GOP governors are wreaking havoc by bringing migrants to the east coast

WASHINGTON — Lever Alejos was short of money and options when he arrived in south Texas last month after an arduous journey from Venezuela that culminated in him crossing the Rio Grande chin-to-chin in water. The Border Patrol quickly arrested him and upon his release he was offered a choice: a $50 bus ride to San Antonio or a free bus ride to Washington, DC paid for by the state of Texas.

“I wanted San Antonio but I had run out of money,” said Mr. Alejos, 28, who has no family in the United States. “I got on the bus to Washington.”

A few days later, he arrived in the country’s capital amid a busload of weary migrants. He spent the first night in the plaza across from Union Station but eventually found a bed at Central Union Mission, where he hopes to stay until he can apply for asylum, get a work permit and find a job – a process that can take months could.

A political tactic by the governors of Texas and Arizona to relieve problems caused by record migration at the border is beginning to have an impact in Washington, as hundreds of undocumented migrants who arrive each week on the governors’ free bus rides smother the capital increasingly straining ability to provide emergency food and shelter.

With no money and no family to take them in, the migrants overwhelm nonprofits and other volunteer groups, many of whom end up in homeless shelters or on park benches. Five buses arrived on a recent day, dumping young men and families with nowhere to go onto the streets near the Capitol.

Since April, Texas has brought more than 6,200 migrants to the nation’s capital, and Arizona has sent another 1,000 since May. The influx has prompted Muriel E. Bowser, Washington’s Democratic Mayor, to ask the Department of Defense to send in the National Guard. The request has infuriated organizations that have been helping the migrants without city support.

A large majority of the youngest bus drivers are Venezuelans fleeing their troubled country, and many have also arrived in New York, often via Washington. New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday emergency measures to allow the city to quickly build additional housing capacity. The mayor, also a Democrat, said the city has taken in 4,000 asylum seekers since May, leading to a 10 percent growth in the homeless population, with about 100 new arrivals a day.

Venezuelans have been turning up daily at the offices of Catholic charities in the Archdiocese of New York, seeking help. “Their main concern was a place to live and feed their children,” said Maryann Tharappel, who heads the organization’s immigration and refugee services.

“The infrastructure in New York is not designed for this,” she said. “We’re not at the border.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, blame President Biden for record numbers of migrants crossing the southern border.

Cities along the border in Texas and Arizona were at times overwhelmed by a wave of unauthorized border crossings, peaking under the Biden administration, which was attempting to lift some of the tough border restrictions imposed by former President Donald J. Trump.

While thousands of migrants were swiftly expelled under a pandemic-related health order known as Title 42, thousands of others are being allowed into the country to apply for asylum because they cannot be returned to Mexico or their own countries.

State officials in Texas and Arizona have welcomed many of the migrants after their release from US Border Patrol detention, offering them free bus rides to Washington in a bid to force the federal government to take responsibility for what they say is a failed immigration system.

After reaching their destination, migrants can remain in the country for months or even years while fighting their deportation cases in court; they are allowed to work while applying for asylum.

The situation has worsened in recent weeks with the arrival of so many Venezuelans who cannot be deported under Title 42 because Mexico will not take them and their own government has no agreement with the United States to accept deportation flights. And unlike most migrants from Mexico and Central America who have family and friends in the United States, Venezuelans often end up with no money and nowhere.

Border Patrol encountered 110,467 Venezuelans along the southern border in the first nine months of this fiscal year, compared to 47,408 for all of fiscal 2021. Overall, unauthorized crossings have declined with the arrival of hot summer temperatures.

The situation has sparked accusations with East Coast Democratic mayors in recent weeks. In the final salvo, Mr. Abbott on Monday sent a letter to the mayors, Mr. Adams and Ms. Bowser, inviting them to inspect the “grim situation” at the border with Mexico.

“Your recent interest in this historic and preventable crisis is a welcome development — particularly as the President and his administration have shown no remorse for their actions, nor a desire to address the situation themselves,” Mr. Abbott wrote.

Fabien Levy, the New York City Mayor’s press secretary, had the following statement: “Instead of a photo op at the border, we hope that Governor Abbott will focus his energies and resources on assisting and providing resources to asylum seekers in Texas in a way we have struggled to do have jobs in New York City.”

