First Washington, D.C., then New York City. Now Chicago.
Officials from Texas and Arizona have been sending busloads of asylum seekers to those cities to the east for months. On Wednesday, Chicago joined New York and Washington when the first busloads of migrants from Texas arrived there.
“President Biden’s inaction at our southern border continues putting the lives of Texans — and Americans — at risk and is overwhelming our communities,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement late Wednesday. “To continue providing much-needed relief to our small, overrun border towns, Chicago will join fellow sanctuary cities Washington, D.C. and New York City as an additional drop-off location.”
In a statement, Ryan Johnson, spokesman for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said Abbott is “without shame or humanity” for busing in asylum-seekers but welcomed the migrants. “As a city, we are doing everything we can to ensure these immigrants and their families can receive shelter, food and most importantly protection,” it said.
The migrant families don’t always have contacts in the cities and wind up sleeping in bus stations, park benches, homeless shelters and hotels, according to immigrant advocates. Their numbers – from Venezuela, Colombia, Africa and elsewhere – are rising at such alarming rates that Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser last month requested a National Guard deployment to help receive them.
The Pentagon denied the request but Bowser’s appeal for help underscores the growing tension of what many call a political battle between clashing parties: Republican governors from Texas and Arizona busing asylum-seekers from the U.S.-Mexico border to Democrat-led cities.
The busing efforts also reveal a disconnect in how states describe their intention: State governors say the destination cities are targeted because of their “sanctuary city” policies, while also saying the bus rides are voluntary and migrants choose where they want to go.
Advocates say this is sowing uncertainty and raises concerns that states are disrupting the asylum process.
“It’s creating unnecessary confusion and leaving the asylum-seekers in a really vulnerable place,” said Kennji Kizuka, associate director for research & analysis for refugee protection at New York-based Human Rights First. “And it’s all for political show.”
More:End of Trump-era policy rejoiced by advocates, but here’s why the border is still clogged
Nearly 11,000 migrants have been bused from both states to New York and Washington, according to the governor’s offices of each state. Texas has shipped over 7,500 to Washington and more than 1,800 to New York City since April. Arizona has bused more than 1,500 just to Washington.
Two buses filled with around 60 asylum-seekers, mostly from Venezuela, arrived in Chicago late Wednesday.
Those arriving in New York from Texas have been overwhelmingly Venezuelan, though many Colombians and some Africans are also arriving, said Camille Mackler,founder and executive director of the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative, a New York-based coalition of attorneys and legal groups, who has interacted with the migrants.
Those taking the 40-hour bus ride from Yuma, Arizona, to Washington have been from Colombia (55%), Peru (16%) and Venezuela (13%), as well as Cuba and other countries, said C.J. Karamargin, spokesman to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
Yes – if migrants are taking the bus rides voluntarily, said Denise Gilman, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. The migrants from Texas have arrived in the Northeast cities with signed releases stating they are, in fact, agreeing to the rides.
But Gilman said some of the asylum-seekers may have been directed to sign and take the bus or may not have understood what they were getting into. Texas officials have not revealed exactly how the migrants end up on the buses, she said.
In a statement, Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze said: “These migrants willingly chose to go to New York City or our nation’s capital, having signed a voluntary consent waiver available in multiple languages, upon boarding that they agreed on the destination. Migrants are allowed to disembark at any of these stops, as they have been processed and released by the federal government.”
In Arizona, when migrants cross between ports of entry and are picked up by Border Patrol, they’re processed by the federal agency, then released to a nongovernmental organization in Yuma, where they’re offered bus rides, Karamargin said. Most of the migrants want to go to either New York, New Jersey, or Florida – but all are bused to Washington, he said.
“Washington is the source of this problem,” Karamargin said. “That’s where we’re taking these migrants.”
The bus rides call into question the states’ role in immigration enforcement and processing – a task assigned to the federal government under the U.S. Constitution and something for which Texas has been repeatedly criticized since launching Operation Lone Star last year, Gilman said.
Under that operation, Abbott deployed hundreds of National Guardsmen and state troopers to the border to arrest migrants who slip past Border Patrol. Critics have complained that it’s led to racial profiling and other civil rights violations.
The Texas bus rides are an extension of that operation, Gilman said. “We need the federal government, who should have control over immigration, to re-exert its control,” she said.
Abbott has criticized first President Joe Biden for what he calls lax border policies, then New York City Mayor Eric Adams for claiming that New York was a “sanctuary city” where migrants should feel safe.
On Wednesday, he took aim at Lightfoot.
“Mayor Lightfoot loves to tout the responsibility of her city to welcome all regardless of legal status, and I look forward to seeing this responsibility in action as these migrants receive resources from a sanctuary city with the capacity to serve them,” he said in a statement.
In Arizona, busing migrants from Yuma to Washington spares the small border community from dealing with a steady crush of migrants released from federal custody but also sends a message to the White House, Karamargin said.
“It is partially a statement,” he said. “Arizona will not stand by and do nothing while a border security and humanitarian crisis plays out in our community.”
Texas’s migrant busing program has cost $12 million since it began, or an average of about $1,300 per person per ride to the East Coast destinations, according to the El Paso Times.
Arizona has paid more than $3.5 million to take 1,574 asylum-seekers on 43 bus rides so far, according to Ducey’s office. That comes out to about $2,200 per person per ride.
State taxpayers foot the bills.
Immigrant advocates and attorneys said it’s hard to tell because of the lack of information so far arising about how the migrants get to the buses.
Karamargin said the migrants leaving from Yuma have agreed to be bused to Washington and will likely have an immigration court date in their final destination, whether it’s Washington, New York, or some other place.
But Abel Nuñez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, which has provided services to the migrants, said around 10% of the migrants arriving in Washington don’t have any contact in the U.S. Some of the addresses on their paperwork were scribbled in by Border Patrol agents.
Nuñez said some of the migrants didn’t want to be in Washington and his organization coordinated transportation for them back to Texas. As a whole, Arizona buses have been better coordinated than the Texas ones, which often arrive with little or no notice, he said.
“If Texas wants to continue doing (bus rides) in a coordinated way, it’s a win-win,” Nuñez said. “But the way they’re approaching it is really detrimental.”
Most of the migrants he’s dealt with have been paroled into the United States, meaning they usually have 90 days to apply for asylum and need to check in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at their final destination, he said. But the destination listed on their paperwork is often not Washington, creating a hurdle for the asylum-seeker, Nuñez said.
Many of the migrants bused to New York City from Texas also didn’t know anyone there and were forced to navigate the city and the complex immigration procedure on their own, Mackler said.
Those without a place to go were taken to city homeless shelters but some promptly left and ended up on park benches, she said. Others were continuing to Chicago, Georgia and other destinations. Without a good address for them, immigration officials will have a tough time tracking them and they may miss court appearances or mandatory check-ins, Mackler said.
And with New York’s immigration backlog, it often takes more than 1½ years for qualifying asylum seekers to receive permission to work, she said.
“They arrive here and they have no place to go,” Mackler said. “They have no phones, no access to the internet, don’t speak English. We really don’t know how this is going to play out.”
Nuñez said Abbott’s plan could backfire: He expects the number of migrants crossing into Texas to grow.
“Everybody in Venezuela now knows: If you cross in Texas, you get a free bus ride.”
Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.
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