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D.C. lawmakers ask Bowser to direct resources to aid migrants from Texas

The number of buses arriving in the city has doubled, exhausting donations and exceeding the ability of city volunteers and mutual aid networks to respond

Migrant children drew chalk drawings on the ground after arriving July 12 at the District’s Union Station on a bus that departed from Texas. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
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Ten D.C. Council members are calling on the District government to direct local resources to support migrants who have been arriving in buses from Texas and Arizona for months, taking a toll on city organizations that are relying on donations and one federal grant.

It’s been more than three months since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and two months since Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) started offering what they have said are voluntary bus trips to the nation’s capital for migrants caught crossing the border from Mexico, a measure in response to President Biden’s decision to lift an emergency health order that allowed immigration authorities at the border to deny entry to migrants.

In the last few weeks the number of buses arriving a day has increased from two to four, sometimes five, sometimes late at night, exhausting donations and exceeding the ability of volunteers and mutual aid networks in the city to respond. Members of the council are asking Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to use local resources and work in coordination with the council to ensure the federal government is fully responsive to the existing needs.

“With the number of buses arriving every day increasing rapidly, we encourage you to mobilize your administration to coordinate with other jurisdictions in the region to step in and assist with the response. If the District truly is a sanctuary city, we must stand up against the hateful rhetoric of Gov. Abbott and provide a dignified welcome to the arriving migrants,” said the letter, which was signed by 10 council members, including Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who chairs the council’s human services committee.

D.C. aid groups overwhelmed as migrants arrive from Texas, Arizona

The letter, dated July 14, asks Bowser to release the city’s contingency funds, provide city staff members to assist migrants’ arrival, create respite centers near Union Station, ensure buses arrive during daylight hours, and provide coronavirus tests, protective equipment and isolation hotels for those who have been infected with the coronavirus.

In response to the letter, Bowser said the responsibility to help the migrants lies with the federal government.

“We are dealing with a federal issue that the District of Columbia won’t be able to bear,” Bowser said in a news conference Monday after acknowledging receiving the council members’ letter. “We have to be very focused on working with D.C. residents who are homeless and have a right to shelter in our city, especially as we prepare for the winter months. We know that we have a federal issue that demands a federal response.”

In an interview Sunday with CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” Bowser also said the influx of buses arriving at the city represents a “significant issue” and that her administration has called on the federal government to work across state lines to prevent people from “being tricked into getting on buses.”

Bowser said the city worked with the White House to provide a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to assist SAMU First Response, the international humanitarian nonprofit that is officially assisting migrants.

FEMA did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) on Tuesday said she planned to introduce an emergency appropriations bill that would provide extra funding for FEMA for humanitarian assistance to migrants.

“The governors of Texas and Arizona are exploiting and harming vulnerable people fleeing desperate and dangerous situations in their home countries for political gain,” Norton said in a news release. “I commend the work organizations in D.C. and the National Capital Region have done to assist these migrants, but more funding is needed to assist these families.”

SAMU told The Washington Post last week that the organization does not have the capacity to coordinate all the buses arriving in the city every week. Tatiana Laborde, SAMU’s managing director, said in an interview that the organization can fund 30 percent of onward tickets for those migrants going to other destinations, and the organization’s shelter in Montgomery County only allows migrants to stay up to three days.

SAMU’s FEMA grant is enough to provide emergency aid for about 2,000 migrants a month, but with the number increasing in recent weeks, the council said more needs to be done.

“The current FEMA grants are not nearly enough, and it is critical that we take advantage of any additional federal resources that are available. We must call on the federal government to work with the District in being fully responsive to the existing need, and would be glad to join you in doing so,” the letter read.

The Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network — a coalition of D.C. grass-roots organizations heavily involved in aiding the migrants — and SAMU estimated that 10 percent to 15 percent of the migrants, including families with children who arrive with no connections in the country, are seeking to resettle in the Washington region.

Local leaders with the Region Forward Coalition at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which is chaired by Nadeau, will convene this week to determine what officials and nonprofits, including SAMU, can do to increase support for those arriving in the city.

This article has been updated.