The Texas governor and mayors agree on one thing: All three call on the federal government to act.

“The refugee crisis facing our city and country at the hands of cruel political shenanigans by the governors of Texas and Arizona must be addressed at the federal level,” Ms. Bowser wrote in a letter to White House officials.

Requesting a processing center at the DC Armory and activation of the National Guard, she said the number of migrants had reached a “tipping point” that had “overwhelmed” the district’s ability to handle them.

Ms Bowser’s request has been slammed by immigrant advocates who say it ignored repeated requests for shelters, a recovery center and rapid coronavirus tests for the migrants, among other things.

“The last thing we want is a militarized response to a humanitarian crisis,” said Andrea Scherff, a core organizer of the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a coalition of grassroots groups.

Noting that Washington is a haven for immigrants, she said, “We should meet the housing needs of everyone.”

The Biden administration said it has been in contact with Mayor Bowser, but White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said governors are using the migrants as a “political tool” for their own purposes.

“There is a process for dealing with migrants at the border. It’s not,” she said, adding that the administration continues to expel some migrants, detain others and release those who are entitled to care for local charities “while they await processing.”

About 15 faith and community groups in Washington have opened their doors to the migrants, providing them with meals, showers and toiletries throughout the day. But the increase in bus frequency from two to four a day to now sometimes eight has drained donations and exceeded capacity, and many volunteers have contracted Covid-19, Ms Scherff said.

“The mayors have played into the hands of Republican governors,” said Adam Isacson, a Washington Bureau Latin America scholar who studies the border.

“Of course they make noise about migrant arrivals because those who need housing are burdening their cities’ social services,” he said. But “the tenor of their comments,” he said, gives governors ammunition to press for a crackdown on immigration, including measures like building border walls and abolishing asylum.

On a recent night, migrants who climbed out of three buses were greeted by volunteers and staff from SAMU First Response, an international aid organization that has received some funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and began operating in Washington in late June.

They were given water, pizza and granola bars, and some were given onward travel tickets. By 1 a.m., most had settled on the marble floor of Union Station’s East Hall for the night. Others from previous buses had to sleep on the street. It created an unusual tableau: homeless Americans on one side of the square; on the other side migrants with their scanty belongings spread out on the floor – all within sight of the Capitol.

Tatiana Laborde, executive director of SAMU, said her organization has enough money to buy tickets to other destinations for about a third of the migrants it provides services to. The group’s shelter in Montgomery County, Maryland, cannot provide long-term housing, she said.

Ten members of the city council sent a letter to Washington’s mayor, urging her not only to seek federal assistance but also to release emergency funds and hire staff to help migrants, as well as provide Covid testing, isolation hotels and other resources.

“This is a crisis created by Republican leaders in other states, but unfortunately it has fallen to the mayor to put resources on the ground,” said Brianne Nadeau, the councilor who prepared the letter.

Many Venezuelans have said they made the trip to the United States because they believed the country’s doors were open.

“On TikTok, we saw people enter the United States easily,” said Yennifer Ortiz, who made the trip with her partner Luis Moreno and their 5-year-old daughter Sofia.

Their journey to the United States took 45 days, including nine days to traverse the dangerous jungle on the Colombia-Panama border known as the Darién Gap, Mr Moreno said.

By the time they reached Texas, they were out of money and excited to hop on a free bus to Washington. “They told us that there would be people here who would welcome us and help us,” Ms. Ortiz said.

When their bus pulled in around 8am the other day, they were escorted by volunteers to a recreation center run by a church, where they had been bathed and given a change of clothes. They spent their first night on park benches and have been bouncing around among American homes ever since, they said.

Juan Rojas, 22, said when he and a friend arrived in Washington, they were sent to an urban asylum housing mostly Americans, where they did not feel welcome.

“The boys were yelling at us and we didn’t understand a word,” he said. “It was clear they didn’t want us there.” The couple left after two nights and slept on the street for a week, he said.

In recent days, Mr Rojas said, they have been accommodated by a “woman who helps migrants” some nights and in hotels organized by volunteers other nights. He said he hasn’t given up on America after his odyssey.

But he wasn’t optimistic. “In Texas, they told us that we would get help here with housing, jobs and anything else we needed,” he said. “It was all a lie.”

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