SAN DIEGO (AP) — Hundreds of migrants were dropped off Friday at a San Diego bus stop instead of a reception center that had been serving as a waiting area because it ran out of local funding earlier than expected, causing shows how even the largest city on the country’s southern border is struggling to cope with the unprecedented influx of people.

Migrants who once had a safe place to charge phones, use the bathroom, eat and make travel arrangements to other parts of the United States were now left on the streets as migrant aid groups rushed to help as best they could with arrangements. improvised.

Border Patrol buses carrying migrants from Senegal, China, Ecuador, Rwanda and many other countries arrived in front of a transit center. Immigrant aid groups said they would take them by bus to a parking lot where they could charge their phones and take them to the airport. The vast majority planned to spend only a few hours in San Diego before catching a flight or having someone pick them up.

“Are we in San Diego?” asked Gabriel Guzmán, 30, a painter from the Dominican Republic who was freed after crossing the border in remote mountains on Thursday. He was told to appear in June in immigration court in Boston, where he hopes to win money to send home to his three children.

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

“I have dreamed a lot about this (moment) and thank God I am here,” Boudeah, 23, said in perfect 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.

“Let’s cross the street together and get in line,” said one volunteer into his phone, who then translated it into Hindi for a group of Indian men.

“Tired of the road,” Alikan Rdiyer, 31, from Kazakhstan, said in Russian as he waited for instructions to give to a friend in Los Angeles who was going to pick him up. The Border Patrol gave him a notice to appear in immigration court in August 2025 in Philadelphia, a city he had not heard of.

The transit center parking lot was full of cars, giving migrants nowhere to stand, and there were no public bathrooms. A taxi driver offered a ride to San Diego International Airport for $100, double what ride-sharing apps charged. Some migrants scattered into the neighborhood when volunteers were unable to reach them and instruct them to wait on the sidewalk.

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

San Diego is one of many local governments that have struggled to help migrants without sacrificing key services, including New York, Chicago and Denver. Like other border cities, migrants tend to stay in San Diego less than a day before leaving, but large shelters operated by Jewish Family Service and Catholic Charities have been full for months, prioritizing families.

Nora Vargas, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, strongly supported the immigrant welcome center but said the county has had to pause spending while it assesses damage from catastrophic January floods and addresses homelessness and lack of medical care among its residents. “We have to be financially prudent about it,” he said.

SBCS, which has come under heavy criticism from some immigrant advocacy groups, told the county its services cost $1.4 million a month, said spokeswoman Margie Newman Tsay. The county asked that he aim for $1 million.

“It’s not that the funds were exhausted early, but that they were stretched to the limit,” Newman Tsay said.

Aid groups have provided critical support to the new arrivals, prompting criticism from some quarters. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton threatened this week to sue and shut down Annunciation House, a decades-old organization that houses immigrants in El Paso. Paxton said the group could be “facilitating illegal entry into the United States.”

Rubén García, director of the House of the Annunciation, gathered his supporters at a press conference on Friday to denounce Paxton’s tactics. “It is a full warning to other entities that also do hospitality work that they could very well be next,” he stated.

SBCS said it had served 81,000 immigrants in San Diego since Oct. 11. A report to the county showed it spent $750,000 on staff through Dec. 24 and $152,000 on operating expenses, including lodging, 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 helps with street releases.

Vargas, who wrote to President Joe Biden last week asking for support, defended SBCS’s performance and highlighted its previous work housing unaccompanied migrant children at the San Diego Convention Center in 2019.

“No one is perfect, especially when it comes to filling a void in the federal government,” Vargas said, echoing a common sentiment among big-city mayors.

Customs and Border Protection said in a statement Friday that the street releases were “the latest example of the pressing need for Congress to provide additional resources and take legislative action to fix our outdated immigration laws.”

From October to January, the Border Patrol released more than 500,000 immigrants with orders to appear in immigration court. Immigrant aid groups can usually provide temporary shelter, but releases to the streets are not unheard of. The San Diego transit center was also the site of large-scale releases last year.

San Diego has become one of the busiest corridors for illegal crossings, averaging 800 arrests a day in January. Many are from West Africa and Asia, with a daily average of more than 100 from China in January.

The Border Patrol told migrant aid groups to expect the release of 350 people on the streets on Friday, said Pedro Ríos, director of the U.S.-Mexico border program at the American Friends Service Committee. The agency did not provide numbers when asked.


Associated Press writer Valerie González in McAllen, Texas, contributed.

By Sam