There are few things more vulnerable and chaotic than an asylum seeker’s journey, and San Antonio has had to manage it in droves. The Alamo City reached out to its neighbor, Austin, for help on January 11, and in just three days, the assistance developed into an official partnership to help travelers make it to their destinations as safely and efficiently as possible.
The city has been seeing “fluctuations in the number of people seeking transportation from San Antonio,” according to its statement. The resulting system sends asylum seekers toward the capital city on buses — enough to seat 40 to 120 daily — through a “Transportation Assistance Center” and onto pre-booked flights.
The goal, besides lightening the load on the travelers themselves, is to keep airport operations functioning normally, without even changing the level of airport activity in either city. The partnership does not expect delays.
“San Antonio will continue to be a welcoming, kind and compassionate city,” said City of San Antonio deputy city manager Maria Villagomez in the official announcement. “We are grateful to our neighbors in Austin for partnering with us to make sure asylum seekers reach their host city destination.”
Even though asylum seekers have not yet been granted asylum (permission to stay in the country to avoid persecution or harm in their home country), the process of requesting it starts at the border and legally allows the seeker to travel throughout the United States. One of the logistical difficulties for both the city and migrants is that there is no pre-application process; seekers must be present in the United States in order to request asylum. This means asylum seekers have to arrive at the border with no pre-approved plan or even an official warning.
Texas’ transportation system for asylum seekers became an especially hot topic nationally in November, when Governor Greg Abbott began busing migrants northward without the consent or even the preparation of their receiving cities. The resulting controversy acknowledged both the antagonization tactic between Gov. Abbott and other U.S. officials, as well as the asylum seekers’ willingness to accept the transportation despite the disorganization.
In this less rogue strategy, the City of San Antonio seeks full reimbursement for all associated costs from the federal government. Catholic Charities of San Antonio is also lessening the load by operating a 24/7 phone helpline in Austin for rebooking assistance when travel details change due to airline scheduling or missed flights.
“Austin stands ready to support our neighbors in San Antonio as well as those individuals seeking asylum in the United States,” said Juan Ortiz, director of the City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “We have a longstanding partnership with San Antonio, and this is our opportunity to return the support they provided to us in previous situations. Our goal is to support our neighboring cities, help asylum seekers be able to reach their sponsor destinations safely and with dignity, while also maintaining a busy airport and capacity to continue to respond to local emergency needs.”