What began as a request for assistance from San Antonio to Austin to help move asylum seekers to their final destinations across the country has developed into a full-fledged collaboration, officials from both cities announced Friday.
The City of Austin and the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport have joined San Antonio in serving as a pass-through point for migrants who are legally allowed to travel in the U.S.
Up to 120 asylum seekers a day with pre-booked flights will now be bussed from Catholic Charities’ Centro de Bienvenida — formerly known as San Antonio’s migrant resource center — to the Austin airport, where they will catch flights to their host cities.
They will make a pit stop at a “transportation assistance center” in San Antonio to confirm their documentation before being taken to Austin’s airport to board their pre-booked flights.
Some migrants will still depart from the San Antonio International Airport, officials said,said San Antonio spokesman Donald Sparks.
The collaboration comes as San Antonio receives an increasing number of asylum seekers from the border. According to city figures, in December 2022, San Antonio accepted a daily average of 1,206 arrivals, with some days exceeding over 1,800. Since January 2021, San Antonio has served more than 365,000 asylum seekers who have passed through on their way to host city destinations across the country.
Despite the Biden Administration’s recent move to limit the number of asylum seekers from certain countries in an effort to ease pressure on border cities, local officials are still preparing to assist large numbers of people in the coming weeks and months.
In late December, Southwest Airlines’ implosion of flight cancellations delayed many migrants’ travel out of San Antonio. This in turn overflowed Centro de Bienvenida’s capacity, leading to large groups of migrants stuck for longer than in Terminal B, where Spanish-speaking volunteers from the Interfaith Welcome Coalition oversee a designated area for migrants waiting for flights.
San Antonio city officials said the partnership will help airport operations run more efficiently and ease capacity issues.
“This assistance is designed to provide a humane and efficient way to support the city and its partners and not disrupt nor delay travelers at the airport,” read the press release from the city. Sparks clarified that there have been no reports of migrants disrupting travelers at San Antonio’s airport.
In Austin’s release, the city said its “efforts will ensure it retains optimum control over the process, and the number of individuals coming through Austin, as they make their way to other destinations.”
San Antonio will cover transportation costs to Austin with FEMA funds reimbursed to the city for migrant care-related costs. The City of Austin will also apply for reimbursement from FEMA as well.
“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, in a statement.
“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.”
Jacqueline Yaft, chief executive officer of Austin-Bergstrom airport, said they are proud to be a part of the collaboration.
“Being part of a team that is providing humanitarian assistance to people in need fulfills the goals of our organization and our City of Austin values,” she said in a statement. “The airport will continue to work with the City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to support this important effort for as long as needed.”