MMC Readout

MMC Readout: San Antonio’s Leadership on Migration 

In May 2024, the Mayors Migration Council team visited Leadership Board Mayor Ron Nirenberg in San Antonio, Texas. While there, the MMC team led a conversation on migration during the Sister Cities International All Americas Summit, which brought together city leaders from across the Western Hemisphere. Beyond the Summit walls, the MMC visited San Antonio’s Migrant Resource Center, heard from migrant community leaders about their priorities, and attended a naturalization ceremony. 

Here is a summary of engagements from the week, including key moments for Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and city project highlights. 

Migration at the All Americas Summit: 
Frank Scarpitti (Markham), Teresa Garcia Castro (Emerson Collective), Gaberial Coelho Lemos (UNHCR), Ron Nirenberg (Nirenberg), Eva Milona (USCIS), Maggie Powers (MMC), Mario D’Agostino (El Paso).
  • The City of San Antonio hosted a Sister Cities International All Americas Summit, bringing together elected officials, citizen diplomats, and other key stakeholders from 35 countries across the Western Hemisphere and promoting city-to-city partnership on key issues like migration, cultural exchange, and more. 
  • The MMC’s Director of City Policy and Advocacy, Maggie Powers, moderated a session on “Immigration in the Americas” to discuss city-led solutions for migrant inclusion and identify partnership opportunities. Speakers included:
    • Ron Nirenberg, Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, US; 
    • Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham, Ontario, Canada; 
    • Mario D’Agostino, Deputy City Manager, El Paso, Texas, US; 
    • Eva Milona, Assistant Secretary for Partnership and Engagement, US Department of Homeland Security
    • Teresa Garcia Castro, Director for Government Relations, Latin America, Immigration, Emerson Collective
    • Gaberial Coelho Lemos, Senior Protection Officer, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)
  • All panelists stressed the need to move beyond the headlines and media narrative on migration to focus on pragmatic solutions and build partnerships between different levels of government to support migrant inclusion. 
  • Mayor Frank Scarpitti of Markham emphasized the positive impact of migrants for his city, saying: “The economic contributions that newcomers have generally made [in Markham] has far outweighed any of the negative impacts we see. Immigration is a very positive thing.” 
  • Mayor Scarpitti also emphasized the need for greater national-local collaboration, particularly in support of asylum seekers, saying: “When it comes to asylum seekers, days, months go by, sometimes even a good part of a year, before cities are given the resources they need to properly house those individuals.”
Mayor Frank Scarpitti of Markham, Canada.
  • Mario D’ Agostino from El Paso spoke of the critical role of cities in building partnerships with community-based NGOs and the need to support city-NGO efforts to respond to new arrivals. However, he emphasized that El Paso is facing the brunt of ineffective federal immigration policies, saying: “Congress needs to reform our immigration policies. Not to block people, but to make it safer.”
  • Eva Millona of USCIS praised San Antonio for their response, including their Migrant Resource Center and broader efforts to support immigration naturalization. She emphasize USCIS’s willingness to partner with cities to promote naturalization, saying: “USCIS was created for the very purpose of enhancing and creating partnership with state, local government, business community, NGO community, faith-based community, academia as more, as an example of ‘we are stronger together’ and ‘partnerships leads to success.’” 
Gaberial Coelho Lemos (UNHCR) and Teresa Garcia Castro (Emerson Collective).
  • Gaberial Coelho Lemos of UNHCR stressed the importance of not just looking at one city or one country but a collaborative regional response, saying: “We are living in an unprecedented mixed movement crisis all across the globe, and of course, this has impacted the Americas on a hemispheric level. How can we look at the issue more holistically? Not only looking at the cities of origin and the cities of destination, but very much the complexity of everything. With this complexity we might be more effective and solutions oriented.”
  • As an example of what this regional partnership can look like, Teresa Garcia Castro from the Emerson Collective announced a partnership with the Mayors Migration Council that will bring together “a small number of mayors and leaders from cities from the Americas to have a unified political vision, and an action agenda, on migration issues, particularly around inclusion and migration community stabilization.” 
Listening Session on Immigrant Inclusion in San Antonio: 
Katie Ferrier (Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce), Ron Nirenberg (San Antonio), and Eva Milona (USCIS).
  • On May 29, USCIS held a listening session on immigrant inclusion with community leaders in partnership with Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, and Katie Ferrier from the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. The session immediately followed a Military Naturalization Ceremony at the San Antonio Central Library.  
