WASHINGTON — Governor Greg Abbott of Texas this month devised a plan to shake up the Biden administration by busing migrants from the southwest border to the nation’s capital during a period of record crossings.
So far, however, the plan has not resulted in the chaos Mr Abbott predicted.
“I would like to thank the governor of Texas,” Chadrack Mboyo-Bola, 26, said Thursday morning after he and 13 other migrants got off one of the chartered buses that had provided a 33-hour ride paid for by the state. State of Texas. A few blocks from the United States Capitol, they were met by volunteers who helped them reach their desired destinations across the country to await their day in immigration court.
Three days earlier, Mr. Mboyo-Bola and his family had crossed into the United States from Mexico along the central Texas border after an eight-week journey from Brazil. After spending a day in Border Patrol custody at Eagle Pass, Texas, they and about 20 other new immigrants accepted an offer to board a Washington-bound bus in nearby Del Rio.
Mr Abbott says his aim is to draw attention to what he and other Republicans describe as the failure of President Biden’s immigration policies during a period of record crossings along the southwestern border .
“The decision and action to bus residents of border communities was intended to ease pressure on local communities along the border,” the governor said at a press conference on Thursday. “I’m going to take the border with President Biden.”
Mr Abbott’s plan, however, is part of the Biden administration’s strategy to respond to increased migrant smuggling, which authorities say will rise sharply once a public health rule is imposed during the coronavirus pandemic will be lifted at the end of May. The Biden plan includes working with state and local governments and nonprofits to provide support, assistance and transportation to move migrants out of border communities and to their final destinations in a humane and orderly manner.
“In a way, it’s actually perfect,” said Bilal Askaryar, spokesperson for Welcome With Dignity, a collective of around 100 local and national groups that help migrants. “Unwittingly, Governor Abbott sent them to one of the best places in the country to welcome people.”
In truth, the migrants Texas sends to Washington come voluntarily and represent only a fraction of the thousands who cross the border daily. As of Monday, Mr. Abbott had sent about 195 migrants who have volunteered for the trip to Washington since the first bus arrived on April 13, although more are on the way. Mr. Mboyo-Bola’s bus was the eighth from Texas; on Friday, two more had arrived. The Texas Division of Emergency Management chartered the buses, according to Mr. Abbott’s office.
Abel Nuñez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that helps immigrants find legal help and housing, said the grassroots volunteer effort wouldn’t be enough if Washington was becoming a relay for many others. migrants coming straight from the border. Without help, new immigrants would be left in an unfamiliar town and might not have the means or the know-how to reach their final destination, instead they might have to camp in the streets or train stations roads.
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For now, however, the numbers remain modest. As the migrants who arrived on Thursday met volunteers at a cafe owned by a nearby church, eight others waited at a respite center in Del Rio, Texas – a small town that made national headlines when thousands of migrants huddled in squalid conditions under a bridge last fall — to board another free bus.
“I am very grateful to the governor. His help is welcome,” said Reydel Grau, a Cuban who traveled three weeks to reach the United States. With holes in his pockets and little left of the $1,300 he had saved for his trip, he said the word “free” was music to his ears.
Mr. Grau pointed his cellphone camera during a FaceTime call at a towering charter bus behind him and marveled at its size. “It looks like an airplane,” he said, beaming.
Santo Linarte López, a migrant from Nicaragua, had just $45 left of the $1,500 he collected for his month-long trip to the US border. He said he did not understand why Mr Abbott was paying for him to travel north, but was grateful.
“Imagine how much it would cost to get from here to there,” he said, referring to North Carolina, where he planned to meet a relative.
Hundreds of migrants arrive each day at the Del Rio Respite Center, which is run by the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition and provides meals, free Wi-Fi, access to landlines and charging stations, and tips on how to reach destinations in the United States.
Most migrants who travel to the center, including most who were there on Thursday morning, buy their own bus tickets, often to San Antonio, where they connect to transport to their final destination .
The free buses also dropped off some of the migrants in Republican-leaning states along the way, including Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina.
