SAN ANTONIO — With his Venezuelan identity card, recently donated shoes and clean clothes, Adri Fernández tries to start his American dream on his own.
Unlike the families and unaccompanied children who have been the main groups migrating to the United States over the past decade, Fernández is one of the single adults arriving with no family to turn to or no contacts willing to help. to get back on his feet after his release by US immigration. and customs enforcement.
Fernández, who is currently awaiting scheduled hearings on his asylum claim, ended up in San Antonio because that’s where immigration officials decided he should go. A stranger drove him nearly 200 miles from Laredo, Texas.
“When I arrived, they started asking me at Immigration where I was going. In all sincerity, I said that I have no relatives here and I have nowhere to go,” said Fernández, 26. “So they gave me an address and said, does San Antonio work for you? I told him yes.
San Antonio, along with other cities including Washington, DC and New York, are grappling with how to help the growing number of asylum seekers like Fernández.
“I don’t have a dollar to live on,” he said, as one of 15 other migrants in similar circumstances who spoke to Noticias Telemundo Investiga.
But Fernández said he trusted “the American dream, which is to work and get your back up.”
Fernández’s first appointment with ICE is August 25 and his first hearing with the immigration judge will be March 5, 2024, both in San Antonio. Failure to show up could result in a decision to deport him without his day in court.
Home is where ICE sends you
Catholic Charities, part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, estimates that about half of the migrants it serves are single adults with no connections in the United States. The organization said it has seen more such arrivals in recent years.
According to the American Immigration Council, single adults were responsible for more than half of all border arrests last year. This increase follows a lull in single adults crossing the border from Mexico at the time of the Great Recession, a trend that continued for about a decade, followed by an increase in the migration of unaccompanied minors and families with children.
Asylum seekers awaiting their scheduled hearings typically arrive in cities like San Antonio with ICE documents showing “currently residing in” and an address.
A verification of the addresses by Noticias Telemundo Investiga revealed that they generally belonged to non-profit organizations or US contacts provided by the migrants; some contacts did not want to take responsibility or did not answer when a reporter called the relevant phone numbers.
An ICE spokesperson in San Antonio said the cities it sends migrants to and specific addresses are decided on a case-by-case basis.
“Individuals released from ICE custody arrange for transportation and have a temporary support plan prior to release,” the ICE spokesperson said in an email.
The spokesperson said ICE is coordinating with local nonprofit organizations to provide migrants with “temporary shelter, food, water, clothing and transportation upon release.” but did not elaborate on the situation in San Antonio.
Fernández, the Venezuelan asylum seeker, said the address given to him was an office building that housed a non-profit group, which told him they could not provide shelter or assistance to the ‘era.
“They tell me they don’t have any help for Venezuelans right now,” he said.
He found his way to a plaza in downtown San Antonio where others who had emigrated congregate and a church offers them a place to sleep at night.
Catholic Charities said it found several of its addresses in San Antonio listed on the migrants’ documents, although neither the government nor the asylum seekers first asked permission to use those addresses.
“We have heard of people showing up at our branches without warning them first, but this varies by location. The Department of Homeland Security is making that decision, but we don’t know exactly where it’s going,” said Patricia Cole, national spokeswoman for Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities in San Antonio directs migrants to shelters, hotels or churches in the city. It helps buy tickets for migrants, but demand is high and paying for them poses a challenge, the group said.
“We don’t leave anyone on the street. We send them wherever we can,” said Antonio Fernández, president and CEO of Catholic Charities in San Antonio. But he added that the group, which receives federal grants and private donations, cannot provide long-term shelter.
The organization will be in charge of a new shelter and expects to receive funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to operate it, according to Fernández.
San Antonio receives about 600 migrants a day, and about 500 of them need housing for at least that first night, said Roland Martinez, public relations manager for the city of San Antonio. Since April 2021, some 185,000 migrants have passed through San Antonio. Most continue to other parts of the country.
For weeks, migrants released by ICE at the border or in San Antonio have arrived at the airport or downtown Greyhound bus station.
On July 7, San Antonio opened a temporary center to accommodate recent arrivals for a few hours while they await connections to other parts of the country.
The city characterizes it as “a safe and welcoming place for migrants crossing San Antonio”.
After two weeks, according to Noticias Telemundo, the center had to be closed because it was at capacity and city officials were asking for more help from the federal government.
At the Christian Assistance Ministry in San Antonio, two brothers stood in a line of people who had recently emigrated — as well as townspeople who are currently homeless — for take-out breakfast, a shower and clothes. clean.
Executive Director Dawn White-Fosdick said she believes the higher number of people arriving in the United States has overwhelmed charitable resources in border towns, so they are being sent to San Antonio.
try to start over
As an alternative to being held in private prisons, asylum seekers who have been released pending their appointment with immigration authorities wear monitoring cell phones. But mobile devices cannot be used to make phone calls; they can only be used to take a photo once a week, which the immigration authorities require for surveillance purposes.
Many people who have crossed the border find themselves struggling after journeys that stripped them of what they hoped would help them through their new beginnings in the United States.
Several people recounted how their savings ran out, their money was stolen or their mobile phones were taken while crossing the border.
With little recourse, they hit the streets at dawn in an attempt to get hired by a local resident for several hours to work on construction jobs, do house repairs or other odd jobs.
“This morning, I went out to look for a job,” says Nicole, 22, from Venezuela. She couldn’t find any when she went out that morning. “I see this part will be difficult.”
She exchanges tips on the job and hourly wage she heard about with Julián, a Colombian, who also had no luck that day looking for work among businesses in the tourist area of San Antonio. . “They told me my papers weren’t good for the job,” he said.
A destination, but I’m trying to get there
Other recently arrived asylum seekers said they were assigned to other locations, such as Washington, DC, or Orlando, Florida, pending their immigration hearings, but they had no way of getting there from San Antonio.
While waiting for a shower at the Christian Assistance Ministry, Jordan and Mendoza Alvarado, two Venezuelan brothers aged 30 and 20, were looking for a way to get to the address they had been assigned to. They needed to raise about $20 to get to Houston, their first stop, where they will try to work to raise money for the next ticket. They were also looking for shoelaces to replace those not returned to them after leaving immigration detention.
When they found a phone to use, they tried to contact the number that appears on their documents. But the brothers couldn’t get past the automated English menus on the nonprofit’s phone message. They did not yet know if they would have a place to sleep when they arrived in Orlando, their destination.
Regardless of what happens next, Mendoza Alvarado said they will keep moving forward.
“I have no problem,” he said. “We keep fighting.”
An earlier version of this story was first published in Noticias Telemundo.
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