Migrants from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba arrived in Washington on Wednesday after Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, promised to send them to the nation's capital after they cleared their federal immigration inspection at the border.
His office said this was "part of Governor Abbott's response to the Biden administration's decision to end Title 42 expulsions," referring to the pandemic-era emergency health order that allowed immigration authorities to quickly expel migrants at the border, even those seeking asylum.
The bus departed Tuesday from Del Rio, Texas, and was expected to drop about 35 migrants off at the U.S. Capitol. According to reports, the first bus arrived a few blocks away.
"By busing migrants to Washington, D.C., the Biden administration will be able to more immediately meet the needs of the people they are allowing to cross our border. Texas should not have to bear the burden of the Biden administration's failure to secure our border," the governor told reporters during a press conference.
Governor Abbott is taking actions to move migrants without adequately coordinating with the federal government and local border communities," U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a statement Thursday. “We all have a shared interest in maintaining safe, orderly, and humane immigration processes, and assistance from the state should be carefully coordinated with us.”
After the announcement, the governor's office clarified to reporters that the program was completely voluntary and that migrants traveled to Washington only after CPB had legally processed them at the U.S.-Mexico border.
According to media reports, some migrants planned to travel to other U.S. cities. But regardless of their final destination, they are obligated to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to continue the immigration process.
The Texas governor said he also planned to charter flights to transport more migrants to the nation's capital.
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."
Title 42 at the border
For more than a year, the Biden administration kept in place at the U.S. southern border a Trump-era policy that allowed the United States to quickly expel migrants to their countries of origin or Mexican border towns.
On April 1, the administration announced the policy would end May 23, giving U.S. officials time to prepare for what they expect will be an increase in migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border.
According to CBP data, Title 42 has been used in most of the estimated 2 million expulsions of migrants from Brazil, Central America, Haiti, Mexico and Colombia since March 2020, when the pandemic was declared. Other asylum-seekers from South America have also been blocked at ports of entry under the policy.
In February, U.S. border officials registered 164,973 migrant encounters. Of those, 91,513 were expelled. The remaining might have been detained, allowed to seek asylum or paroled.
In February 2021, CBP recorded 101,099 migrant encounters. In February 2020, just before Title 42, encounters numbered 36,687. In 2019, the year before the pandemic started, February encounters totaled 76,545.
Luis Miranda, a CBP spokesperson, recently told VOA that officials would "simply go back to processing any encounters across the border the way we always have under Title 8, which is the immigration authority that has always been in place throughout the history of U.S. Customs and Border Protection."
He added: "Ultimately, if someone is trying to come in without legal authorization and doesn't have the legal basis to stay, they will be placed in removal proceedings."
Last week, Abbott announced two new border policies of his own, including sending migrants, after processing by immigration officers, to Washington and improving state inspections of vehicles crossing into Texas from Mexico.
Abbott said the extra inspections are necessary to crack down on the smuggling of migrants and illegal drugs into the country.
Truckers block border
One of the busiest ports along the U.S.-Mexico border was effectively closed Wednesday when Mexican truckers blocked the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge in protest of Abbott's extra inspections of commercial trucks, which caused delays at the border.
Since Monday, state troopers have been stopping and inspecting all trucks coming into Texas.
The White House has called the enhanced inspections "unnecessary and redundant," adding that they are causing significant disruptions to the food and automobile supply chains, delaying manufacturing, impacting jobs and raising prices for families in Texas and across the country.
"Trucks are facing lengthy delays exceeding five hours at some border crossings and commercial traffic has dropped by as much as 60%. The continuous flow of legitimate trade and travel and CBP's ability to do its job should not be obstructed. Governor Abbott's actions are impacting people's jobs, and the livelihoods of hardworking American families," Psaki said in a statement.
Representative John Katko of New York, the Republican leader on the House Committee on Homeland Security, told Fox News Digital that Abbott's move was "reflective of a deep and ongoing frustration with the Biden administration's handling of the border."