A novel Republican-led effort to protest the Biden administration’s handling of record-setting migration across the U.S.-Mexico border has resulted in thousands of asylum-seekers being bused to the nation’s capital, alarming aid groups and immigrant rights advocates.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott launched the program in April, chartering buses to send recently arrived migrants from the southern border to Washington.
He announced the initiative after the Biden administration said it would halt Title 42, the pandemic-era immigration policy that allows authorities to turn away migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Though the push to lift Title 42 was blocked by federal courts, Texas moved ahead and bused migrants to Washington.
Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey, also a Republican, followed Abbott’s lead and in May started busing migrants to the nation’s capital.
Three months into the program, local officials said more than 3,400 people have reached Washington by bus. Aid groups say they are overwhelmed.
Why is the Texas governor doing this?
According to Abbott, the policy was put into place to help local officials whose border communities are being overrun by asylum-seekers.
“We are sending them [undocumented immigrants] to the United States capital, where the Biden administration will be able to more immediately address the needs of the people that they are allowing to come across our border,” Abbott said during a news conference on April 6.
The Texas governor's office said the bus trips are voluntary and migrants are allowed to travel only if they have been processed and released by the Department of Homeland Security. Migrants have to show documents received from U.S. immigration officials to prove they have been processed.
Who pays for the buses?
According to Texas state records, it costs more than $1,400 per rider to bus undocumented immigrants to Washington.
KXAS-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth first reported that the busing costs totaled more than $1.6 million in April and May. The station obtained the information through an open-records request to the Texas Division of Emergency Management. The documents show that 1,154 passengers were transported during the first two months of the program.
Abbott announced an initiative to raise private funds to pay for the busing, but as of July 15, the state website shows the governor has raised $116,382. The KXAS investigation said Texas taxpayers may wind up paying the rest.
Where are migrants from?
Migrants from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana and Cuba have been bused to the nation's capital after they cleared their federal immigration inspections at the border, according to the Texas governor’s office and Washington aid groups.
How many buses have arrived?
Washington city officials estimate 100 buses have come so far. They usually arrive midweek, some in the middle of the night, after a three-day trip from Texas. Local media have reported that Washington’s council members have urged the local government to direct resources to help the migrants. But the continuing arrival of asylum-seekers has overwhelmed aid organizations, which rely on donations and federal grants.
Immigration advocates from the Central American Resource Center in Washington have been meeting migrants as they arrive. Washington is usually not their last stop. Yet, migrants often stay more than a day while waiting for family members or local nonprofits to help them continue to their final destinations, such as New York or Chicago.
Regardless of their final destinations, they are obligated to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office once they arrive to continue the immigration process.
Are migrants benefiting?
"In a way, it's actually perfect," Bilal Askaryar, a spokesman for Welcome With Dignity, told The New York Times. "Unintentionally, Governor Abbott sent them to one of the best places in the nation to welcome people.”
Vanessa Cardenas, deputy director of America’s Voice, agreed in a statement.
“Fortunately, here in Washington, D.C., a coalition of community organizations demonstrate the ‘American can do' attitude that we should embrace," Cardenas said. "They have welcomed those escaping violence and political persecution and have helped these asylum-seekers continue their journeys to reunite with their families. By putting refugees on buses to D.C., Abbott wanted to show chaos and distrust; instead, he is now seeing a community coming together to help those in need.”
What are critics saying?
Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the move a "publicity stunt," and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas called the busing politically motivated. Texas State Representative Matt Schaefer, a Republican, called it a "gimmick."
In Texas, Abbot is standing firm, tweeting on Friday, “Biden won’t come to the border so we continue to take the border to him. DC is seeing only a fraction of the crisis that Texas faces daily.”