When a busload of migrants arrived in downtown Los Angeles in mid-June, it caused a local stir: In a city with one of the largest immigrant populations in the country, it was the first bus to arrive courtesy of Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
This week, the 12th such bus arrived in Los Angeles, part of the Texas governor’s determination to share responsibility for caring for newly arrived migrants with Democratic politicians who have backed a nationwide immigration policy more welcoming.
Since last year, the Governor of Texas and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida have offered migrants free rides from border towns to New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and several other cities. Arrivals have overwhelmed some towns, straining shelters and humanitarian resources.
“It’s abhorrent for an elected American to use human beings as pawns in his cheap political games,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said of the bus ride scheme in June.
But the reality is that the number of migrants enjoying free passage from Texas over the past year is only a fraction of those who regularly make their way from the southern border to cities across the country — to places where there are jobs, family ties and social networks. other immigrants from their country of origin. And it’s been that way for years.
Demographers estimate that of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in all 50 states today, most began their new lives with a trip from a border town or airport – usually paid for by a relative, a humanitarian group or their own savings. not the governor of Texas.
What was Abbott’s plan?
Intending to highlight the large number of people crossing the border in recent years, which he blames on the Biden administration’s immigration policies, Mr Abbott has devised a plan to approach migrants after they have been treated by border authorities and offer them free travel on charter flights. the buses.
“I’m going to bring the border all the way to President Biden,” he told a press conference after presenting his plan in April 2022.
Many migrants are grateful for the free transportation, as they often have little money left by the time they complete a month-long trip to the US-Mexico border.
Lever Alejos, a Venezuelan who arrived in Washington, DC, last July, said, “I feel lucky that the governor put me on a bus to Washington. He found work and started sending money and gifts to his young son back home. He recently bought a car.
Does everyone take the buses?
No. In fact, migrants boarding Texas-funded buses represent only a fraction of the thousands arriving at the border each month, and some migrants are reluctant to accept a free ride.
Texas’ bus program has sent about 34,740 migrants to other states since April 2022, enough to populate a small town. But this is only a paltry subset of the hundreds of thousands of people who crossed the border during this period, most of whom likely also made their way to destinations outside of Texas.
New York alone received more than 100,000 migrants last year; only 13,100 were sent on buses provided by the state of Texas.
Additionally, many migrants cross the border every day in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and even parts of Texas where no free bus service is available. After being released by border officials, they usually arrange their own travel to their US destinations.
Thousands of immigrants take Greyhound buses from Tucson, San Diego and San Antonio each year, and some of them take commercial flights, which they can board provided they have proper identification. They pay for the transport themselves, or relatives or friends already present in the country buy tickets for them. In some cases, charity groups or volunteers offer money or mileage vouchers for migrant travel.
So why is there such sudden pressure on resources in some cities?
Migrants arriving on the free buses tend to be more needy than others. This reflects a change in the composition of migrants who have crossed the border over the past two years. A large proportion of Texas bus passengers are Venezuelans fleeing economic hardship and political unrest.
Unlike Mexicans and Central Americans who have been migrating to the United States for decades, Venezuelans are unlikely to have friends or family members to welcome them because their wave of migration is a new phenomenon.
Without money and without family, Venezuelans have overwhelmed nonprofit organizations and volunteer groups since the spring of last year. Because they have no connection to the United States, Venezuelans are also more likely to want to go to a big city, like New York, where they hope to find work and help.
Venezuelans make up the majority of migrants residing in homeless shelters in New York. They continue to arrive, although their numbers have decreased in recent months.
The large number of Haitians who have arrived recently has also proven challenging for some cities, as many of them also arrive with few resources of their own.
The cities of New York and Massachusetts are particularly affected by the influx of migrants because they have right to housing laws requiring the provision of shelter to those who request it, although in Massachusetts this law only applies to families with children and pregnant women.
Why do some migrants stay in homeless shelters for months?
Most migrants crossing the border seek asylum in the United States, but they can only apply for a work permit about six months after filing a protection claim. The large number of applications has also created a backlog.
Without a work permit, it is difficult to get a job. Some migrants find employment in the informal economy or are paid cash to perform manual labor. But even then, it takes time for them to save enough money to rent a home, and landlords often demand proof of income and other documents they don’t have.
What other aids do migrants receive?
Families can receive food, medical care and other aid, depending on the state. Children, regardless of their immigration status, have the right to enroll in public schools anywhere.
For New York alone, the cost of helping migrants is in the billions of dollars. The financial burden imposed by the newcomers prompted leaders in New York, Illinois and Massachusetts to declare states of emergency, urging the federal government to provide resources.