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Why Los Angeles avoided the migrant crisis hitting New York

When the first bus of migrants from Texas arrived in Los Angeles in June, the Democratic leaders who run the city were surprised that it took so long for Republican governors to send the people their way.

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida had already chartered asylum-seeker flights to Sacramento and liberal areas like Martha’s Vineyard. Within a year, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas had already sent thousands of migrants to New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., on chartered buses.

Texas has since made Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city, a regular destination, sending a total of 13 buses carrying 522 people over the past three months. During the same period, thousands of other recent immigrants traveled to Southern California alone.

But unlike other major metropolitan areas — notably New York, where Mayor Eric Adams recently warned that the migrant crisis would “destroy” his city — Los Angeles leaders are not sounding the alarm.

Instead, the city quietly avoided the kind of emergency that strained shelters and prompted officials to beg for federal help in New York, Chicago and Massachusetts. Los Angeles officials are relieved to have avoided major problems so far, especially since their city has faced many other challenges lately, from a homeless emergency to a strike extended staffing in Hollywood.

“As a city near the border, we’re used to seeing people come here seeking refuge and shelter,” said Hugo Soto-Martinez, a city council member whose parents immigrated to Los Angeles from Mexico there. decades ago and worked as street vendors. “Luckily we have the infrastructure.”

Los Angeles homeless shelter officials report they have not seen a significant increase in the number of recent migrants seeking temporary housing. Immigrant aid groups say they have successfully developed an effective process to help migrants who arrive on buses sent from Texas, usually a few dozen at a time.

One of the main reasons California has avoided a crisis is that the state no longer attracts as many migrants as it did decades ago, when it was a favored destination for people moving to the United States. United. Beginning in the 1990s, the state’s high cost of living, coupled with a plethora of job opportunities in the Sun Belt and elsewhere in the country, led cross-border commuters to seek other destinations.

Although Los Angeles is home to the largest undocumented population in the United States, most have lived in the city for at least a decade.

Migrants arriving by bus from Texas represent just a small fraction of the more than 1,000 recent immigrants heading to the Los Angeles area each week to start a new life in California — a number that has remained steady for years.

Most of them initially stay with relatives, who help them find work, housing and a school for their children. As a result, they are unlikely to seek emergency shelter or other municipal resources, immigration experts say.

Those arriving in Los Angeles are typically Central Americans and Mexicans, who have been migrating to California for decades and have built strong communities in the region, providing a support network for newcomers.

“LA may have absorbed large numbers of immigrants organically, like these other cities, over the years,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research center.

Among those fleeing their home countries in the current migratory wave are Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who, like other nationals of Caribbean countries, have traditionally migrated to the East Coast rather than California. The largest group is Venezuelans, who have not emigrated to the United States at all and do not have well-established networks in California.

Mr. Chishti said that for Venezuelans, New York is a much more attractive destination, largely because of its legal obligation to provide shelter for families. New York also has a huge and diverse economy and, most importantly, a robust public transportation system. Unlike Los Angeles, newcomers do not need a car to travel through the New York area.

“Migrants are intelligent people,” he said. “Venezuelan social media was abuzz within days after people started coming to New York. »

For now, Los Angeles leaders have walked a fine line between welcoming the few families arriving on buses from Texas and condemning Mr. Abbott’s measures as a cruel political stunt. Although waves of migrants have not overwhelmed the city so far, the city council voted last month to take legal action against Texas.

Mr. Soto-Martinez said it was important to respond: “You can’t let a bully do that to you. » The measure he proposed to investigate Mr. Abbott was adopted unanimously.

Immigrant aid workers in Los Angeles say they are engaged in a sort of chess game with Mr. Abbott: They are happy to help as many vulnerable families as possible, but they do not want to push Texas to send more of people in Los Angeles as a stopover en route to other places.

Andrew Mahaleris, Mr. Abbott’s spokesman, said in a statement that migrants on Texas-funded buses sign waivers of consent regarding their destination.

Mr. Mahaleris called Mr. Soto-Martinez and his colleagues “complete hypocrites” for voting in June to make Los Angeles a so-called sanctuary city that generally will not cooperate with law enforcement officials. immigration.

“Instead of complaining about having to deal with a fraction of the border crisis our small border towns face daily, the City Council should call on President Biden to take immediate action to secure the border,” he said .

Humanitarian groups in Los Angeles described a relatively smooth system for helping migrants once they arrive on buses. Other aid workers in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, sent passenger lists up to a day before the buses arrived so that social workers in Los Angeles could begin contacting sponsors and relatives who will come and pick up the families. When migrants arrive, Immigrant Defenders Law Center staff members make presentations to help them apply for asylum or work permits.

“We feel like we’ve created an organized rhythm,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, better known as CHIRLA, a nonprofit that led coordination with Los Angeles agencies. “Every time, we learn. »

A growing share of migrants who arrive in Los Angeles by bus ultimately head to other places in California, such as the Central Valley, where housing is cheaper and low-wage jobs are plentiful, according to data compiled by CHIRLA . Many migrants also went to other states, including Nevada and Washington.

The number of recent migrants to Texas who want to go to Los Angeles is currently low enough that it will take more than a week for officials to fill Los Angeles-bound buses with enough people to justify the trip, people said aid workers and migrants. .

“I waited eight days until there was a free bus to Los Angeles,” said Joelsy, a Honduran asylum seeker who recently arrived in the city from Brownsville and asked to be identified by only one name out of concern for the safety of his family. House. “There were also free buses to New York and Chicago, and most people chose to go to those cities. »