SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Roughly 300 Congolese and Angolan citizens who arrived in San Antonio the first week of June after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border days earlier have all briskly departed the city for destinations across the country, some with fuzzy plans based partly on hope.
The hundreds of family members and single adults from Central Africa first showed up June 4 at the southern border’s Eagle Pass and Del Rio towns in south-central Texas. The migrants surrendered to Border Patrol agents and claimed asylum after crossing the Rio Grande.
The agency did not, as it is supposed to, turn families over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Instead, it released families onto the streets of Eagle Pass and Del Rio, according to two government and nongovernment officials with first-hand knowledge of the matter. The African migrants then bought bus tickets to either San Antonio or Austin, according to San Antonio Interim Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger.
“If — a family, the sponsor — it’s been 24-48 hours and they can’t buy the [bus] ticket, then we’ll buy it,” Elizabeth Nemeth, executive director of Catholic Charities’ west side center, told the Washington Examiner Thursday. For a family of five to seven looking to travel by bus to New York, it will cost $2,000, she said.
While many Central American families who arrive have final destinations and family members in mind who could pay for their tickets and put them up, the African families did not always have quite as clearly defined plans.
“They come with a place in mind. ‘My friend told me to go to Portland, Maine, because there’s a lot of Congolese families that already live there and it’s welcoming,” said Nemeth. “And they have that plan in mind, right? But they don’t understand the geography — like where it is, how much it costs to get there. There’s a lot of misconceptions. They may think, ‘I have a friend there,’ but they don’t have a friend’s phone number … [We can look into] what is their last name, phone book, call shelter and ask about them, connect the dots. I wouldn’t say that we’re just putting them randomly. They have an idea.”
The African migrants are spending six to seven months traveling to Brazil then up to the U.S. Those entering the U.S. through this route did so because they “were scared the [refugee] process was not gonna work, or that it’s last a standstill,” said Christina Higgs, Catholic Charities spokeswoman for the San Antonio region. Some worried traveling to or through Europe was “getting really dangerous.”
“He used the term, and I hate to say it, but they were trying to hedge their bets by coming his way and see if they couldn’t get here that way,” she added.
Officials from the city and local organizations expect Africans to continue arriving in San Antonio.