San Antonio City Council Approves COVID Relief Money for Immigrant Aid Groups

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The city of San Antonio will distribute $1.5 million of its federally allocated pandemic relief funds to nonprofits that help immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship.

City council members who approved the plan on Thursday said the move aligns with the city’s commitment to welcoming immigrants and provides a much-needed cash injection to groups facing a surge of immigrants seeking their help. .

It’s a stark contrast to Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to divert about $1 billion of federal COVID-19 relief money from Texas to fund his border security efforts.

“The pandemic has exacerbated already existing barriers to resources and created new challenges for those applying for citizenship, including lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers and refugees,” said Melody Woolsey, director of the Department of Social Services at the city.

Many of these people were ineligible for other forms of financial support provided by the government throughout the pandemic, she said.

“These groups are hurting because of the pandemic because they’ve had to close their doors,” Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3) said of the nonprofits focused on helping San Antonio immigrants and those who cross the city. “If we want to be a compassionate city, which we are, we need to focus on that.”

The vote was 9-1 in favor of the proposal. Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) was the only no. Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) was absent.

In a nod to the city’s very different approach to the state, Perry, the council’s only Tory, said he opposed Thursday’s proposal because he believed the Money would be better spent helping small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic.

“I’m a small business owner…and that’s what this money was for, to help people and businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic,” Perry said.

Asked if he supports Abbott’s approach of using federal relief funds for border security, Perry said state policy is the prerogative of the governor.

“I’m not part of that,” Perry said.

San Antonio received $326.9 million in recovery funds from the U.S. Congress from the bailout law passed in March 2021.

When the city council established a framework for spending some of that money earlier this year, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) lobbied for nonprofits to receive $4 million. Thursday’s proposal to fund immigration nonprofits came from Sandoval’s heads of community health and equity committee; the committee approved the $1.5 million allocation last month.

The process of distributing the remaining $2.5 million in relief funds to nonprofits will begin in August, with a focus on groups that help the elderly and young, Woosley said.

Thirty-one groups that serve San Antonio’s immigrant community attended feedback sessions with the city’s Department of Social Services earlier this year. The department will advise the city council on which groups should receive awards of at least $100,000 on a two-year contract.

To obtain a portion of ARPA funds, each immigrant-serving organization would have to submit a proposal on how the funds would be used.

American Gateways, an Austin-based immigrant advocacy organization with an office in San Antonio, said it would use the money to provide legal assistance to immigrants, pay for outreach efforts and support the organization’s naturalization clinics, according to Rebecca Lightsey, co-executive director of the legal advocacy organization, to ensure that more immigrants have access to services.

“For almost any job with an attorney, you’re going to be talking about fees starting at $1,000 and going up, depending on the complexity of your case, that could easily be $6,000 or $8,000,” Lightsey said.

The organization works with migrant asylum seekers, those at risk of deportation and beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

ARPA’s funding for the immigrant community “will just have a huge impact on the community because so many of the immigrants in San Antonio are low-income,” Lightsey said. “Without some support, they wouldn’t have access to legal services.

An official from Culturingua — a nonprofit that works with low-income refugees from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia — would use any ARPA funding he gets to train community leaders ethnic groups about city resources so they can share information with other members of their communities.

Nadia Mavrakis, CEO of Culturingua, also said the funds could be used to connect legally eligible non-citizens to job training opportunities and expand a partnership with the city’s Workforce Development office. and Ready To Work SA, the city-funded job training program.

“If we received funding, we would seek to extend it to all immigrants and refugees we serve,” she said.

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