Briefing

Why Texas is shipping migrants to New York, Chicago, and D.C.

Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to embarrass Democrats, explained

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) isn't too thrilled by undocumented migrants coming to his state from South and Central America. So he's shipping them out of state on buses to New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. — all "sanctuary cities" run by Democratic mayors.

Abbott's attitude: If those cities like undocumented migrants so much, they should have 'em.

"To continue providing much-needed relief to our small, overrun border towns, Chicago will join fellow sanctuary cities Washington, D.C. and New York City as an additional drop-off location," Abbott said last month. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, he added, "loves to tout the responsibility of her city to welcome all regardless of legal status, and I look forward to seeing this responsibility in action as these migrants receive resources from a sanctuary city with the capacity to serve them." But those cities are straining under the weight of the unexpected newcomers. Why is Texas shipping migrants to Dem-run cities? And what is the effect? Here is everything you need to know. 

Isn't immigration a federal responsibility? 

Let's start with the obvious: This isn't the kind of thing state governments usually do. 

The normal procedure is that "migrants are processed by authorities, released and allowed to move throughout the U.S. while they await immigration court proceedings," CNN reports. Many newcomers who enter through the southern border stay in Texas, but many others "make their way to other parts of the country" of their own volition. Indeed, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has criticized Abbott for not coordinating with federal officials on the issue.

So why is Texas doing this, then?

It's at least partly a political stunt. The busing plan was meant "to rattle the Biden administration," The New York Times reported when the effort started in April. "Mr. Abbott says his goal is to draw attention to what he and other Republicans describe as the failed immigration policies of President Biden during a period of record crossings along the southwest border."

There was a specific spark, though: The Biden Administration indicated in March that it would lift pandemic-era restrictions on immigration. (A federal judge blocked that order in May, but it's still busy at the border: The Border Patrol said in August that it has arrested 1.82 million migrants during the current fiscal year.) Abbott wasn't a fan of the move. "Texas should not have to bear the burden of the Biden Administration's failure to secure our border," he grumbled. Thus, the busing plan was born.

Do the migrants have a choice in the matter?

Yes. "The governor's office clarified that the program is completely voluntary for migrants and would happen only after they had been processed and released by the Department of Homeland Security," the Texas Tribune reported in April. The state has reportedly spent $12 million — roughly $1,700 per passenger — to ship about 9,000 migrants to New York and D.C. as of late August.

How are the sanctuary cities handling the influx? 

They're struggling. Chicago, for example, says it has received 125 migrants from Texas — all, officials say, without any advance notice from Abbott or officials in his state government. "My frustration comes from the actions of the governor of Texas," Mayor Lightfoot said this week. "There could be a level of coordination and cooperation but he chooses to do none of these things."

New York has had a tough time meeting the needs of the new arrivals, the Times notes. The city's initial response "was marked by weeks of flailing and missteps" that included problems providing "basics like food, diapers and medical attention." The nation's capital has similarly been overwhelmed: Mayor Muriel Bowser has pleaded with the Department of Defense to provide assistance to city officials in Washington D.C., but has repeatedly been rebuffed. On Thursday, she declared a state of emergency so that the city can focus on ensuring "we have a humane, efficient, welcome process that will allow people to move on to their final destination."

Is there any interesting twist to all of this?

Yup. It turns out that a number of migrants "are hopping off the buses before reaching Washington and New York," Pew Research reports. Why? Because those places are really expensive, especially for newcomers who often don't have much money to spend. So they're getting off "in red states along the route, where the cost of living is much lower." That's places like Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee — although buses no longer stop at some locations in those states after protests from local Republicans. 

What happens next? 

Other Democratic cities in the north are waiting their turn to be targeted by Abbott. Boston, Philadelphia, and Seattle are all bracing themselves to receive an unexpected influx of migrants in need of shelter, food, and other assistance. 

And the political tensions may only get higher. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said this week he's sending a fact-finding delegation to Texas to see how that state treats migrants. "Here in New York, we will continue to welcome asylum seekers with open arms, as we learn more about the process," he said, but New York officials plan to "see, firsthand, the reportedly inhumane conditions in which asylum seekers are being subjected to by the state of Texas." All of which seems to mean that migrants who came to the United States seeking better lives are being used instead as political footballs.

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