Saturday, January 14, 2023

City of Austin to Connect Asylum Seekers with Flights to Sponsor Destinations

 

The City will help asylum seekers - who are legally permitted to travel - in partnership with the City of San Antonio

See link to BRoll and stills taken earlier today in San Antonio and Austin (Credit: ATXN and TVSA). HSEM Director Ortiz will be providing an on-camera media availability at 4:00 p.m. at CTECC today. RSVP to sara.henry@austintexas.gov to attend. 

The City of Austin is coordinating travel support to help asylum seekers reach their sponsor destinations across the United States. It follows a request for support from the City of San Antonio. 

This assistance, which begins today, has been developed in partnership with the City of San Antonio, which has recently experienced significant fluctuations in the number of people seeking travel from San Antonio. It is important to note that the asylum seekers are legally permitted to move throughout the country, and this partnership is designed to ensure their transit is done in a humane and efficient manner.  

“Austin stands ready to support our neighbors in San Antonio as well as those individuals seeking asylum in the United States,” said Juan Ortiz, Director of the City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “We have a longstanding partnership with San Antonio, and this is our opportunity to return the support they provided us in previous situations. Our goal is to support our neighboring cities, help asylum seekers be able to reach their sponsor destinations safely and with dignity, while also maintaining a busy airport and capacity to continue to respond to local emergency needs.” 

This effort, for which the City will seek full reimbursement from the federal government, which is currently reimbursing San Antonio and other U.S. cities that are expending resources to assist asylum seekers, will support people whose asylum claims have completed initial processing and who are pre-booked for air travel to connect with flights out of the Austin–Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) as they make their way to their destinations in the United States. Support for air travel will only be available to those people who have been processed by the City of San Antonio’s Centro de Bienvenida / Migrant Resource Center. While assisting people in need is consistent with Austin values, a specific benefit to our local community for this effort is to proactively manage the flow of people coming into AUS so that we can efficiently manage resources and minimize the impacts to traffic.  

The assistance is designed to provide a humane and effective way of relieving some of the pressures on San Antonio and help people reach their sponsor destinations in a timely and safe manner. Austin and AUS are effectively serving as a pass-through point for guests coming from the border area who need air transport to their sponsors’ destinations. 

“Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is proud to be part of this multi-city collaboration,” said Jacqueline Yaft, Chief Executive Officer of AUS. “Being part of a team that is providing humanitarian assistance to people in need fulfills the goals of our organization and our City of Austin values. The airport will continue to work with the City of Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to support this important effort for as long as needed.” 

The City's efforts will ensure it retains optimum control over the process, and the number of individuals coming through Austin, as they make their way to other destinations. 

Austin anticipates up to 120 asylum seekers will be arriving on buses from San Antonio each operating day to make a pit stop at a Transportation Assistance Center in the City to confirm their documentation before being taken to AUS to board their pre-booked flights. This is to ensure effective use of staff resources and that airport operations continue to run efficiently utilizing existing airline capacity. There are no increased flights or airline activity due to this operation. 

Asylum seekers are released by Customs and Border Protection by border cities and transported to San Antonio and other transportation hubs. They need to find their way to their sponsors, many of whom are in distant states. 

Catholic Charities of San Antonio will also be providing the City of Austin with a 24/7 phone helpline for assistance in rebooking asylum seekers who have delayed/missed flights. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is happening?  
The City of San Antonio requested assistance from the City of Austin to arrange asylum seekers coming to the San Antonio Centro de Bienvenida / Migrant Resource Center to fly out of the Austin–Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) as they make their way to their destination in the United States. This assistance, which begins today, has been developed in partnership with the City of San Antonio, which has recently experienced significant fluctuations in the number of people seeking flights out of San Antonio International Airport (SAT). Austin and AUS are serving as a pass-through point for guests coming from the border area who need air transport to their sponsor’s destination. 

Background  
As the number of asylum seekers traveling through San Antonio continues to fluctuate, the City has partnered with the City of San Antonio to provide an additional transportation hub to expeditiously assist asylum seekers who are legally transiting through our state to their intended destinations in an orderly and coordinated manner. 

