GOP governors sent buses to DC with migrants — with no plan for what came next: NPR

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Venezuelan migrants who boarded a bus in Del Rio, Texas, disembark within sight of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, August 2.

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Venezuelan migrants who boarded a bus in Del Rio, Texas, disembark within sight of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, August 2.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

For months, the governors of Texas and Arizona have been sending charter buses full of migrants and refugees to Washington DC’s Union Station, just blocks from the Capitol Building.

When they disembark, they find neither the local nor the federal government to pick them up.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he started sending the buses to DC because the Biden administration was trying to overturn the pandemic-era Title 42 emergency order that allowed the US to allow migrants into the country deny.

According to Gov. Abbott’s office, more than 6,100 migrants were bused into DC from Texas alone. They arrive six days a week, as early as 6 a.m. and late until 11 p.m. – sometimes several buses a day.

Many families came with little or no preparation for what came next.

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Many families came with little or no preparation for what came next.

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In response, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser says this is a federal matter that requires a federal response. She and other local government officials secured a FEMA grant in June for an international nonprofit to provide emergency services to migrants.

So far, only local volunteers and nonprofit workers have greeted these buses at Union Station. Abel Nuñez is the director of CARECEN, the Central American resource center that has stepped in to help people who were initially bused into DC.

“It was really crazy because they just left her on the street,” said Nuñez, who first showed up at the train station on April 16 after receiving a tip from the DC Mayor’s Office of Latino Affairs that a bus was on the way.

“We knew it was on the way, so we’ve been there since 5am just waiting for them, along with aid organizations,” he said, adding that the first bus didn’t arrive until 8am. “And it was amazing how shocked these people came out of the buses.”

The organization soon learned that the migrants had been released from immigration detention centers at the border and had spent very little time – sometimes less than a day – in an emergency shelter or non-profit organization at the border before being sent to a 36- hour journey were put on the bus.

It has taken a community effort to help the migrants who have arrived.

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It has taken a community effort to help the migrants who have arrived.

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Last week, Mayor Bowser called on the federal government to deploy the DC National Guard to support the nonprofit workers helping migrants.

The federal government must call in the DC National Guard because the district is not a state and the government has not yet responded to their request. Additionally, some volunteers disagree with what they call a “militarized response” to the humanitarian crisis.

“The Texas governor has moved recovery work to DC. We’re not a border town, so we’re not used to this type of work,” Nuñez said. His organization helps migrants get off the bus with meals, hygiene kits and a safe place to rest.

“It was just a free ride for them,” Nuñez said. “They really had no other options and were offered a bus to the east coast – Washington DC – which some of them knew was closer to their final destination…so they were happy.”

But he added that migrants were confused by the mess they found upon arrival in DC, with only local volunteers and nonprofit workers greeting the buses and no government support to greet them

“We have to recognize that the immigrants were mostly from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba… some people from Central Africa… they had that [final] Destinations like Miami, New Jersey, New York or Tennessee [in mind]’ said Nuñez.

“We need a place where we can receive them, give them a meal and actually help them plan their next move. Even if that means staying in the DC area.”

At times, volunteers have brought migrants to their homes to help them.

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At times, volunteers have brought migrants to their homes to help them.

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CARECEN has helped send some of the migrants to California or Texas or wherever they have family or friends who can take them. Still, volunteers say about 10-15% of those dropped off by these buses have chosen to stay in DC indefinitely.

A couple from Venezuela stayed with a volunteer with their four children until their flight to Florida.

“Over there in Texas, when we were in the refugee camp, it was tougher because there’s military on the border, so they treat people like militants,” said Ronald, the husband. “I felt like we were in a better place. If we didn’t have her family, I told her we would stay here. We would stay in Washington.”

Critics – including some Republican state and local officials – have slammed Gov. Abbott’s plan to bus migrants into DC “Political Theater”. Still, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey joined Texas in May and began busing migrants into the nation’s capital.

“I felt like he really wanted to make a media hit out of this,” Nuñez said of Abbott’s move. “And that eventually, two or three weeks later, when everything would subside, he would stop.”

The federal government has not yet dispatched the National Guard to help with the relief efforts.

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The federal government has not yet dispatched the National Guard to help with the relief efforts.

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When that didn’t happen, Nuñez said the community intervened.

“I think this is an example where the local community stood up and said, ‘No, we’re not going to have chaos in our city, we’re going to be in solidarity with the people who are on the buses and help them who are to the best of our ability,” said Nuñez. “We’re now reaching our limits.”

But he added that city or federal funds and other local authorities could really help. “I think we can do an amazing job for this nation in showing them what it means to truly integrate newcomers into our communities.”

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