- Bernd Debusman Jr. & Nathan Williams
- BBC News
Amid political controversy over immigration, two buses carrying immigrants from Texas were sent to the Washington home of Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday.
The state’s Republican governor said the move was deliberate and called for tougher immigration policies.
The episode came a day after Florida sent settlers to Massachusetts Island.
Both states appear to be stepping up the tactic of sending immigrants from states with Republican governors to Democratic areas.
As political tensions rise over the number of people arriving at the US-Mexico border, states like Texas and Arizona are sending thousands of migrants to cities like Chicago, New York and Washington, which they accuse of not fully complying with immigration laws.
While legal experts say there is a chance the tactic could be challenged in court, it is unclear what the legal basis for such a challenge would be.
Immigration groups in Washington and on the prosperous island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts said they had received no advance notice of the arrival.
Footage televised by Fox News showed two buses (carrying between 75 and 100 people) approaching the vice president’s residence — with migrants, mostly Venezuelans, standing nearby gathering their belongings. An NGO would have taken them to a church later.
“Harris says our border is ‘secure’ and denies crisis,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott later wrote on Twitter. “We’re sending immigrants into your backyard to ask the Biden administration to do its job and secure the border.”
‘We are confused’
Among the immigrants on buses in Washington were Delinier Mendoza and his partner, Mabel, a young Venezuelan couple who arrived in the United States five days ago after an arduous journey through Central America and Mexico.
Although Texas officials told the couple they were going to Washington, they only learned they were at the vice president’s home when reporters reported them.
“We don’t know,” Mabel says. “We’ve been figuring this out for you. We’re stuck and we’ve been wandering around not knowing where we are.”
The couple said they planned to spend the day at a local humanitarian organization before heading north to New York with the Mendoza family.
Another Cuban immigrant, Leonardo Perdomo, told Reuters he boarded a bus in Texas after officials offered him a “free” ticket to Washington.
Carla Bustillos, a local volunteer who helps migrants, told immigration authorities only at the last minute about the arrival.
“When we put on this political spectacle, we feel people are exploiting their suffering,” he said.
In a similar move on Wednesday, two planes carrying migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The resort is a traditional summer destination for Hollywood stars, and former President Barack Obama is among those who have vacationed there.
According to Massachusetts state senator Julian Cyr, the migrants, including children, arrived without warning around 3pm (local time) on Wednesday.
Officials and volunteers “moved heaven and earth,” he said, “as we would if there was a hurricane.” The migrants were given food and clothes, as well as tested for Covid-19.
According to Massachusetts state representative Dylan Fernandez, many don’t know where they are. He said that they will be given housing and employment.
On Twitter, Fernandez described the move as a “brutal and inhumane” plan to use “human lives – men, women and children – as political pawns”.
Speaking at an event in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state is ready to help ease the movement of immigrants so they can move on to “greener pastures.”
He also said Florida is not a “sanctuary” state. So-called sanctuary cities in the United States are cities that have policies that help undocumented immigrants.
“People in Washington and New York were all beating their chests when Trump was president, saying how proud they were to be sanctuary jurisdictions,” DeSantis said.
“The moment a small fraction of what these border towns deal with every day is brought to their doorstep, they suddenly go crazy.”
Aleksander Cuic, an immigration attorney and director of Case Western Reserve University’s law school’s immigration clinic, said he believes such efforts to relocate immigrants will be legally challenged, but it is not yet clear what laws may have been violated.
“The big question is what they’re being told, and whether there’s any fraud or incentives,” he tells the BBC.
“But how do you know if nothing is written? Maybe they are.” [os migrantes] They say they want jobs and opportunities.”
Quick adds that Texas and Florida officials will argue that they are “doing the same thing” as the government, which routinely moves detained immigrants around the country.
Gov. DeSantis previously cited Martha’s Vineyard as a possible destination for migrants sent from his state, telling reporters last year that if they went, “the border would be secure the next day.”
This year, Florida lawmakers set aside $12 million for immigrant transportation.
It’s unclear how many immigrants Florida plans to send to other states. The BBC has contacted Governor DeSantis’ office for comment.
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