San Antonio to close migrant facility at airport, pursues more federal funding for downtown facility

SAN ANTONIO – In a move that could help stretch federal funding for its Migrant Resource Center, the City of San Antonio is shuttering a secondary facility for migrants at the San Antonio International Airport.

In a memo to council members Friday, City Manager Erik Walsh said the city will relocate operations at the “Airport Transfer Center” into the MRC San Pedro Avenue on May 1. Welcoming and navigation assistance at the airport will also be relocated to the MRC, and San Antonio Police presence at the MRC and airport would also be reduced, he said.

Migrant arrivals in San Antonio fell 77% between December and March, Walsh wrote, and the city is changing its migrant operations “to align operational needs with the current number of arrivals.”

Walsh has previously said the city began using a city-owned building at the northern edge of the airport in mid-May 2023 to give migrants with plane tickets a place to wait for their scheduled flights — generally, for no more than 24 hours. Before that, migrants traveling legally up from the border were brought directly to the terminals, where they may end up sleeping overnight.

While Walsh said the facility was not a secret, the city did not appear to have publicized its existence until the media learned of its location in December.

Councilman Marc Whyte (D10) had opposed the use of the ATC and said he was happy to hear that it would be closing.

“The fact that we’re contracting, what we’re doing in this regard, I think is a good thing,” he said.

Whyte also wants to close the MRC, which he says is an issue of public safety and resource allocation. Though the city has said it has only used federal funds to keep the MRC open, the council had a conversation in March about potential backup funding plans, including using city dollars.

However, further federal funding has since come through — at least in part.

The city received $3 million through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Shelter and Services Program and plans to apply for $18.8 million more.

While a city spokesman said the city has enough left in previous allocations to keep the MRC open through October before it dips into the $3 million, he did not say how much further that money would take them.

A top city executive has previously said the city spends about $1.3 million each month on its portion of the MRC.

However, Catholic Charities also runs the day-to-day operations of the MRC. City officials had previously estimated the nonprofit would exhaust its funding by December, but the group has since received $10.9 million in the same SSP allocation. It’s unclear how far that will take its operations.

A Catholic Charities spokeswoman said the group had no comment after KSAT reached out Monday to ask about how the current funding situation had affected its ability to operate the MRC.

Even though the federal government has kicked in more money to keep the MRC going, Whyte says there’s still a question of whether the city should have the facility in the first place.

“I think it has acted as a magnet for these folks to come to San Antonio. Is that something that we really want?” Whyte questioned.

However, the Northeast Side councilman is the minority voice on the council regarding the MRC. During the March funding discussion, most council members indicated they wanted to keep the facility open.

Councilwoman Sukh Kaur (D1), whose district includes the MRC, said migrants were already coming through San Antonio before the city created the MRC.

The city set up the new facility in 2022 in response to an “unprecedented” flood of migrants, who often ended up hanging around Travis Park downtown.

“I think this MRC needs to continue as long as you have this community that’s coming through San Antonio,” Kaur told KSAT.

The city council’s Governance Committee will consider a resolution Tuesday “stating Council’s position on continued federal funding for humanitarian assistance.”

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.

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