New York, U.S. capital struggle to process migrants sent by southern Republican leaders

New York and Washington, D.C., officials are struggling to cope with an influx of migrants that have been specifically bused to their cities on orders from the Republican leaders of Texas and Arizona.

Leaders of border states say other jurisdictions should do their share in intake of asylum seekers

The faces of several people travelling on a bus are seen through the vehicle's window.
A group of migrants, who boarded a bus in Texas, are seen as they arrive at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City on Thursday. Since April, the governors of Texas and Arizona have ordered thousands of migrants who have first arrived in their states to be sent to New York and Washington, D.C. (Yuki Iwamura/AFP/Getty Images)

Officials in New York City and Washington, D.C. are struggling to cope with an influx of migrants that have been specifically bused to their cities on orders from the Republican leaders of Texas and Arizona.

More than 7,000 migrants have been bused from Texas to the U.S. capital since April, part of an initiative by Gov. Greg Abbott to put pressure on Democratic President Joe Biden over border policies.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has sent about 1,500 from his state to Washington, D.C.

More recently, Abbott also began busing migrants to New York City. Abbott is seeking a third term as Texas governor in the November midterm elections, and is trying to motivate Republican voters with decisive actions on immigration.

A group of people, some with masks, are shown outside at a bus terminal.
Migrants from Texas arrive at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York on Aug. 17. (Jeenah Moon/The Associated Press)

Around 85 to 90 per cent of migrants arriving in Washington on the buses continue to other U.S. destinations within hours or days, according to volunteers who assist them.

Some of the arrivals crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with no U.S. family or destination, alarming the Democratic mayors of Washington and New York as the migrants turn to city resources and volunteers for essential services.

"If there isn't a solution that comes up permanently, these families are going to be stuck in limbo," said Ashley Tjhung, a volunteer aiding the migrants in Washington.

The U.S. Border Patrol has made more than 1.8 million arrests of migrants crossing into the U.S. illegally in fiscal year 2022, which began Oct. 1, 2021 — the highest number on record, though it includes some who have crossed repeatedly.

COVID-19 policy still in effect at border

Donald Trump's administration invoked a rarely used health order in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic began to rage. The Title 42 authority denies migrants a chance to seek asylum and be funnelled into the refugee system, which Democrats say encourages repeat attempts to enter the U.S., even if migrants have been sent back before.

A man in a wheelchair is seen at a news conference.
Gov. Greg Abbott is seen at a news conference on April 6 in Weslaco, Texas, where he announced plans to provide migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border bus charters to Washington, D.C. The move amounts to a taunt at President Joe Biden and Congress over what the Republican governor calls a failure by the federal government to stop the flow of migrants. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor/The Associated Press)

Most Mexicans and Central Americans are returned quickly to Mexico under the COVID restrictions in place at the border but hundreds of thousands of migrants — including many from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Colombia — have been allowed into the country in part because Mexico refuses to accept returns of certain nationalities.

The Biden administration made plans to end Title 42 beginning in June but a federal judge, in response to legal action launched by 24 states, mostly led by Republican governors, blocked the plan. 

Gov. Abbott has said other cities far from the border should share the burden of receiving migrants and blames President Biden's policies for encouraging crossers. Both Texas and Arizona have spent several million dollars on the busing efforts, according to news reports and data from Arizona.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked the Pentagon twice in the past two months to deploy military troops to aid the migrants, but was denied both times.

In response on Monday to Bowser's second request, the Pentagon said the District of Columbia National Guard did not have the relevant training and that non-profit organizations appeared to have the capacity to manage the situation.

Mayor Bowser's office did not respond to requests for comment.

New York City officials in recent weeks have also grappled with new migrant arrivals, including some who moved on from Washington, and is seeking to rent thousands of hotel rooms for future arrivals, according to the Department of Social Services.

Officials in both cities are struggling to address the myriad issues the new arrivals face, from shelter and health care to schooling for children.

Concerns about the months ahead

Since arriving in late July, Colombian couple Noralis Zuniga and Juan Camilo Mendoza ave been staying at a Hampton Inn, one of two hotels being used by the nation's capital to house about 50 migrant families. The families, many of whom come from Venezuela, receive three meals a day and crucial shelter.

Zuniga and Mendoza, who are with their one-year-old daughter, want to consult with an immigration lawyer before deciding whether to apply for U.S. asylum. They told Reuters they are deeply grateful for the opportunity to stay in the hotel rooms, but have also run into challenges, from the lack of information about how long the temporary shelter will last to basic tasks like setting up a cell phone.

A couple are seen looking a map on a city sidewalk, beside their daughter in a baby stroller.
Noralis Zuniga and Juan Camilo Mendoza wait at a bus stop in Washington, D.C., and check Google Maps to find the route that will take them back to the hotel they are staying at with their baby daughter, Evangeline. The Colombian couple are among the more than 7,000 migrants who have taken free bus rides from Texas to the U.S. capitol since April. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

On Wednesday, the chancellor of D.C. public schools said the migrant children would be allowed to enrol in city schools. On Thursday, public school staff visited the hotels to sign them up, a school system spokesperson said.

The efforts to welcome migrants in Washington have largely fallen to an ad-hoc coalition of volunteers and one non-profit organization that is receiving federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The volunteers currently greet the buses arriving from Texas, bring migrants to local churches, conduct medical screenings and help book travel to other parts of the United States, including New York City.

But some advocates say they need longer-term solutions, particularly as colder months approach and concerns rise that migrants could end up sleeping on the street.

With files from CBC News