U.S.

As Migrant Buses Take Thousands North, Some Embrace Free Ride

Three days after Yordalis Bermudez crossed the Rio Grande into Texas, she and her family faced the same daunting question thousands of migrants ask every day: what to do next.

“I had no idea where I was going,” said the 22-year-old Venezuelan, who arrived with her husband and son.

Ms. Bermudez hopes to be granted asylum, a process that could take years. Federal immigration officials have scheduled the family’s first court hearing in New York, so when officials from a border shelter said they could put her on a free bus into the city, she joined the nearly 13,000 people who traveled to the other side of the country. have been transported by state officials in Texas and Arizona.

Florida’s recent flights carrying 49 migrants by plane from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard have sparked a lawsuit, criminal investigation and national controversy.

Migrants transported from Texas arrived at the Port Authority bus terminal in New York City in late August.


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Photo:

DAVID DEE DELGADO/REUTERS

The human impact of that episode is small compared to the bus programs that Republican governors of Texas and Arizona have been running since the spring to quickly transport migrants from border states hardest hit by this year’s wave of illegal immigration. They all initially went to Washington, DC, and some from Texas now go to New York and Chicago.

Migrant advocates and Democrats have accused the governors of using the migrants as pawns in a political stunt. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have contradicted that they want to share the burden of record numbers of migrants with states and cities led by Democrats whose policies they believe are encouraging people to enter the US illegally.

Among those affected, the buses have proved less controversial. Several migrants said they were happy to take advantage of the readily available free rides to quickly build a new life in parts of the country far from the border.

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Ms. Bermudez said the bus ride was uncomfortable, with short breaks in the bathroom and not enough food, but she is grateful to be in New York. The family lives in a hotel paid for by the city. Her husband is looking for odd jobs and her son, Jean Paul, recently celebrated his first birthday with a cake brought by a member of a local church.

“Right now I’m happy, and all is well,” she said. “I’m glad I have a roof.”

Yordalis Bermudez celebrates the birthday of her son, Jean Paul, in New York City’s Central Park.


Photo:

Oscar B. Castillo for The Wall Street Journal

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Most of the complaints come from state officials and immigrant attorneys who said Texas and Arizona officials have done little to coordinate with those who can help migrants in their destination cities.

Republican border state leaders said this is no different from what they face on a daily basis and that those who support the Biden administration will suffer the consequences of the failure of federal immigration policy.

Texas spent about $13 million to transport nearly 11,500 migrants out of the state, while Arizona spent about $4 million to transport nearly 2,000 people.

“Washington is the source of the problem,” said CJ Karamargin, communications director for Mr. Ducey. “Our message is that with this situation, as it has allowed to spread over the years, every community is a border community.”

While the federal government regularly moves people after they come in from Mexico to process them before they are released, Texas and Arizona efforts are the first time states have led such an effort. It has also sparked a long-standing trend where states have taken a more active role in immigration policy — this time by trying to shift care for newly arrived migrants to places far from Mexico.

“This is a totally new chapter, where states are going after states,” said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the impartial Migration Policy Institute.

About half of the people who illegally entered the US since October last year have been expelled, most under a Covid-19-era policy known as Title 42 that allows the government to quickly expel a number of migrants. before they have a chance to apply for asylum or other protection in the US. The remaining approximately one million were released in the US while waiting years for asylum applications to be processed. It involves families, unaccompanied children and people from countries such as Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, whose governments will not allow them to return.

Migrants, mostly from Venezuela, turned themselves in and applied for asylum in El Paso, Texas, earlier this month.


Photo:

JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ/REUTERS

Asylum seekers often surrender to border police, are usually processed within a day or two, and are then released into reception centers. From there, they head to destinations across the country in anticipation of their first court dates.

They used to have to pay their own fare on buses or planes, as many still do. When the sheer number of border crossings overwhelmed authorities and shelters, people slept in tents in border towns awaiting processing, and federal agents dropped people off in small towns that were themselves overwhelmed.

