San Antonio City Council blocks migrant shelter at East Side church

VisionQuest executive says company looking at all of its options

San Antonio's city council voted against a zoning request that would allow an East Side church to become a migrant shelter.

SAN ANTONIO – A plan to operate a migrant shelter for unaccompanied boys at an East Side church was defeated after the San Antonio City Council rebuffed a necessary zoning change.

The council voted 8-0 Thursday to deny VisionQuest’s request to amend the zoning at the Second Baptist Church in the 3300 block of East Commerce that would have allowed the company to operate a shelter for up to 90 children in the church’s community center.

District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry were absent and did not vote.

Both city staff and the Zoning Commission had recommended denying the change, and District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan made the motion to deny it during the council vote.

Speaking to council members before the vote, opponents to the facility brought up allegations of mistreatment at other VisionQuest facilities and referred to the one planned for the Second Baptist Church as a detention center.

“Let me be clear about something about (Office of Refugee Resettlement) facilities like VisionQuest. They’re detention centers. They’re jails for children. That’s exactly what they are,” RAICES Executive Director Jonathan Ryan said.

RAICES is a nonprofit that offers free or low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees.

Chris Myers, VisionQuest’s director of federal programs, told KSAT that without specifics, he could not comment on the allegations of mistreatment. However, he and members of the Second Baptist Church pushed back against the characterization of the facility as a detention center.

“This is not a detention center,” Myers told the council. “This is a place where kids can feel comfortable in a home-like environment.”

VisionQuest suffered a similar defeat on Nov. 19 when the Universal City City Council voted against changes that would have allowed it to operate a shelter at a former elementary school.

But Myers said VisionQuest would be looking at all its options, and it believed they had “the legal right to be here.”

“A lot of folks get upset just from the politics of immigration, but this is really about saving kids. Regardless of what your politics are, this is about taking kids out of cages and putting them in safe shelters,” Myers said.

*Editors Note* In a previous version, we erroneously said three council members voted against the motion to deny the plan. They, in fact, were not in attendance and did not vote.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.