The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The migrant buses sent to D.C. are a cruel, political stunt

Víctor and Ordalis Rodríguez, migrants originally from Venezuela who were transported on a bus from Texas, with their 1-year-old daughter Luciana outside of Union Station in D.C. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

It’s happening just about every night now, in sight of the U.S. Capitol dome.

What the White House brushed away as a “political stunt” in the immigration debate has dragged on for more than four months as a relentless, inhumane cruelty.

Several thousand migrants have stepped off buses at Union Station, bewildered, confused, excited and terrified. Sometimes they arrive at 1 a.m. The next day it’s 10:30 p.m. And then another one at 6 a.m.

“The Texas buses are meant to create chaos,” said Bianca Vazquez, one of the dozens of night angels swooping in with food, shoes, blankets and beds, materializing the promise of America’s open shores that our leaders are failing to uphold.

Aid groups are overwhelmed with busloads of migrants sent to D.C.

The bus arrivals began on Easter weekend, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced he’s moving border chaos to the nation’s capital to protest the end of Title 42, the suspension of admission and asylum to immigrants as a pandemic containment measure. Texas paid for the bus tickets for a group of migrants from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba and Colombia who crossed the border into Texas, seeking asylum.

“With the end of Title 42 expulsions looming next month, Texas will immediately begin taking unprecedented action to do what no state has done in American history to secure our border,” Abbott said in April.

The right-wing media relished this moment, imagining a Washington that would buckle and choke under a siege of migrants. Their pundits imagined Capitol Hill building a wall around itself (um, that was Jan. 6, guys) and a political class overwhelmed and capitulating to the anti-immigrant factions.

But that didn’t happen.

Largely, after token statements from federal officials and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) in April, elected leaders have ignored what is now about 3,500 immigrants who have arrived on at least 100 buses.

Bowser won national acclaim when she renamed a street in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza” in answer to President Donald Trump’s political stunts on her home turf. But in this? Bowser, about to be crowned D.C.’s second mayor-for-life, has been awfully quiet.

Local leaders said members of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments will meet next week to address this. But so far, there’s been little else said or done about it.

The first buses to arrive in April were met by journalists, video cameras and lightbulb flashes that followed them down Union Station’s swirling, grand staircase to the food court, where volunteers bought them Chick-fil-A and looked at their paperwork, trying to figure out their next steps.

A shelter? A hotel? Maybe their uncle is in New York and all they need is another bus ticket.

All this stunt did is underscore how little our leaders want to help the next generation of Americans, to welcome the new immigrants the way their grandparents and great-grandparents were welcomed.

Who greeted them instead? Volunteers like Vazquez.

It’s a mutual aid network of more than 20 area community organizations and hundreds more individual volunteers. “Anchored by Peace House DC, Beloved Community Incubator, East of the River Mutual Aid, Sanctuary DMV, DC IWOC, Free Them All VA, and Conscious Community Action Together, the network has been showing up to welcome our new neighbors for three months through solidarity, not charity,” Vazquez said.

Some of the immigrants arrive with no shoes on feet that already carried them hundreds of miles through deserts, cities or jungles. There are babies who’ve been in dirty diapers for most of the 36-hour bus ride. There are those who arrive broken and bloody — the signs of the violence they are running from.

The volunteers get texts from a secret contact at the border, who alerts them every time a bus departs. They calculate the buses’ arrival times and intercept them in a predawn darkness triage, helping with shoes, housing, medical care and the next steps to citizenship.

“We want the government to provide emergency services like helping fund tickets, food, petty cash, and cellphones and emergent medical needs on arrival,” Vazquez said. They have a list of requests for local governments, but have received no response.

In Texas, and then in Arizona, when copycat Gov. Doug Ducey (R) followed Abbott’s strategy, the migrants are often told they will get food, housing, assistance and jobs when they get to D.C., according to Vazquez, who has heard this often from the folks as they step off the buses.

And the volunteers have donated thousands of hours, their own homes and about $255,000 in grass-roots money to fulfill those promises.

In some cases, the immigrants are thrilled to come to D.C. The free bus ride from Abbott — which is costing Texas taxpayers about $1,400 per passenger, an investigation by NBC 5 in Dallas found — gets some of them halfway to their destinations.

“My easiest day was a guy who was like, ‘My sister’s in New York. Here’s my sister’s phone number. I just need a bus ticket to New York and my sister will come get me,’ ” Vazquez said. “I called the sister and he went on a bus to New York and then they called me that evening when they were together … it was great.”

2,000 miles of walking to find respect, love and freedom

But in other cases, the migrants’ trip to D.C. completely scrambles their asylum process. Their sponsors — cousins, siblings, uncles — are in Chicago or Portland, Ore., or Kentucky. And when they’re sent to D.C. after they’ve been processed at the border and have begun their asylum process, it’s the volunteers who help them get to those places to make sure they get to their “ICE check-in” — their appointment with specific immigration authorities — on time.

Essentially, the Republican governors who issue bold statements about “illegal” immigrants are doing their best to thwart sincere attempts at the asylum and citizenship process.

“It’s just a political stunt,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Tex.) said in a statement. “And it’s worse. It’s shameful, because we’re talking about families, we’re talking about children. People that are fleeing violence or fleeing poverty.”

When they get off that bus, many of the migrants ask volunteers for directions to one thing: “trabajo” — work.

Our federal and local leaders should follow suit.

To join the volunteers, you may email MigrantHelpDMV@gmail.com, contribute to the Coops Support Texas Migrants fundraiser or go to the Solidarity With Migrants site.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Sylvia Garcia as a Texas state representative. She is a member of Congress. The article has been corrected.

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