Beginning as soon as January 13, 2023, the partnership between the City of Austin and San Antonio will begin to help arrange transportation from the Centro de Bienvenida / San Antonio Migrant Resource Center to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) for migrant passengers who have plane tickets to travel to their intended destinations within the United States. SAT will also continue to receive migrant passengers daily. 

Why is this partnership happening now? 
This partnership is crucial as San Antonio has experienced significant fluctuations in the number of asylum seekers over the past couple of months and the need to assist them to get to their destination in a safe, quick, and humane way is highly important to the region. 

Since January 2021, the City of San Antonio has served more than 365,000 asylum seekers legally transiting through San Antonio en route to their host city destinations across the country. In December 2022, San Antonio had a daily average of 1,206 arrivals with some days exceeding over 1,800. 

Arriving asylum seekers are being directly transported from non-profit partners from border cities after they are released from U.S. Customs & Border Protection or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. San Antonio serves as the nearest major transportation hub to these communities that can assist asylum seekers in completing onward travel. 

The City of San Antonio’s Centro de Bienvenida / Migrant Resource Center opened in July 2022 as a safe and welcoming place for asylum seekers traveling through San Antonio to their intended destination in the United States. Catholic Charities of San Antonio manages operations of the center in strong partnership with the City and local non-profits. Since July, San Antonio has served over 120,000 asylum seekers. 

What resources will people arriving at the Austin Airport have? 
Prior to departure from San Antonio’s Centro de Bienvenida / Migrant Resource Center, asylum seekers would have access to humanitarian services including respite, food, case management, travel assistance, clothing, and showers. Individuals leaving San Antonio will have their boarding passes and documentation to board their plane. Travel arrangements will be coordinated by Catholic Charities and will include a sack lunch and snacks for their journey. 

Who are the people seeking asylum? 
People seeking asylum from the border area traveling through Austin have been released by Customs and Border Protection, given a notice to appear for their asylum request, and been permitted to travel to their sponsor destination. A sponsor could be a family member, friend, agency or faith-based organizations.  

Where are people seeking asylum coming from? 
People seeking asylum are released by Customs and Border Protection by border cities and transported to San Antonio. They need to find their way to their sponsors, many of whom are in distant states. 

Will asylum seekers stay overnight in Austin? 
No. Only ticketed passengers for flights leaving within 8-10 hours that day will be transported from San Antonio to Austin. Resources, including overnight sheltering, is available in San Antonio at the Migrant Resource Center. 

How long will this initiative last? 
What we know right now is that the City of Austin will support the immediate needs of our neighboring cities and those in critical need of humanitarian aid. 

Who is paying for this? 
The City of Austin will be applying for full reimbursement for all expenses associated with travel and transportation under the FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter Program / Humanitarian Relief Funding Grant. 

How will this impact traffic at the airport?  
This effort will be conducted in a manner to minimize operational impacts at the airport. There are no significant impacts to airport roadways anticipated. The operation will likely use charter buses. CapMetro and Via buses are not being used. 

How many people will be transported from San Antonio to the Austin Airport? 
To start, the City of Austin will help transport between one bus a day, about 40 people, up to approximately three buses a day, with 120 people. This is to ensure effective use of staff resources and ensure our airport traffic is minimally impacted. 

What happens if flights get canceled? 
Catholic Charities of San Antonio would provide a number to the City of Austin (with available assistance 24/7) that could be used to assist in rebooking asylum seekers who have delayed/missed flights. 

How is the Airport handling an influx of asylum-seeking travelers? 
The AUS airport regularly processes 19,000-30,000 departing passengers each day and is not expecting the traveling asylum-seekers to bring in a record-breaking number of travelers. People seeking asylum are flying out of AUS on regularly scheduled aircraft. There are no increased flights or airline activity due to this operation. 

What other services are being provided to the people seeking asylum by the City of Austin? 
At this time, the City of Austin is serving as a pass-through point for ticketed air travelers on their way to their sponsor destination. Upon arrival to Austin, guests will have had the opportunity for needed humanitarian services in San Antonio, including respite, food, case management, ticketing, clothing, showers, and other needed assistance. Additionally, asylum seekers would also be provided with a sack lunch and snacks for their journey. 

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