When Mr. Abbott announced his plan, Mr. Askaryar said, defenders in Texas and Washington quickly rallied. The call for volunteers came from organizations large and small, through church groups and neighborhood mailing lists.
A WhatsApp group, whose members include a representative from the Washington mayor’s office, shares information about buses and estimated arrival times in Washington. The Texas governor’s office usually does not reveal when the buses leave or from where, and there is no advance notice of where migrants will be dropped off.
“There are all these defenders here who understand the system and understand the needs,” Askaryar said. “It may not have been the governor’s intention – I think he clearly wanted to create some kind of chaos – but the reality is that we are really well prepared and really excited to welcome these people.”
Mr. Abbott, a two-term Republican who is up for re-election in November, has frequently bristled at the federal government’s sole authority on immigration, turning to initiatives such as busing and arresting migrants for offense of intrusion in an attempt to gain some control over the application. A recent effort to inspect all commercial vehicles crossing the state backfired when it led to numerous border traffic jams, some lasting up to 2 p.m.
The White House has not directly responded to Mr Abbott’s bus initiative except to call it a “kind” gesture.
“These are all migrants who have been processed by CBP and are free to travel,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said recently, referring to Customs and Border Protection. agency that oversees border operations. “So it’s good that the State of Texas is helping them get to their final destination.”
Republicans, as well as some Democratic lawmakers facing tough re-election races this fall, have lambasted the Biden administration for its plan to end the temporary immigration restriction policy, known as Title 42. Even with the policy still in place, crossings at the southwest border have hit record highs: recently around 8,800 a day on average, according to internal data.
Early Thursday, a dozen volunteers gathered outside Union Station in Washington, where they had a good view of where chartered buses typically drop off. Just after 7 a.m., a bus pulled up on Delaware Avenue.
As the migrants got off the bus, volunteers invited them to a pop-up center in the basement of the church-owned cafe a few blocks away. One man, Alberto Valdes Garcia, who said he was heading to Louisville, Kentucky, described the bus ride as “perfect”.
At the cafe, volunteers – some using translation apps on their phones – asked new arrivals what they needed, fed them, provided children’s clothes and toys, and helped sort their papers and plan the next leg of their journey.
The volunteers also provided basic information on US immigration law and stressed the importance of following government instructions – which for most migrants was to report to the services of the immigration and customs within 60 days.
The Central America Resource Center arranged and paid for a plane ticket for Mr. Valdes Garcia from Ronald Reagan National Airport on Thursday evening. Amy Fischer, who heard about the volunteer effort through her synagogue, took Mr. Valdes Garcia to a Quaker guesthouse on Capitol Hill where he was able to relax for a few hours and take a shower. She arranged for another volunteer to take her to the airport and escort her to her plane.
While most of those who arrived in Washington on Thursday had expected people to meet them at their final destination, Mr. Mboyo-Bola, originally from Congo, and his family did not. They were going to Portland, Maine, because he had read online that there were several shelters that could house immigrants; many Africans have settled in the area. Mr Mboyo-Bola’s government entry papers included the address of the family shelter in the city of Portland, which one of the volunteers called and learned there was no room for the family.
“If we send them there, they’ll just end up on the streets,” Nuñez said. “Our job is not just to push this issue to another city.”
Communities along the southwestern border have sometimes been overwhelmed when the government drops off groups of migrants who have nowhere to go at bus stations or elsewhere.
The volunteers eventually found an approved host family who agreed to host Mr. Mboyo-Bola, his wife and daughter in Washington for one night, while they tried to find a place for the family to go and receive support. On Friday, the Central American Resource Center had purchased bus tickets to Portland for them and other African migrants who arrived Thursday evening. The volunteers contacted Portland city officials, who said they should try to find them shelter when they arrive.
“We will continue to respond to the best of our abilities and try to give people at least some reassurance, instructions on what to do,” Nuñez said. “But in the end, they will have to make their own final decision.”
Eileen Sullivan reported from Washington, and Edgar Sandoval of Del Rio, Texas. J. David Goodman contributed reporting from Houston.