WASHINGTON — Liver Alejos was out of money and options when he arrived in South Texas last month after an arduous journey from Venezuela that culminated in crossing the Rio Grande in water up to his chin. The Border Patrol quickly arrested him, and after his release, he was given a choice: a $50 bus ride to San Antonio, or a free bus ride to Washington, DC, paid for by the state of Texas.
“I wanted San Antonio, but I ran out of money,” said Alejos, 28, who has no family in the United States. “I got on the bus to Washington.”
A few days later, he arrived in the country’s capital, among a bus full of tired migrants. He spent the first night in the plaza across from Union Station, but eventually found a bed at Central Union Mission, where he hopes to stay until he can apply for asylum, get a work permit and find a job — a process that could take months. .
A political tactic by the governors of Texas and Arizona to alleviate the problems caused by record migration at the border is beginning to permeate Washington as hundreds of undocumented migrants who arrive each week on the governors’ free bus rides increasingly enter the capital. tax more. ability to provide emergency food and housing.
With no money and no family to host them, the migrants are overwhelmingly immigrant nonprofits and other volunteer groups, many of whom end up in homeless shelters or on park benches. On a recent day, five buses arrived, swarming young men and families with nowhere to go near the Capitol.
Since April, Texas has brought more than 6,200 migrants to the nation’s capital, while Arizona has sent another 1,000 since May. The influx has prompted Muriel E. Bowser, the Democratic mayor of Washington, to ask the Department of Defense to send the National Guard. The request has outraged organizations that assisted the migrants without any support from the city.
A vast majority of recent bus drivers are Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-ridden country, and many have also arrived in New York, often via Washington. New York City mayor Eric Adams announced emergency measures Monday to allow the city to quickly build additional shelter capacity. The mayor, also a Democrat, said the city had received 4,000 asylum seekers as of May, fueling a 10 percent growth in the homeless population, with about 100 new arrivals a day.
Venezuelans appear daily at the offices of Catholic charities of the Archdiocese of New York to seek help. “Their primary concern was a place to stay, food for their children,” said Maryann Tharappel, who leads the organization’s immigrant and refugee services.
“The infrastructure in New York is not built for this,” she said. “We are not at the border.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, both Republicans, blame President Biden for record numbers of migrants crossing the southern border.
Cities along the border in Texas and Arizona have at times been overwhelmed by a wave of unauthorized border crossings that peaked under the Biden administration, which sought to unravel some of the tough border restrictions imposed by former President Donald J. Trump.
While thousands of migrants have been swiftly expelled under a pandemic-related health measure known as Title 42, thousands of others are being let into the country to apply for asylum because they cannot be returned to Mexico or their own country.
State officials in Texas and Arizona have greeted many of the migrants after their release from US Border Patrol custody and have offered them free bus rides to Washington in an effort to force the federal government to take responsibility for what they believe is a failed immigration system.
After reaching their destination, migrants can stay in the country for months or even years while fighting their deportation cases in court; they are allowed to work while submitting asylum applications.
The situation has become acute in recent weeks with the arrival of so many Venezuelans who cannot be deported under Title 42 because Mexico will not take them in and their own government does not have an agreement with the United States to accept deportation flights. And unlike most migrants from Mexico and Central America who have family and friends in the United States, Venezuelans often arrive without money and have nowhere to go.
Border Patrol found 110,467 Venezuelans along the southern border in the first nine months of this fiscal year, compared to 47,408 in the entire fiscal year 2021. The arrival of hot summer temperatures has reduced unauthorized crossings overall.
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The situation has sparked back and forth accusations among Democratic mayors on the east coast in recent weeks. In the final salvo, on Monday, Mr. Abbott a letter to the mayors, Mr. Adams and Mrs. Bowser, inviting them to explore the “critical situation” at the border with Mexico.
“Your recent interest in this historic and avoidable crisis is a welcome development, especially as the president and his administration have shown no remorse for their actions, nor have they any desire to address the situation themselves,” Abbott wrote.
Fabien Levy, the press secretary for the mayor of New York, had this statement: “Instead of a photo at the border, we hope Governor Abbott will focus his energies and resources on providing support and resources to asylum seekers in Texas, as we’ve been working hard in New York City.”
