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Grappling with Migration at the Local Level

Artikel vom 12.01.2024

Foto: Julia Wisswesser

My First Großer Konvent: About the Challenges of Migration at the Local Level. A blog by Rocío Guenther.


As the third fellow in Residence for the Schader Foundation, I was invited to lead a Dialog-Café for this year’s Großer Konvent (Main Convention), which centered on the theme “Welcome to my Reality.” Given the fact that this is the foundation’s signature annual event, which brings together the foundation’s partners and experts in the social sciences to engage in dialogue about our most pressing challenges, I was nervous but excited to take part in such a prestigious occasion.

In addition to collaborating with the Schader team as part of my residence, I am also a German Chancellor Fellow with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. This program, under the patronage of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, affords me the opportunity to spend time in the City of Science Darmstadt on a self-directed project.

My research focus is on local government response to the influx of migration. I aim to learn how Darmstadt is handling integration of migrants and refugees but also how the European Union tries to collaborate on solutions. I will compare my learnings to the current situation unfolding at the U.S.-Mexico border, and in particular, how the City of San Antonio, Texas is handling the increased arrival of asylum seekers. Darmstadt and San Antonio share a sister city relationship, forged back in 2017.

Main Convention

The Große Konvent provided me with an opportunity to bring relevant topics to light, gain new perspectives, and engage in conversations meant to build a bridge between dialogue and practice. Global migration has local impacts and both Darmstadt and San Antonio have a story to tell. In many cases, cities remain at the forefront of early response to arrivals and it is local governments who bear the brunt of growing financial costs and tackle long-term issues regarding cultural integration into society.

Therefore, I accepted the proposal to lead a session for the Große Konvent titled “Welcoming Migration - The Compassionate City.” My past experience working as a journalist, in addition to various roles within local government in San Antonio, has provided me with a unique insight as it relates to the city’s compassionate approach to receiving asylum seekers and refugees.


Attendees of the café learned of the present surge of around 600-700 daily migrant arrivals in San Antonio and the creation of a “Migrant Resource Center” as a central point of coordination for city officials and nonprofit partners. While the city has pledged to welcome migrants and provide basic services, the state’s approach has been starkly opposite. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has militarized the border by deploying the national guard, building barbed wire fences, and placing buoys with nets and circular saws on the Rio Grande to discourage crossings.

Meanwhile, the politicization of fear and blame has the federal government, states, and cities arguing about funding mechanisms to continue providing basic services to migrants. While cities like New York are popular destinations for migrants since they are required by law to offer shelter, San Antonio is more of a transit hub where individuals connect to additional destinations. According to San Antonio Assistant City Manager María Villagómez, providing a welcoming environment while prioritizing public safety is the utmost priority.

“The way we manage is that we don’t turn anybody away even if we are overwhelmed,” Villagómez said in an interview before the Große Konvent. “From my position, as an administrator of the city, our main goal is public safety. Our response to the influx of migrants that we have experienced is to make sure both our residents, those visiting San Antonio, and the migrants themselves are safe.”

Transatlantic questions

By sharing San Antonio’s story, I was able to connect with guests on a very timely issue that has taken center stage in Germany’s current political discourse. Attendees at the Dialogue-café were able to ask questions and share their own insights about the German government’s response to migrants and refugees arriving in Europe and Darmstadt’s role as a city entity. Just like U.S. cities, German cities and regional leaders are also requesting additional funding at the federal level to handle migration flows.

Some questions posed to attendees included: What can the welcoming culture of cities and municipalities provide when dealing with the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers? What tools are cities developing to enable inclusion and societal cohesion? What can San Antonio and other U.S. cities learn from Germany’s migration and asylum system as well as integration policies?   

Of particular interest to me was learning about Germany’s distribution system of asylum seekers and refugees through the so-called “Königstein Key,” which places individuals across the country in different German states based on state tax revenues and population numbers. This quota system, meant for fair distribution, is something that does not exist in the United States. It makes me wonder, would the creation of a quota system like the one in Germany help ease the funding strain of popular U.S. migrant destination cities which are grappling with higher arrival numbers?

More questions than answers

For now there are more questions than answers. But what is clear to me is that all cities face many of the same issues and that global challenges have a local impact. It is important that we strengthen bilateral collaboration between countries on common challenges. City-to-city relationships can be the building blocks for the meaningful exchange of ideas. Most importantly, cooperation between countries and cities can lead to the sharing of best practices – as well as learning from worst praitices.

The Dialog-Café was a great opportunity for me to build bridges of understanding and learn more about the current reality of my research topic in Germany. Concurrently, attendees at my talk gained insight about on-the-ground approaches that U.S. cities are spearheading amidst the ebb and flow of migration at the border.

In 2024, as part of my Schader Residence, I’ll be hosting some table talks - Tischgespräche - around migration, journalism, and other relevant topics meant to promote more bridge-building and in support of the Darmstadt-San Antonio relationship. I hope to gain additional insight through dialogue and hear from expert voices to broaden my own perspectives.

As we work to meet the myriad challenges in our modern world - one which is more interconnected than ever - greater dialogue is needed between academia, civil society, and political leaders. These partnerships and conversations can provide opportunities to undertake shared challenges together by developing common solutions and new ideas to solve complex problems.


Text: Rocío Guenther, Schader-Fellow in Residence


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