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San Antonio Steps Up To Help Increasing Flow Of Migrants


The flow of migrants through the Southern border has slowed, but 2,500 people are being detained every day. If a family is crossing the Texas border, they're almost certain to end up in San Antonio at least for a day. And as Bonnie Petrie at Texas Public Radio reports, the city is marshalling resources to help the migrant families who land there.

BONNIE PETRIE, BYLINE: When you open the door of what used to be a Quiznos Sub shop by the bus station in downtown San Antonio, several languages engulf you. There's Spanish, of course, but also French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and African languages like Lingala and then the universal languages of laughing and crying children and babies. This is the San Antonio Migrant Resource Center. It opened in March with a pretty simple mission.

TINO GALLEGOS: Our main idea was - OK. We need to be able to help people get a hold of somebody in the United States that they know so they can reach their destination.

PETRIE: Tino Gallegos is the city's migrant services coordinator. When the Migrant Resource Center opened, it was just a few dozen people coming in every day, mostly from Central America. They knew where they were going and just needed a little help figuring out how to get a bus or plane ticket. They needed a meal and a safe place to sleep. But in late May, that started to change. Shuttles from the border started bringing hundreds of asylum-seekers from places like Haiti and countries in Africa and dropping them off by the bus station.

GALLEGOS: They were just, in effect, stranded and in large numbers, like, right in downtown. And all of them had kids.

PETRIE: So the Migrant Service Center had to step up its game. It brought on more volunteers and put out a call for more donations of money and supplies. There are around 200 people crowded into the old sub shop, some sleeping on the floor, others changing diapers or feeding their children and many pressed up against the counter where, in days past, someone might have taken your order for a turkey on wheat. Roland Martinez is the city's public relations manager.

ROLAND MARTINEZ: The folks seen behind the counter are the volunteers. You see some of the folks have, like, stickers that say they speak another language. What they're doing here is - right now, they're answering questions from the migrants.

PETRIE: There's a whiteboard on the wall listing airlines and bus schedules. A woman behind the counter holds up a phone and makes an announcement.

MARTINEZ: And that's probably a family member calling that person saying, come to the phone. I'll have your travel arrangements, most likely. See, there he is.

PETRIE: A young man rushes to the counter and takes the phone.

MARTINEZ: So he's probably - he's going to get the information, maybe a confirmation number. And so when it's time for him to leave, he's all set.

PETRIE: Most of these people will have to stay at least one night in San Antonio. That's where the Travis Park Church comes in. It's been taking in overnight guests since the city got involved in March. On this night, 220 people will sleep in a church that has 300 army cots wedged together in two separate rooms on the church's second floor. They'll have Red Cross blankets and access to clean clothes and toiletries and bathrooms. When they wake up, volunteers will walk them back to the MRC for breakfast.

Pastor Gavin Rogers says, when they decided to open the church to migrants in March, they didn't really think they'd still be doing it in July. But they plan to keep doing it for however long it takes. He says their faith doesn't give them another choice. After all, religious traditions are full of migrants.

GAVIN ROGERS: You know, Jesus Christ - when he was young, Mary and Joseph fled genocide, basically, into Egypt. If you're a different person of faith, Moses and Abraham were both migrants. Muhammad was a migrant.

PETRIE: Since the end of March, 15,000 migrants have slept at Travis Park Church. And 30,000 people have used the resources offered by the city at the Migrant Resource Center. For NPR News, I'm Bonnie Petrie in San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bonnie Petrie is a proud new member of the news team at WUWM. She is a reporter who - over her twenty year career - has been honored by both the Texas an New York Associated Press Broadcasters, as well as the Radio, Television and Digital News Association, for her reporting, anchoring, special series production and use of sound.