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D.C. attorney general starts grant program to aid bused-in migrants

D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

As local and federal officials argue over who bears the responsibility for aiding thousands of migrants bused by the governors of Texas and Arizona to the nation’s capital — a gesture of Republican disdain for President Biden’s immigration policies that has led to a humanitarian crisis in the District — D.C.'s attorney general vowed to spend up to $150,000 aiding the migrants over the next two months.

Aid for arriving migrants strained amid dispute over who should help them

Karl A. Racine (D), who as attorney general is elected independently from the mayor and has control over his office’s spending, on Thursday announced a program of grants for nonprofits that are helping the migrants.

Racine said he would offer grants of up to $50,000 per organization, for a total of up to $150,000, to nonprofits that can demonstrate their plans to aid migrants and then show how many migrants they assist.

Mutual aid networks of volunteers have said that they are spending thousands of dollars in donated funds daily to help the people arriving on buses — who number more than 7,000, according to volunteers’ estimates, since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) began sending buses in April and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) followed suit the next month. The volunteers have spent donated money on meals for migrants who have had nothing but granola bars on the bus trip; Uber rides to hospitals for migrants who arrive sick; and shoes, medicine and other immediate needs.

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

Aid group SAMU First Response has also taken responsibility for meeting about half of the buses as they arrive, operating with a $1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Volunteer organizers have criticized Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) for not applying for larger grants from FEMA that would fund the city in setting up a local-government-run response center for the migrants.

Bowser has argued that the situation calls for a federal response, not a local one. She requested National Guard assistance; the Biden administration denied her request last week, and she sent a second request Thursday.

Her office did not respond to a request for comment about Racine’s approach.

“The decision by the Governors of Texas and Arizona to bus asylum-seeking migrants to the District is causing a humanitarian crisis. The organizations and individuals who have shouldered the burden of providing basic needs and services — including housing, food, transportation, and legal assistance — are understandably strained and simply cannot be expected to carry this responsibility alone,” Racine said in a statement.

Nonprofits’ applications for the attorney general’s grants are due Tuesday, and the money must be spent in fiscal 2022, which concludes at the end of September. The funding for the grants comes from the Litigation Support Fund, which uses proceeds from lawsuits the attorney general wins on behalf of the city to pay for violence intervention and other public safety programs.

Racine — who has publicly clashed with Bowser about safety and other concerns over the direction of the city — directs the use of the fund.

Also on Thursday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and 18 members of Congress from other states sent a letter to a FEMA program that has helped cover the cost of SAMU’s work with the migrants.

The program typically allows organizations to pay for long-distance travel for up to 30 percent of the migrants they serve, Norton wrote. SAMU has temporarily been given flexibility to increase that portion to 50 percent.

But in this case, a large majority of the people who cross the Mexican border into Texas or Arizona and are then bused to D.C. have no intention of staying in the District — and, Norton argued, SAMU would be better served buying bus tickets for more people to their intended destinations.

Norton asked the FEMA program to stop restricting spending on bus tickets. “We anticipate that Texas and Arizona will continue to bus migrants to D.C. indefinitely. We ask that you permanently eliminate the cap,” she wrote in the letter.

She added in a statement that she also has worked with the nonprofits on finding a suitable location where they can shelter more people who are arriving at Union Station and has met with FEMA about the situation.

Norton said she plans to introduce an emergency appropriations bill to secure more federal funding.