At a shelter in the border town of Del Rio, Texas, migrants who qualify for state-funded rides are now sent to the other side of the building where the Texas Division of Emergency Management organizes the bus tours. Most migrants who choose to board seem grateful, said Tiffany Burrow, who runs the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition’s respite center.

“They know they have to get from point A to point B, and they didn’t know exactly how to do it,” Ms Burrow said.

Texas officials said their bus programs are voluntary, a claim largely supported by migrants.


Photo:

ALICIA A. CALDWELL/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

She and a team of volunteers operating out of half of an old city services building have seen about 32,000 people pass this year, she said. Last year, about 23,000 migrants were helped in the center.

Texas began its efforts in April with a pledge to bus migrants to the steps of Capitol Hill, which Abbott said was intended to send a signal to the Biden administration. Arizona soon followed.

Typically, the state-funded buses arrive at designated transit hubs, including the Port Authority bus station in New York and Union Station in Washington, DC, where rescuers wait to help arriving migrants.

City and state officials have complained that there is no coordination with Texas or Arizona about when a bus will arrive. Instead, nonprofits and volunteers have established informal networks to communicate about when and where buses are going, said Johannes Favi, director of the Chicago immigrant transit assistance program at the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants.

Migrants near Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence in Washington, DC, after being dropped off earlier this month.


Photo:

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Democratic officials in Washington, DC and Illinois have declared a state of emergency.

New York has opened 38 emergency shelters in hotels. A senior government official said on Thursday the city would establish tent cities, known as shelters, to provide food, medical care and temporary housing to newly arrived migrants. Mayor Eric Adams has said he is considering using a cruise ship to accommodate newcomers.

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“This is a human-made humanitarian crisis,” Mr Adams said on Tuesday. “And it was a political stunt.”

Officials in Arizona and Texas have said their bus programs are voluntary, a claim largely supported by the migrants who ride them.

Andys Guerrero, a 40-year-old construction worker, and his wife, Jasmin, 44, left Venezuela in early August and spent weeks traveling mostly on foot to get to Texas. Once in the US, they had no money to get to California as planned, so they took the free ride they were offered to Chicago.

The bus was big, new and clean, he said, with two police officers and two drivers on board. They were given a package of food for the trip, including rice and beans and non-perishable foods, and drove for two days, he said.

Luis David Mantione, a migrant from Venezuela, hopes to move to Pennsylvania at the Port Authority bus station in New York City.


Photo:

Oscar B. Castillo for The Wall Street Journal

Guerrero and his wife spent the past two weeks at a Salvation Army shelter in Chicago, where they were given new clothes and plenty to eat, he said. He hopes to get construction work for himself and a cleaning job for his wife so that they can help their children, who have stayed behind in Venezuela, to join them.

“It is no secret to anyone that we have been living in a dictatorship for 23 years,” he said of his homeland. “So the vision of the United States is a land of opportunity.”

Luis David Mantione and Oscar Jose Da Farias, also from Venezuela, left the country almost five years ago due to poor economic conditions and lived elsewhere in South America. mr. Da Farias said he took one of the free buses to New York to get closer to a friend in Maryland. Mr. Mantione said he eventually wants to go to Pennsylvania.

They were at the Port Authority terminal on Monday to pick up matching green sneakers from rescuers, a day after initially arriving from Texas and being directed to a shelter about 1½ miles away. They said there were no beds available when they arrived so were asked to sleep outside in a courtyard.

“They treated us better on the bus,” said Mr. Da Farias.

Andys and Jasmin Guerrero, who are from Venezuela, have been living in a shelter in Chicago since the bus from Texas.


Photo:

Joe Barrett/The Wall Street Journal

Write to Alicia A. Caldwell at [email protected], Jimmy Vielkind at [email protected], and Joe Barrett at [email protected]

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