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Opinion Migrants used as political pawns deserve more humanitarian aid

A screengrab shows migrants who were bused from Texas arriving at the Naval Observatory in D.C. on Sept. 15. (Marat Sadana/Reuters TV) (Staff/Reuters)

Without so much as a “Thanks but no thanks” this week Congress ignored the request of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and several of her House Democratic colleagues to provide $50 million in additional humanitarian assistance for migrants fleeing desperate situations in their home countries. Since April, thousands of these migrants have been bused or flown without notice to our nation’s capital, to New York City, to Chicago and to communities in Massachusetts. That cynical Republican governors in Texas, Arizona and Florida are behind the callous and outrageous scheme should have aroused the attention of a Democratic-led Congress. Instead, federal lawmakers left the emergency request for migrants in the waste can, even as their continuing resolution funding the federal government through Dec. 16 provides an additional $12.35 billion in emergency assistance for Ukraine.

About 10,000 migrants have been sent to D.C., where Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) declared the city has a public emergency on its hands. She has gone so far as to create a city government office to tap $10 million from a contingency fund to host the unexpected arrivals. The mayors of New York and Chicago say they face a similarly dire situation. “We need federal support, resources, communication and collaboration,” declared Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D). New York Mayor Eric Adams (D) called it “a humanitarian crisis created by human hands.”

Up north, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) also found himself pressed into action by the descent of migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard on the orders of Florida’s governor, the supreme political opportunist Ron DeSantis (R). Citing the Vineyard’s lack of resources to provide long-term care, Baker arranged for the arrivals to move voluntarily to a military base on Cape Cod. Boston, which has seen an uptick in asylum-seeking families over the summer, is facing similar issues. The city’s nonpartisan mayor, Michelle Wu, is trying to play host but has stressed the need for federal and state support.

Joining Norton and some 20 other members of Congress in the request for increased funding for asylum seekers was Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), who spoke of the political games being played by conservative governors even as people “will not receive the shelter, food and health-care services they need.” And Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) claimed pride in New York City being a haven for asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution — but he warned that “the emergency infrastructure of sanctuary cities is being stretched thin.”

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Their concerns are not surprising. What does appear out of nowhere, however, is a Democratic-led Congress’s detachment from problems of hungry and homeless migrants in our country.

And, sadly, congressional passivity is matched by the mildness with which Norton and the other Democrats seeking migrant assistance accepted the out-of-hand rejection.

Said Norton, “We are disappointed that the continuing resolution does not provide increased funding.” Echoed García, “I’m disappointed that supplemental funding to assist asylum seekers … has been dismissed.” From Espaillat: “I share my disappointment with my colleagues to learn that the [emergency migrant program] received no supplemental funding.”

“Disappointed”? How about a tad outraged?

The same continuing resolution that did not support $50 million in migrant assistance provided:

  • $2.5 billion to bolster recovery efforts following the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in New Mexico.
  • $2 billion in block grants to help communities that experienced major natural disasters in 2021 and 2022.
  • $1 billion in low-income home emergency energy assistance ahead of the winter.

Let’s be clear. Those are worthy programs. The continuing resolution funding the federal government and keeping crucial services running is essential. Humanitarian aid to Ukraine is a must. The legislation also extends beneficial programs such as child-care services, nutrition programs, affordable care for America’s veterans, and relief funds for communities in crisis. But the emergency food and shelter humanitarian program for migrants needs supplemental funding, too. And it’s not forthcoming.

The White House said it is continuing to do “everything we can to support cities as Governor Abbott and Governor DeSantis intentionally create chaos and confusion with their cruel political stunts.”

Dear White House: Words won’t help. Cities, local agencies and migrants need money.

People being moved around the country shouldn’t find themselves kicked to the back of the bus when it comes to receiving lifesaving federal services.

Congress, there is no excuse for that.