Border Patrol abandons migrants at a bus stop in San Diego due to lack of funds for the accommodation center

AP

Hundreds of migrants were left on Friday at a bus stop in San Diego instead of at a reception center that had been serving as a base of operations because it ran out of local funding sooner than expected, highlighting how even the largest city on the southern border of the United States is struggling to cope with the unprecedented influx of people.

Migrants, who previously had a safe place to charge their phones, use the restroom, eat, and organize their journey to another point in the United States, were now left on the street, prompting migrant support groups to rush to help as best they could with improvised measures.

Border Patrol buses carrying people from Senegal, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, and many other countries arrived outside a transit station. Migrant support groups informed them that they would be bussed to a parking lot from where they could charge their phones and arrange transportation to the airport. The vast majority planned to spend only a few hours in San Diego before taking a flight or being picked up by someone.


"Are we in San Diego?" asked 30-year-old Gabriel Guzmán, a painter from the Dominican Republic who was released after crossing the border on Thursday through a remote mountainous area. He was told to appear in June before a Boston immigration court, where he hopes to earn money to send to his three children.

Abd Boudeah, from Mauritania, flew to Tijuana, Mexico, through Nicaragua, and followed other migrants to a gap in the border wall, where he surrendered to agents on Thursday after walking about eight hours. The former molecular engineering student said he was fleeing persecution for being gay and plans to settle in Chicago with a cousin who has been in the United States for 20 years.

"I've dreamed a lot about this (moment), and thank God I'm here," said 23-year-old Boudeah in impeccable English.

Volunteers gave instructions in English, Spanish, and French to small groups, all of them single men and women. They used translation apps for other languages.
"We're going to cross the street together and line up," a volunteer told his phone, which translated it into Hindi for a group of men from India.

"Tired of the road," said 31-year-old Alikan Rdiyer in Russian, a Kazakhstani, as he waited for instructions to give to a friend from Los Angeles who was going to pick him up. The Border Patrol gave him a notice to appear in an immigration court in August 2025 in Philadelphia, a city he had never heard of.

The transit center's parking lot was full of cars, so migrants had nowhere to be, and there were no public restrooms. A taxi driver offered a ride to San Diego International Airport for $100, twice what ride-sharing apps charged. Some migrants dispersed through the neighborhood when volunteers failed to contact them to instruct them to wait on the sidewalk.

Since October, the San Diego County has given $6 million to SBCS, a nonprofit organization formerly known as South Bay Community Services, to provide phone charging stations, food, travel counseling, and other services at a former elementary school. The group wanted to keep it open until March, but Thursday was its last day.

San Diego is one of many local governments, including those in New York City, Chicago, and Denver, that have struggled to help migrants without sacrificing key services. Like in other border cities, migrants usually stay in San Diego for less than a day before leaving, but large shelters run by Jewish Family Service and Catholic Charities have been full for months and prioritize families.
Nora Vargas, president of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, strongly supported the migrant reception center but said the county had to pause spending while assessing the damage from catastrophic January floods and addressing the issues of homelessness and lack of healthcare among its residents. "We have to be financially prudent," she said.

SBCS, which has faced harsh criticism from some migrant advocacy groups, told the county that its services cost $1.4 million per month, spokesperson Margie Newman Tsay said. The county asked it to propose reducing them to $1 million.

Aid groups have provided crucial support to newcomers, prompting criticism from some quarters. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened this week to sue and shut down Annunciation House, an organization that has existed for decades and hosts migrants in El Paso. Paxton said the group might be "facilitating illegal entry into the United States."

Rubén García, director of Annunciation House, gathered supporters at a press conference to denounce Paxton's strategy. "It's a clear warning to other entities that also perform the work of hospitality that they may well be next," he said.

SBCS said it had assisted 81,000 migrants in San Diego since October 11. In a report submitted to the county, it stated that it had spent $750,000 on staff through December 24 and $152,000 on operating expenses, including housing, transportation, and security.

"I could have done a lot more with $6 million," said Erika Pinheiro, executive director of Al Otro Lado, a migrant aid group that is providing assistance when migrants are left on the streets.


Vargas, who wrote to President Joe Biden last week to request his support, staunchly defended SBCS's performance and highlighted its previous work accompanying unaccompanied migrant children at the San Diego Convention Center in 2019. "No one is perfect, especially when you're trying to fill a void left by the federal government," she said, echoing a common sentiment among mayors of major cities.

Customs and Border Protection said on Friday in a statement that releases on the streets were "the most recent example of the pressing need for Congress to provide additional resources and take legislative action to correct our outdated immigration laws."

From October to January, Border Patrol released over 500,000 migrants with orders to appear in immigration courts. Migrant aid groups often manage to provide temporary shelter, but street releases are not unheard of. The San Diego transit station has also been the scene of large-scale releases last year.

San Diego has become one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings, with an average of 800 detentions per day in January. Many people come from West Africa and Asia. In that same month, there was a daily average of over 100 people from China.

Border aid groups were told by Border Patrol on Friday that there would be 350 street releases, said Pedro Ríos, director of the U.S.-Mexico border program for the American Friends Service Committee, an activist organization. The agency did not provide figures when requested.