Calling busing of migrants from Texas a “humanitarian crisis,” Washington mayor asks for help from National Guard

A bus transporting migrants from Texas arrives at Washington, D.C.s Union Station on April 21, 2022. (Shuran Huang For The Texas Tribune, Shuran Huang For The Texas Tribune)

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Warning that her city’s services have been overwhelmed, the mayor of Washington, D.C., has asked the Biden administration for the National Guard’s help in assisting migrants being bused to the nation’s capital by Texas and Arizona.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, in two letters sent last week to the Department of Defense and the White House, said that she empathizes with the recently arrived people but that the city needs help processing and housing the migrants until they reach their final destinations.

“The pace of the arriving buses and the volume of arrivals have reached tipping points,” Bowser wrote in a July 19 letter to the office of the U.S. secretary of defense. “Our collective response and service efforts have now become overwhelmed.”

She said that nongovernmental organizations had helped 4,000 people since April when Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona started to transport migrants to cities on the East Coast, including Washington.

“The regional service center we helped establish in Montgomery County, Maryland is at capacity; our homeless services system is already under great strain; and tragically, many families arrive in Washington, DC with nowhere to go, or they remain in limbo seeking onward destinations across the United States,” she wrote.

“With pledges from Texas and Arizona to continue these abhorrent operations indefinitely, the situation is dire, and we consider this a humanitarian crisis — one that could overwhelm our social support network without immediate and sustained federal intervention.”

According to WRC-TV, which obtained the letters, the mayor has not received a response from the Biden administration as of Thursday.

In April, Abbott announced the charter bus plan as a way to get President Joe Biden’s attention in response to his administration’s announcement that it was lifting Title 42, a pandemic-era health order invoked by the Trump administration in March 2020 that immigration authorities have used to deny people entrance to the country, including asylum-seeking migrants. The Biden administration sought to end the use of Title 42 as an immigration policy but a federal court blocked Biden’s effort and the order is still in place.

Ducey later joined in and has bused 1,100 migrants from Yuma, a border city, to the nation’s capital, according to the Wall Street Journal. Texas has transported more than 6,100 migrants to Washington, according to an Abbott spokesperson.

Local officials say migrants have also been dropped off in cities along the way as well as in New York City, though Abbott’s office says they’re dropping people off only in Washington.

Bowser and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, both Democrats, have also asked the Biden administration for financial help to fund their governments’ and other organizations’ efforts to help the migrants. At a news conference last week, Adams said 3,000 people have arrived in New York City.

Adams also blamed his city’s lack of space in shelters for people experiencing homelessness on the migrants who have been dropped off in New York and are using shelter space.

Abbott responded in a statement saying Texas has not dropped off any migrants in New York and instead, “Mayor Adams should address his frustration with migrants to the root cause: Joe Biden.”

Migrants who have been processed by immigration officials and have been allowed to enter the country depend on nongovernmental organizations along border cities to house them until they can get money to reach their final destinations across the country where they usually have relatives or friends.

The free transportation services provided by Arizona and Texas can benefit the migrants because they usually spend days in border city shelters until their relatives or friends can pay for a bus or plane ticket.

Still, many immigrant rights advocates have denounced Abbott’s transportation program as a ploy that uses people to score political points. Some supporters of more strict immigration policies have also dismissed the program as political theater because they say the policy doesn’t do anything to deter migrants but instead helps them.

Bowser’s letter says Abbott and Ducey “are making a political statement to the federal government, and instead, their actions are having direct impacts on city and regional resources in ways that are unsustainable.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus has also criticized Abbott’s plan, saying it’s making immigration authorities’ jobs harder.

“Governor Abbott is taking actions to move migrants without adequately coordinating with the federal government and local border communities. CBP has always worked closely with and supported border communities in Texas, many of which CBP personnel call home,” he said in a statement in April. “We all have a shared interest in maintaining safe, orderly, and humane immigration processes, and assistance from the state should be carefully coordinated with us.”

When you join us at The Texas Tribune Festival Sept. 22-24 in downtown Austin, you’ll hear from changemakers who are driving innovation, lawmakers who are taking charge with new policies, industry leaders who are pushing Texas forward and so many others. See the growing speaker list and buy tickets.