Nonprofit groups that aid migrants can’t always predict when a rush of them will appear in San Antonio.

Sometimes, though, they get a hint that something’s up.

About three weeks ago, they got one.

The Interfaith Welcome Coalition, one of the city’s most important volunteer-led migrant assistance groups, got a call from an immigration official.

You might recall that the group ministers to migrants at the downtown bus station and the airport, and that its ministry gives migrants and migrant families traveling through San Antonio a backpack with a few items in them, including basic over-the-counter medications.

The call to Interfaith was about its “capacity.”

“They called us to ask what our total capacity is, how many migrants we can assist per day,” Victoria Salas, coordinating director of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, said Monday.

The coalition had already seen an uptick.

“This weekend we saw an increase in migrants (from Venezuela, Nicaragua and El Salvador), and it’s not even April,” Salas said.

April is usually when more migrants come through San Antonio.

So, Interfaith needs volunteers. More than it already has.

As a group, they’re such good people. Most volunteers are retired. I’ve seen them in action at the bus station, helping migrants make sense of their tickets, their scheduled stops, and to better understand the country’s geography.

They don’t know, for example, how long it will take to get from here to Chicago, or Portland, Maine, or Haddonfield, NJ Their relatives and sponsors are everywhere.

Migrants who speak Spanish are the easiest to assist, because so many people here speak the language. But the coalition tries to prepare for migrants who speak other languages. I’ve heard French being spoken among them.

Russian and Ukrainian migrants are on the way. The coalition believes many of them likely flew to Mexico City, have made their way via bus to land ports and will be processed quickly and allowed in the country.

“That’s a new population,” Salas said.

Interfaith may be a little reluctant to talk about “capacity,” because serving a lot of people at once isn’t ideal.

At its peak, Salas says Interfaith has served about 300 migrants at the Greyhound station in a single day. If you’ve ever been in the bus station, you know that isn’t optimal for such a small space.

At the airport, the highest numbers Interfaith has served ranges between 500 to 600. She said the Episcopal Diocese’s will reopen a respite center near the airport, which will help.

Salas says migrant numbers also will go up because Title 42 is going to be lifted. That’s the controversial public health order that the Trump administration instituted – and the Biden administration continued – to keep migrants in Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the last two years, it’s allowed as few as 10 migrants per day to be processed at each land port.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the Biden administration has been under mounting pressure to end the restriction, especially as COVID-19 rates have continued to decline.

But let’s be real here. Title 42 was mostly a convenient, cruel excuse to deter migrants by keeping them in Mexican camps where they have been threatened with trafficking, kidnapping, rape and murder.

Salas says the worst part of Title 42 is that it has kept unaccompanied minors in those dangerous border camps, too.

On Friday, nonprofit groups that assist migrants received good news from the Federal Emergency Management Administration. FEMA will restart reimbursements to them.

For some nonprofits, that was more evidence that more migrants are to be expected.

The interfaith group receives about $ 50,000 every quarter in reimbursements. It’s still waiting for last year’s third-quarter check, Salas said.

The money pays for its backpack ministry (which is now relying on cheaper vinyl tote bags), Lyft rides to the airport and to hotels.

Once Title 42 is lifted, Interfaith will need more volunteers to serve at the bus station and airport, at the respite center, to prepare food and help with logistics.

New volunteers will shadow more experienced ones for a couple of days. Interfaith estimates 50 more volunteers are needed at the bus station and 100 more at the airport, where the city of San Antonio posts helpers, too.

Interfaith doesn’t provide volunteers on weekends.

It will need an additional 15 food-delivery volunteers and 10 logistical volunteers.

On average, volunteers serve two- to four-hour shifts and most take one shift a week.

To volunteer, go to Interfaith’s website at interfaithwelcomecoalition.org or email sanantoniowelcome@gmail.com

eayala@express-news.net

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