Blue cities and the Biden administration are letting down migrants bused across the border

Adriana Lima
By Adriana Lima 8 Min Read

After the migrants arrived by bus at Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington, DC on Christmas Eve, they weren’t left in the cold without winter jackets for a long time. But it’s not thanks to Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who spearheaded a plan to send migrants to blue states and cities to protest the Biden administration’s border policies.

Mutual aid groups, which have been welcoming the migrants to Washington, received a tip from their partner organizations at the border that three buses of migrants would arrive on Christmas Day. But the buses have arrived a day before than expected, and which sent groups including the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network run to secure that the city could transport them to a church and synagogue where they provided hot food, clothing and toys for the children.

They are among at least 7,000 migrants who were bussed to Washington this year, though many of them won’t reside there permanently, said Madhvi Bahl, a leading organizer of the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network.

“It was awful for them to do it on Christmas Eve,” she said. “But for us, that’s been the norm for the past eight months.”

As the migrant arrives in Washington on Christmas Eve and in Martha’s Vineyard earlier this year garnered the most media attention, there has been a steady stream of buses — or, in some cases, charter flights — arriving in northern cities since Abbott announced its migrant bus program in April. By November, Texas had carried more than 13,000 migrants in other parts of the country under the program without giving notice to local officials or mutual aid groups in the receiving cities, ostensibly with the aim of wreaking havoc and blaming President Joe Biden. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, have since adopted similar programs in their states.

Abbot it was clear which has sent waves of migrants north to force President Biden to do more to secure the border. But mutual aid groups see an unexpected benefit in efforts to ship migrants to Democratic-led states: As long as the the trips are voluntarycan bring migrants closer to their final destinations in the United States.

Aid groups are working around the clock to make the process smoother by greeting migrants upon their arrival in host cities, helping them reach their final destination, and offering ongoing support and help with the typically lengthy process of applying for status legal in the United States. But the groups say they don’t get enough help from local governments, whose resources are limited, and the federal government hasn’t stepped in to formalize the process nationwide.

Receiving cities face a shortage of resources

In June, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded a $2 million grant to the SAMU First Response humanitarian organization to operate a temporary shelter for migrants arriving by bus in Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington . But mutual aid groups have asked the Biden administration to increase its financial support.

In Washington, existing city resources are not enough, Bahl said. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, told a public emergency which has freed up $10 million in funds to establish a Office of Migrant Services which provides migrants with food, health care and, in the case of families with small children, temporary accommodation in hotels. The city has also allowed migrant children to do so enroll in public schools. But people who aren’t traveling with young children don’t get city-sponsored housing and currently aren’t even allowed access to city homeless services even if they can prove residency, leaving it up to mutual aid groups to find accommodations for them in hotels, religious institutions or in the homes of volunteers.

Recognizing the gap in services, Bowser has requested twice that the National Guard be sent to help receive migrants arriving by bus, but the Pentagon rejected it both times, and mutual aid groups they argued that the military should not get involved in what is a humanitarian issue.

Likewise, Democratic Mayor of New York City Eric Adams declared a state of emergency on the October migrant crisis, when an average of five to six buses a day arrived in the city, putting pressure on the city’s coffers.

Mutual aid groups say creating a uniform system under which blue cities can process new arrivals from the border could help. Under the current system, “every receiving city is reinventing the wheel to some degree,” Bahl said.

These groups currently rely on their NGO partners at the border for information on how many migrants are on the way and when they are expected to arrive. There is a lack of grassroots coordination from government officials in Texas, Arizona and Florida who are chartering these buses and planes.

That means residents of Martha’s Vineyard were caught unprepared when DeSantis brought migrants to the island earlier this year. Local residents mobilized: migrants were welcomed by a church and provided with a cell phone if they didn’t already have one, and a $50 Visa gift card. With their consent, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker then temporarily he was hosting them in a military base on Cape Cod, where they received additional humanitarian support, including food, healthcare, hygiene kits, and crisis and legal advice.

But the process can still be much smoother, Bahl said.

“If the federal government would sit down and formalize this process and then support the receiving cities, we could actually create something that’s good for the whole country,” he said.

The Biden administration has called on Abbott to cooperate with states that welcome migrants. Abdullah Hasan, White House spokesman, he said in a statement on Monday that Abbott had not only “abandoned the children by the side of the road in sub-zero temperatures on Christmas Eve,” but that he had also done so “without coordinating with any federal or local authority.”

It’s unclear whether the administration has the legal power to do much more, or whether that would require federal legislation, a highly unlikely prospect in the much-divided Congress set to convene in the new year.


Asylum seekers board a bus after being processed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers at a gap in the U.S.-Mexico border fence near Somerton, Arizona on December 26, 2022. Rebecca Noble/AFP via Getty Images

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