(CNN Spanish) — Nearly 12,000 immigrants have so far been transported on buses from the border states of Texas and Arizona — governed by Republicans who oppose President Joe Biden’s immigration policies — to the cities of Washington, New York and Chicago. This week a new actor was added to the controversy: Florida. We explain here the keys to understand what is happening.
Two buses with immigrants arrived this Thursday at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, where the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris, from Texas, is located. The volunteers who are collaborating in the reception of the immigrants did not expect it. Until now the buses stopped in the surroundings of the Union Station in the country’s capital.
“Vice President Harris affirms that our border is ‘secure’ and denies the crisis,” tweeted Governor Greg Abbott, the main promoter of sending migrants to the northeast of the country. “We are sending migrants to her backyard to ask the Biden administration to do its job and make the border secure.”
The message perfectly sums up the confrontation between the Republican governors of the South and the Democratic federal government. Those who have been left in the middle of the political fight are precisely the migrants who have arrived in the United States, often after exhausting journeys and surrounded by dangers.
Who are these migrants and where are they going?
In general, once federal authorities process immigrants who arrive in the United States requesting asylum, they are released from custody and are allowed to move around the country while judicial processes continue to determine whether or not they can stay in the United States. The release usually happens in Texas and other border states.
At the already complex border, the United States has recently been grappling with a surge in Venezuelan migrants who have fled in large numbers from the deteriorating situation at home. The fragile relations between the United States and Venezuela prevent the deportation of some people, to which the asylum requests are added.
Migrants would be, in general, responsible for covering the costs of their transfers through the United States while they await the judicial resolution. However, for months Texas has been financing buses to transport them, without having to pay, from the state to northern cities. Also Arizona, under the command of Republican Doug Ducey, has implemented this policy.
Buses stop at several towns along the way to the northeast, allowing those with friends and family elsewhere to meet up with them. Otherwise they reach the final destinations. Initially, the city chosen by the Republicans was Washington, then New York was added and more recently Chicago.
By the last week of August, Texas had sent about 9,000 migrants to Washington and New York, according to the Abbott administration. The operation is costly: The state had spent more than $12 million on the effort as of Aug. 9, according to figures from the state Division of Emergency Management.
As of last week, the Texas governor had sent more than 7,900 immigrants on more than 190 buses to Washington City, more than 2,200 immigrants on more than 40 buses to New York City, and more than 300 immigrants on more than five buses to Chicago.
Add to this Arizona: Ducey’s office told CNN earlier this month that since March they had transferred more than 1,500 migrants to Washington.
Why? The arguments of the political dispute
Abbott, a fierce critic of Biden’s immigration policies, began sending migrants to Washington as an affront to the administration. Days ago, his office said busing migrants “is providing much-needed relief” to their “overwhelmed” communities.
Before the movement of migrants began, “only Texas and Arizona bore the brunt of all the chaos and problems that come with it,” the governor said in August. “Now, the rest of the United States can understand exactly what is happening.”
The rhetoric is profuse. Ultimately, what she wants to show is, in his view, Biden’s failure to “secure” the border.
Democrats have responded to his claim vocally. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, for example, criticized Abbott and Ducey for creating a “growing humanitarian crisis.”
How did the cities respond?
In the cities, governments, non-profit organizations and volunteers have joined forces to welcome immigrants. But the truth is that they do not always seem to have the necessary resources to attend to them.
Most immigrants arriving in New York end up in the city’s overwhelmed homeless shelter system, which housed more than 50,000 people as of early September. New York is using 17 hotels as emergency shelters, a city official told CNN.
From April through early September, the city had processed about 8,800 migrants into its shelter system and about 6,700 were still there, a city official told CNN. That number includes more than 1,000 children (but of this total many have arrived on their own with financial help from non-profit organizations, not necessarily on the buses).
In Washington, Mayor Bowser last week declared a public health emergency over relocations from Texas and Arizona so that needed resources can be mobilized more quickly to care for those arriving in the city. She also announced a new government office that would provide basic necessities to arriving migrants, including meals, transportation, urgent medical care and transportation to connect people with resettlement services.
Is it legal to transport immigrants in buses like this?
New York Mayor Eric Adams, among others, have previously accused the Abbott administration of allegedly forcing asylum seekers onto city-bound buses and failing to coordinate with city officials to transfer of people.
Abbott’s office has responded in multiple statements that people going to New York have come of their own free will and have signed a waiver consenting to their fate. What is not clear is whether they have been given other options.
The office had stated that “in order to board a bus or flight, the migrant must volunteer to be transported and show documentation from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS, for its acronym in English).”
The secretary of that department, Alejandro Mayorkas, has taken aim at Abbott’s policies, saying they are disrupting the federal migrant processing system. He has also criticized the governor for not coordinating with federal authorities. Mayorkas said it is “problematic” for an official like Abbott to work “unilaterally.”
New York officials, for their part, have denounced the conditions of the journey, saying migrants arriving on those buses are hungry, thirsty and “often sick.”
A new actor in the dispute: Florida
This week a new actor was added to the dispute: Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, seen by some as a possible contender for the 2024 presidential election.
Florida sent two planes carrying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts on Wednesday as part of its migrant “relocation program.”
“States like Massachusetts, New York and California will better facilitate the care of these people they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the open border policies of the Biden administration,” the governor said.
“The future is here”
It is impossible to know what the thousands of migrants who arrive in some of the country’s large cities on trips financed by the Republicans think. However, in some cases, at least, they seem to see it as a good option. “We were starving,” Jessica Flores, an immigrant from Venezuela who arrived in New York with her husband and her six-year-old daughter, told CNN.
“We couldn’t stay there. There’s nothing. If you get sick, you die… There’s no future there. The future is here.”
With reporting from CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez, Lauren Koenig, Jason Hanna, Travis Caldwell, Andy Rose, Omar Jimenez, Amy Simonson, Polo Sandoval and Ray Sanchez.
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