Three buses full of migrants arrived at Vice President Harris’s residence in Washington from Texas on Christmas Eve amid bitingly cold weather, a mutual aid group said, the latest in an influx of newcomers sent to the Northeast by Southern states.
Volunteers scrambled to meet the asylum seekers after the buses, which were scheduled to arrive in New York on Christmas Day, were rerouted due to the winter weather. In a hastily arranged welcoming, a church on Capitol Hill agreed to temporarily shelter the group while one of the mutual aid groups, SAMU First Response, arranged 150 breakfasts, lunches and dinners by the restaurant chain Sardis.
“D.C. continues to be welcoming,” the network’s core organizer, Amy Fischer, told The Washington Post. “Whether it’s Christmas Eve, whether it’s freezing cold outside or warm outside, we are always ready to welcome people with open arms and make sure they have a warm reception in this community.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to requests for comment or issue any statement on whether his administration had sent the buses. But White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan blamed the transport on the Texas governor, saying the buses were sent without coordination with local or federal authorities and calling it “a cruel, dangerous, and shameful stunt.”
“As we have repeatedly said, we are willing to work with anyone — Republican or Democrat alike — on real solutions, like the comprehensive immigration restructuring and border security measures President Biden sent to Congress on his first day in office, but these political games accomplish nothing and only put lives in danger,” Hasan said in an email to The Post.
Abbott began offering asylum seekers free passage to immigrant-friendly Democratic cities on the East Coast in April, an effort to pressure the Biden administration into cracking down at the border. Other Republican governors, including Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Florida’s Ron DeSantis, have also sent buses to New York and the nation’s capital.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Biden, Abbott described conditions at the border, saying Texas cities were unable to house the continued influx of migrants coming in from Mexico. He noted the coming Arctic weather and said the new arrivals were at risk of “freezing to death on city streets.” Temperatures in Texas dipped into the teens and 20s in some cities this weekend.
“These communities and the state are ill-equipped to do the job assigned to the federal government — house the thousands of migrants flooding into the country every day,” Abbott said.
Abbott last week deployed the Texas National Guard to try to block migrants from crossing the border at places other than official entry points, which have been essentially closed to many families and individuals because of a Donald Trump-era policy that allows the United States to quickly send people back across the border without an opportunity to apply for asylum.
That policy, known as Title 42, has been successfully challenged in court and was set to expire Wednesday, but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ordered it temporarily kept in place while the Supreme Court considers a last-ditch appeal by Abbott and other Republican governors to prevent it from ending.
The Biden administration has said it is working to put new resources and policies in place at the border to deal with the large number of migrants who want to enter the country and seek asylum, a lengthy process that usually allows them to live in the United States and work while they await hearings.
In his letter, Abbott called the administration’s efforts so far a “disaster” and said: “This terrible crisis for border communities in Texas is a catastrophe of your own making.”
In D.C., the buses had been arriving all week — three from Arizona, another three from Texas — so Tatiana Laborde knew it was going to be an “intense” time. But on Friday, Laborde — who is the managing director of SAMU First Response, one of the agencies along with the mayor’s office and the mutual aid network helping with the migrants — found out about the three rerouted buses. They were scheduled to arrive Sunday morning, Christmas Day.
But then there was another surprise — the buses, from Del Rio, Tex., got in early, parking near the vice president’s Naval Observatory residence on Christmas Eve.
That destination appears to have more political significance than logistical purpose: While other buses have stopped at Union Station, the Naval Observatory is not near any other transportation hubs. The vice president was in D.C. this weekend.
Those who are boarding the stream of state-chartered buses to Democratic cities are less focused on the political maneuver than getting to a safe place, Laborde said.
“Keep in mind that this has not stopped,” Laborde said. “We have seen slowdowns during some weeks, but there’s a constant flow of migrants arriving to the District. That’s become a norm. Not all of it is negative, because it gives them an opportunity to be where they initially intended to be and where those who are asking for political asylum might have a better chance.”
In response to the influx of bused migrants from the border states and Florida, local organizations and governments have developed an apparatus of support. D.C. created an Office of Migrant Services to coordinate services, including temporary shelter, meals and medical support.
The Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a collection of aid groups that formed in response to Abbott’s latest tactic, mobilized volunteers who could welcome the migrants when they got off the buses on Saturday, Fischer said.
“I was out there with a handful of other folks,” Fischer told The Post. “It was so, so cold. From talking to the folks that were getting off the buses, there was a mix of fear — of being in a new place, where it was very cold and very dark — but also a lot of excitement.”
The aid group, warned by a nongovernmental organization in contact with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, worked with the city to charter a bus to take the immigrants to the church. There, asylum seekers were given winter coats and other donated clothing, tamales and toys for the kids. Christmas music was playing. Realizing they were safe, the migrants seemed to start to relax.
“One of the things that’s always really beautiful to see — particularly after folks are able to get hot food into their bellies — is seeing how they open up,” Fischer said. “You have people calling their families, kids running around.”
Volunteers also helped the migrants figure out how they could get to friends and family who they had hoped to stay with or connected them with housing. Laborde said that her team was able to purchase about 90 bus and plane tickets for the migrants. New York and New Jersey were the main destinations. The farthest was Boston.
Most of the migrants on the buses that arrived Saturday came from Central America or the Caribbean, Fischer said. About half of the group was made up of families. They came from Mexico through unauthorized and treacherous points along the border, while official border crossings have remained closed under the Title 42 public health policy.
“This was the final stage of what was a harrowing journey for them,” she said. “Particularly the trip upward to the border is quite dangerous and violent. Then, of course, the chaos at the border and in border facilities there are reports of it being cold and cruel. So many of them were really happy to arrive to smiling faces.”
Michael Kranish and Cleve Wootson contributed to this report.