Families and children are helped, but single refugees in the US are often left without money, food and clothing after crossing the border
With his Venezuelan ID, newly donated shoes and clean clothes, Adri Fernandez is trying to single-handedly fulfill his American dream. Yahoo.
Unlike families and unaccompanied children who have been the main groups that have migrated to the US in the last decade, Fernandez is one of the single adults who arrived with no family to turn to or contacts willing to help him get back on his feet after how he got through US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Fernandez, who is currently awaiting a scheduled hearing on his asylum application, ended up in San Antonio because the immigration authorities decided that was where he should go. A stranger drove him nearly 320 miles from Laredo, Texas.
“When I arrived, the immigration office started asking me where I was going. In all sincerity, I said that I have no relatives here and that I have nowhere to go,” said 26-year-old Fernandez. “So they gave me the address and said, “Is San Antonio right for you?” I told him yes.
San Antonio, as well as other cities including Washington DC and New York, are trying to figure out how to help a growing number of asylum seekers like Fernandez.
“I don’t have a dollar to live on,” he said, one of 15 migrants in similar circumstances who spoke to Noticias Telemundo Investiga.
But Fernandez said he trusts "the American dream, which is to work and rise."
Fernandez's first meeting with ICE will take place on August 25, and his first hearing with an immigration judge will take place on March 5, 2024, both in San Antonio. Failure to appear may result in a decision to deport him without trial.
Home is where ICE sends you
Catholic charities that make up the Archdiocese of San Antonio estimate that about half of the migrants it serves are single adults with no US connections. The organization said that such arrivals have increased over the past few years.
Single adults accounted for more than half of all border detentions last year, according to the American Immigration Board. This increase followed a lull among single adults crossing the border from Mexico during the Great Recession, a trend that lasted for about a decade, followed by an increase in the migration of unaccompanied minors and families with children.
Asylum seekers awaiting scheduled hearings typically arrive in cities like San Antonio with documents from ICE that state "currently resident" and an address.
Checking the addresses by Noticias Telemundo Investiga found that they usually belonged to non-profit organizations or US contacts provided by migrants; some contacts didn't want to take responsibility or didn't answer when called on their respective phone numbers.
An ICE spokesman in San Antonio said cities to which ICE sends migrants and specific addresses were decided on a case-by-case basis.
"Individuals released by ICE arrange for transportation and have a temporary support plan in place until they are released," an ICE spokesperson said in an email.
The spokesman said ICE is coordinating with local nonprofits to provide migrants with "temporary shelter, food, water, clothing and transportation," but did not elaborate on the situation in San Antonio.
Adri Fernandez, a Venezuelan asylum seeker, said the address he was given was an office building that housed a non-profit group that told him it could not provide him with asylum or assistance at the time.
“They tell me they don’t have any help for the Venezuelans right now,” he said.
He found his way to a square in downtown San Antonio where other migrants gather and where a church offers them a place to sleep.
Catholic charities said they found several addresses in San Antonio appearing on migrants' documents, although neither the government nor the asylum seekers had previously requested permission to use these addresses.
“We heard about people who came to our agencies without prior notice, but it depends on the place. The Department of Homeland Security is making that decision, but we don't know exactly where it's happening," said Patricia Cole, national spokesperson for the Catholic charity.
A Catholic charity in San Antonio directs migrants to shelters, hotels or churches in the city and helps buy tickets for migrants, but demand is high and paying them is a problem, the group said.
“We don't leave anyone on the street. We ship them wherever we can,” said Antonio Fernandez, president and CEO of the San Antonio-based Catholic charity. 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 the new shelter, Fernandez said, and expects to receive funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to maintain it.
San Antonio receives about 600 migrants a day, and about 500 of them need shelter for at least the first night, said Roland Martinez, public relations manager for the city of San Antonio. Since April 2021, about 185 migrants have passed through San Antonio. Most continue on their way to other parts of the country.
Within weeks, migrants released by ICE at the border or in San Antonio arrived at the airport or the Greyhound bus station downtown.
On July 7, San Antonio opened a temporary center for those who have recently arrived for a few hours while they wait to be connected to other parts of the country.
The city describes it as "a safe and welcoming place for migrants traveling through San Antonio."
Two weeks later, according to Noticias Telemundo, the center had to close because it was overcrowded and the city was asking for more help from the federal government.
At the Christian Relief Ministry in San Antonio, two brothers lined up with people who had recently migrated with the city's now homeless residents to get takeout breakfast, showers and clean clothes.
Executive director Dawn White-Fosdick said she believes more people coming to the US have outstripped charitable resources in border towns, which is why they are being sent to San Antonio.
Trying to start over
As an alternative to private detention, asylum seekers who have been released pending a meeting with immigration authorities carry mobile phones for monitoring. But mobile devices cannot be used to make phone calls; they can only be used for photography once a week, which is required by the immigration authorities for control purposes.
Many people who have crossed the border face difficulties after traveling that has deprived them of what they hoped would help them survive a new start in the US.
Several people have described how they ran out of savings, had their money stolen or had their mobile phones taken while crossing the border.
Without much difficulty, they go out into the street at dawn to try to get a local to hire them by the hour to work on a construction site, renovate a house, or do some other odd job.
“I went out this morning looking for a job,” said Nicole, 22, from Venezuela. She couldn't find her. “I can see that this one will be difficult.”
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She trades tips about work and hourly pay she's heard about with Julian from Colombia, who also had bad luck finding work that day among businesses in the tourist area of San Antonio. “I was told that my papers were not good for the job,” he said.
There is a destination, but how to get there
Other recently arrived asylum seekers said they were sent to other locations, such as Washington, DC or Orlando, Florida, as they await immigration hearings, but were unable to get there from San Antonio.
While waiting to shower at a Christian relief center, Jordan and Mendoza Alvarado, two Venezuelan brothers in their 30s and 20s, were looking for a way to get to their assigned address. They needed to raise about $20 to travel to Houston, their first stop, where they would try to raise money for their next ticket. They were also looking for replacement laces for those that were not returned to them after they left the immigration center.
When they found a phone to use, they tried to contact the number that was on their papers. But the brothers couldn't get past the automatic English menus on the nonprofit's phone message. They did not yet know if they would have a place to sleep when they got to Orlando, their destination.
Mendoza Alvarado said that no matter what happens next, they will continue to go their own way.
“We have no problem,” he said. "We keep fighting."
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