The Texas governor and mayors agree on one point: They are calling on all three federal governments to act.
“The migrant crisis facing our city and country through brutal political play by the governors of Texas and Arizona must be addressed at the federal level,” Ms Bowser wrote in a letter to White House officials.
When applying for a processing center at the DC Armory and activation of the National Guard, she said the number of migrants had reached a “tipping point” that “overwhelmed” the district’s ability to handle them.
Ms Bowser’s request was reprimanded by immigrant advocates who said she had ignored repeated requests for shelter, a respite center and rapid tests for the coronavirus for the migrants.
“The last thing we want is a militarized response to a humanitarian crisis,” said Andrea Scherff, a core organizer of the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a coalition of grassroots groups.
She noted that Washington is a haven for immigrants, saying, “We need to meet housing needs for everyone.”
The Biden administration said it had been in contact with Mayor Bowser, but White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the governors were using the migrants as a “political tool” for their own ends.
“There is a process for managing migrants at the border. This is not it,” she said, adding that the government has continued to deport some migrants, place others in custody and release those who qualify for the care of local nonprofits “while waiting for processing.”
About 15 faith and community groups in Washington have opened their doors to the migrants, offering them meals, showers and hygiene products during the day. But the increase in the frequency of buses, from two to four a day to now sometimes eight, has exhausted donations and exceeded capacity, and many volunteers have contracted Covid-19, Ms Scherff said.
“The mayors have played into the hands of Republican governors,” said Adam Isacson, a scholar at the Washington Office on Latin America who studies the border.
“Of course they are making noise about the migrants arriving because those who need shelter are a burden on the social services of their cities,” he said. But “the thrust of their comments,” he said, is to give governors ammunition to push for an approach to immigration, including measures such as building border walls and abolishing asylum.
Recently, migrants climbing from three buses were greeted by volunteers and personnel from SAMU First Response, an international aid agency that has received some funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and began operating in Washington in late June.
They were given water, pizza and granola bars, and some were given tickets to continue their journey. By 1 a.m., most had settled on the marble floor of Union Station’s East Hall. Others, from previous buses, had to sleep on the street. It created an unusual tableau: unhoused Americans on one side of the square; on the other, migrants with their meager belongings spread out on the ground – all within sight of the Capitol.
Tatiana Laborde, general manager of SAMU, said her organization had enough money to buy tickets to other destinations for about a third of the migrants for whom they provided services. The group’s shelter in Montgomery County, Maryland, was unable to provide long-term housing, she said.
Ten city councilors sent a letter to the mayor of Washington urging her not only to seek federal aid, but also to release emergency funds and hire staff to assist migrants, as well as Covid testing, isolation hotels and other resources. to provide.
“This is a crisis created by Republican leaders in other states, but unfortunately it has come down to the mayor to allocate resources locally,” said Brianne Nadeau, the councilor who drafted the letter.
Many Venezuelans have said they made the trip to the United States because they believed the doors of the country were open.
“On TikTok, we saw that people entered the United States with ease,” said Yennifer Ortiz, who made the trip with her partner Luis Moreno and their 5-year-old daughter Sofia.
Their trek to the United States took 45 days, including nine days through the dangerous jungle on the Colombia-Panama border known as the Darién Gap, Moreno said.
By the time they reached Texas, they had no money and happily boarded a free bus to Washington. “They told us people would be here to receive and help us,” Ms Ortiz said.
When their bus recently arrived at around 8am, volunteers sent them to a church-run respite center, where they bathed and were given new clothes. They spent their first night on park benches and have been bouncing between Americans’ homes ever since, they said.
Juan Rojas, 22, said that when he and a friend arrived in Washington, they were sent to a city shelter that was mostly Americans, where they felt unwelcome.
“The boys yelled at us and we couldn’t understand a word,” he said. “It was clear they didn’t want us there.” The couple left after two nights and spent a week sleeping on the street, he said.
In recent days, Mr. Rojas, some evenings they were received by a “woman helping migrants” and other evenings in hotels arranged by volunteers. He said he hadn’t given up on America after his odyssey.
But he was not optimistic. “In Texas, they told us we would get help here with housing, work and anything else we needed,” he said. “It was all a lie.”