While the growing number of Central Americans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border – whether illegally or at a port of entry – continues to gain public attention, there is another group of individuals arriving by the hundreds.
In recent months, the number of African immigrants and asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border has surged, placing new strains not only on Border Patrol authorities in the Del Rio sector, but on the city of San Antonio as well. The city, however, remains committed to welcoming them and providing humanitarian assistance however possible.
Traveling mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, and Angola, but also from countries like Sudan and Cameroon, Border Patrol agents in the Del Rio sector of Texas reported apprehending over 1,100 people from African countries since May 30.
According to Border Patrol’s Chief Patrol Agent for the Del Rio sector, Raul Ortiz, “the introduction of this new population places additional burdens on processing stations to include language and cultural differences,” but reiterated the agency’s commitment to meeting the challenge as the humanitarian crisis evolves.
Because many of the African immigrants are fleeing persecution or torture in their home countries based on their religious, ethnic, or political backgrounds, they may qualify for asylum on a legitimate basis, a notable distinction when compared to many of those coming from Central America.
After processing by Border Patrol in the Del Rio sector of Texas, these African asylum-seekers often travel by bus to San Antonio, where city officials, volunteers, and nonprofit organizations, like the San Antonio Food Bank and San Antonio Catholic Charities, are uniting in their humanitarian efforts to provide aid to those seeking refuge.
Randy Capps, Director of Research for U.S. Programs at the Migration Policy Institute, attributed the arrival of these immigrants in San Antonio specifically to the city’s proximity to the Del Rio border crossing. Those arriving are frequently sent to San Antonio because it is the closest major city and transportation hub.
The city began seeing a surge of immigrants, from both Central America and Africa, at the end of March. Though city officials and nonprofit organizations in San Antonio are eager to welcome those arriving and provide humanitarian assistance through relief centers and interpreters, the increasing number is placing a considerable strain on the city and its resources.
In an interview with The Texan, Melody Woosley, Director of the San Antonio Department of Human Services, said of the recent surge, “Yes, of course it’s a strain, but it’s certainly something we can handle.”
Woosley continued by describing the partnering of nonprofit organizations and the city of San Antonio as “very much a community effort,” as many of the nonprofit organizations, like San Antonio Catholic Charities and the Food Bank, do not have adequate resources to provide for the large number of immigrants and asylum-seekers arriving in the city.
Antonio Fernandez, the president and chief executive of San Antonio Catholic Charities said regarding the unprecedented surge, “No one has been prepared for anything like this. We were thinking that we were going to spend $120,000 in three to four months. We spent everything in five days. We’re going to need help from people out there who want to help immigrants.”
By partnering together, the city has been able to redirect financial resources and city space for use by nonprofit and religious organizations. In one instance, a vacant retail space under one of the city-owned parking garages was repurposed for use as an immigrant resource center.
Along with San Antonio, Portland, Maine is another U.S. city seeing a growing number of African asylum-seekers and immigrants. Both cities are becoming increasingly popular: Portland because of the well-established African community already there and San Antonio because of its proximity to Del Rio.
While legitimate concerns exist about the spread of Ebola from countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, who are currently facing severe Ebola outbreaks, Governor Greg Abbott among other Texas officials has so far downplayed these fears.
On Twitter, Abbott shared a post from Laredo officials saying that no evidence of Ebola currently exists.
Additionally, Lara Anton, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services said of the matter, “There is no suspected or confirmed cases of Ebola in Texas right now.” The concern was also dismissed by San Antonio officials, including interim assistant city manager Dr. Colleen Bridger.
Many of the African immigrants who arrive in the U.S. are fleeing countries plagued by civil war, starvation, extreme violence, and severe political oppression. Frequently, the African immigrants and asylum-seekers travel by boat or plane to South America before advancing on foot through the harsh jungles and conditions of countries like Colombia and Panama while en route to the United States.
Additionally, the uptake in travel to the U.S. could be due in part to recent migration restrictions in Europe.
Under the European Union’s regional disembarkation policy introduced in 2018, individuals seeking to enter Europe from North Africa who are intercepted while crossing the Mediterranean Sea are instead sent to Libya, a country currently entrenched in a civil war, for processing.
Africans are increasingly choosing to pursue safety in the U.S. despite having to traverse the treacherous conditions of South America, as it is seen as the better option when compared to the violence and unrest occurring in Libya.
These restrictions in Europe plus the publicity surrounding the large numbers of Central American immigrants arriving – both illegally and legally at ports of entry – could be contributing to the recent surge of African immigrants as well, Randy Capps told The Texan.
Recently, President Trump implemented new immigration policies aimed at reducing the number of meritless asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border.
While many of the African immigrants arriving are fleeing persecution in their home countries and may indeed have merit to their asylum claims under U.S. law, the signing of a “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala last Friday and the implementation of President Trump’s new third-country asylum policy could potentially affect the number of Africans arriving.
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Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.