  • Eva Milona celebrated the City of San Antonio’s leadership on immigrant inclusion as a key partner working with USCIS to promote naturalization. Speaking on the role of immigration in America, Ms. Milona said: “All of us are immigrants, that’s who we are, it is the core of our nation, and that makes us exceptional.” 
  • During the Listening Session, Mayor Ron Nirenberg highlighted the importance of economic inclusion, saying: “We can maintain our status as a welcoming and integrated community, but also as an economic powerhouse by recognizing the desire of those eager to integrate economically and contribute to an established workforce.”
  • Katie Ferrier, also emphasized the importance of immigrants as a key part of the economic picture of San Antonio, with reality being far removed from negative media coverage and narratives. 
  • Several community based organizations were in attendance and deeply engaged with the panel, including local credit union and bank  representatives concerned with immigrant access to banking. 
  • Organizations in attendance called for greater partnership and clarity from USCIS to support their work. In response, USCIS shared new funding opportunities through which the federal government can support local work including the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program, which aims to help immigrants become citizens by funding new or existing citizenship programs.
San Antonio in Action:
San Antonio Migrant Resource Center
  • The MMC team visited San Antonio’s Migrant Resource Center / Centro de Bienvenida (MRC), to better understand the city’s response and approach to partnership. 
  • As the nearest transportation hub to many Texas border communities, San Antonio is a major transit point for many migrants arriving in the US. Since 2021, more than 600,000 asylum seekers have sought assistance in San Antonio.
  • In response, the City of San Antonio stood up the MRC in 2022 to provide a safe and welcoming place for migrants and asylum seekers legally traveling through San Antonio on their way to other destinations in the US. 
  • Originally established as an emergency response run by the city’s Department of Human Services, the MRC provides humanitarian support including hot food, clothing, hygiene kits, internet, and temporary shelter. 
  • In an effort to move beyond emergency management to a more holistic and compassionate approach, the city established a partnership with Catholic Charities Diocese of San Antonio to expand the MRC’s offerings and provide additional wraparound services such as legal assistance, counseling, and play areas for children.
  • The MRC supported more than 1,500 individuals per day, at the height of asylum seeker arrivals to the US in winter 2023. Asylum seekers have arrived for more than 100 home countries, primarily Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Honduras.
  • San Antonio’s MRC has been praised by federal and humanitarian actors as a model response for a transit city experiencing large arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers for others to learn from. Their partnership approach focused on compassion and welcome first, bridging the gap across city departments, charitable organizations, and local businesses. 
  • City of San Antonio Immigrant Affairs Office is working with the American Immigration Council to update the New Americans in San Antonio: The Demographics and Economic Contributions of Immigrants Report. The updated report will focus on the metro area and feature four immigrant stories to showcase their lived experience and contributions.
  • For the first time ever, the city is also working with the three resettlement agencies to gather refugee data for the report to represent refugee demographics and contributions. 
  • However, such city-led efforts are contingent on federal government funding via reimbursement programs. To build sustainable responses, the city needs consistent funding and long-term national policy engagement that moves beyond political rhetoric.
San Antonio’s National and Global Advocacy: 
  • As a member of the MMC Leadership Board, Mayor Ron Nirenberg is not only taking action in his city, but advocating nationally and taking global action. 
  • On June 5th, Mayor Nirenberg spoke on a press call organized by the White House on the importance of compressive immigration reform, alongside White House Senior Advisor to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Tom Perez and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Kristie Canegallo. Mayor Nirenberg said: “If we had to make the choice of safety and compassion for people over new parks and potholes and streets, we’d choose humanity, time and time again – but it shouldn’t have to be this way…Congress has failed to enact the immigration reform our nation need.”
  • In an effort to build global cooperation across cities, Mayor Nirenberg joined fellow MMC Leadership Board member Mayor Yousef Al Shawarbeh of Amman, Jordan  in signing a Friendship City Agreement between San Antonio and Amman. The agreement aims to develop cultural and education exchanges, boosting cooperation and honoring Arab influence in San Antonio.


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