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Opinion Arrival of bused migrants can’t be Muriel Bowser’s problem to solve

Migrants from Venezuela who boarded a bus in Del Rio, Texas, disembark in D.C., on Aug. 2. (Stefani Reynolds / AFP)

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser is catching it from all directions over a problem she had no hand in creating, and for which she, as D.C.’s chief executive, lacks both the responsibility and capacity to solve.

On one front, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, have been busing asylum-seeking migrants from the southern border to D.C. on the grounds that the Biden administration’s immigration policies encourage waves of arrivals that are too burdensome and expensive for their states to handle. Said Abbott at a news conference announcing his busing plans: “We’re bringing the border to President Biden.”

On the home front, Bowser (D) is being condemned for not devoting more city treasure and staff to helping volunteer groups overwhelmed by the task of greeting thousands of asylum seekers with the intake processing, food, medical care, clothing, hygiene kits and emergency housing that they need.

Bowser is also taking a huge hit from some city politicians and immigration advocates for asking the Biden administration to mobilize the D.C. National Guard to help respond to the crisis. Bowser seeks a suitable federal site for a processing center, along with space for feeding and housing support.

Some aid groups characterize Bowser’s National Guard request as akin to treating migrants like combatants. “The last thing we want is a militarized response to a humanitarian crisis,” said Andrea Scherff, an organizer with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network.

The Post's View: Mayor Bowser needs to take action on migrant buses coming to D.C.

A few words about the National Guard and ill-informed references to militarization.

There wasn’t much of an outcry against a “militarized” response when thousands of National Guard members were deployed to provide humanitarian relief to Gulf Coast communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Neither were Guard members issued a “confined to quarters” command when the covid-19 pandemic struck. Guard members have administered more than 8 million coronavirus tests, and they’ve also helped out in long-term-care facilities.

When covid-19 first hit, there were concerns about space for medical and other facilities — the same kinds of concerns now expressed by Bowser. Fear of being “militarized” didn’t enter the picture as National Guard members worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to create care facilities in major cities. “Ultimately, we built a 15,000-bed capability that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic,” said a Guard spokesman.

A fact: Guard members do fight. In fact, they are actively engaged in fighting wildfires in the West, rescuing civilians along the way. Wonder how those survivors feel about their rescuers showing up in uniforms?

It makes sense for D.C.’s mayor, confronted with an unplanned arrival of thousands of migrants in desperate need to seek a contingent of Guard members and the D.C. Armory to serve as staff and location for a humanitarian respite center. Unfortunately, Bowser does not have the same authority over the National Guard afforded to governors of states and territories.

Are Abbott and Ducey cynically exploiting the innocent to pull a stunt aimed at Biden? Of course. But the price is being paid by D.C.

The migration crisis is not a military event. The ongoing migrant surge is, however, a federal problem. And it requires a federal response. And shame on the White House officials criticizing Bowser’s federal aid request, suggesting it plays into the hands of Biden’s Republican critics.

What, pray tell, is the White House saying? “C’mon, Bowser, take one for the team?”

Local jurisdictions such as D.C. and New York City and state capital leaders in Austin and Phoenix can help address the needs of people coming across the southern border. But ultimate responsibility must rest with a federal government that created the policies and rightly supports international agreements giving those arriving at the U.S. border the right to request asylum without being criminalized or turned back.

The Biden administration must own up to the asylum-seeking migrant problem, just as it responded to last summer’s arrival of thousands of Afghan refugees. Just as it announced in July a contribution of more than $350 million in humanitarian assistance to displaced Ukrainians.

At a minimum, state and local jurisdictions should be reimbursed for every dime spent helping destitute immigrants admitted into the United States. The money is there, fully appropriated in the foreign aid budget.

The United States provides millions in foreign aid helping El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala stanch migration flow by fighting poverty, violence and corruption. Nicaragua, despite its repressive, antidemocratic ruler, Daniel Ortega, is also receiving millions in assistance.

The ongoing trek of migrants away from their countries might well be evidence of foreign aid’s failure. Those American tax dollars should be transferred to where they might do the most good: back into the United States helping vulnerable migrants with meager belongings to get off park benches, out of train stations, and on the path to obtaining human services they need.

Mayor Bowser, and local jurisdictions around the country, properly and federally supported, can and should help with that.

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