, Bridger said. Catholic Charities USA and Interfaith Welcome Coalition had been assisting migrants at an average of about 50 a day. This was different.

"We had surges of 150, then 250 and 300 people coming in one day," Bridger said, "and (the nonprofits) came to the city and said, 'We can't keep doing this--this is beyond our capacity. Will you please help us?'" 

That's when the city quickly turned the vacant storefront across from the Greyhound station into a pit stop for families to rest, eat, call family members, and plan out their next steps. One city official described it to me as a "compassionate layover." But the resource center wasn't equipped to keep families overnight, so Catholic Charities helped create an shelter at the nearby Travis Park Church.

When families have to spend the night in San Antonio, volunteers at the resource center walk with them to the church, where they can sleep. "Last night we actually had 75 people sleeping here," said Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities in San Antonio. "We know that there are more people coming than there was in the past, so we are preparing bigger coalitions to provide services for the families because we don't know how long this is going to happen."

The Gabarrete family slept in the church the night before I met them. By morning, families go back to the resource center for the day where the kids can draw and watch cartoons to stay occupied. Hector Gabarrete said he didn't expect such a warm welcome in a US city, and that he felt "taken care of and safe."

"I'm not here to judge people or political parties--I'm here to help people in need," Fernandez said. "I don't care if you're Catholic or not. I don't care if you're documented or undocumented. My mission in life is to feed anyone who walks through that door."

Fernandez said they've been spending about $14,000 each week for bus tickets for the hundreds of families that need help getting to their final destination.

As far as the city's contributions go, Bridger said it has provided in-kind donations to the NGOs, such as the storefront, but haven't directly provided financial assistance. She said they thought the emergency resource center would be open for about two weeks, but it's been two months now. They've planned to continue with this setup until the end of the fiscal year in September. But, Bridger added, "I don't think it's going to be sustainable in the long haul."

The city employees helping right now are either doing this as part of their already assigned duties, or as volunteers. "Some of them are working a full day for the city and then volunteering for an eight-hour shift at the volunteer center, so we have people that are really tired and that are working really hard to make it a success, but we can't do that indefinitely," she said.

It's an opportunity to differentiate America from Trumpism.

Posted by at May 23, 2019 4:15 AM


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