Arizona has begun busing migrants released into its towns by the Border Patrol more than 2,000 miles to Washington, D.C., following an April announcement of the same operation by Texas officials.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday announced the first bus had made its inaugural drop-off of passengers near the U.S. Capitol a day earlier. A second bus was en route, a senior state official told the Washington Examiner.
Unlike the state of Texas's busing initiative, which began in April, Arizona expects the Biden administration to pick up the tab.
"This is a problem caused by Washington. We’re bringing it to Washington, and we expect Washington to foot the bill. We’re going to send them a bill," Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin told the Washington Examiner Thursday afternoon.
Passengers on board both buses traveled to the southern border from countries around the world, including Angola, Brazil, Congo, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Peru, Senegal, and Uzbekistan. Upon arriving in Washington, they planned to travel to Connecticut, Florida, Maine, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, Karamargin said.
Ducey took action out of concern that the Biden administration's plans to stop expelling migrants who illegally cross the border would lead to more people crossing and being released into Arizona. Under a public health pandemic policy known as Title 42, border officials have been able to turn away the majority of people, but come May 23, that ability could go away unless a federal judge intervenes.
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Gov. Greg Abbott, (R-TX), first announced on April 6 that the state would use emergency evacuation procedures to transport migrants out of the state in an effort to “take the border to President Biden.” The white charter buses and security were contracted through private companies. Although Abbott vowed to drop off migrants at the U.S. Capitol, the buses have dropped passengers closer to Union Station, the major transportation hub in the region.
Nonprofit organizations have been there to help people as they arrive, though Texas stopped issuing notices in advance of the buses arriving. Migrants typically board trains and long-distance buses at Union Station to continue on to destinations where they have family or friends. The state’s buses are free of charge to migrants, only costing taxpayers.
Similar to how Texas is running its busing operation, migrants who are released from Border Patrol custody after illegally coming across from Mexico must volunteer and sign a waiver of liability before boarding the buses. Migrants are not in law enforcement custody while on the buses, and they are free to travel across the country.
State and local officials have said the Biden administration is not offering advice or help to respond to the number of people that it releases into its cities and towns each day.
"Our communities are strapped. A tremendous financial burden is being imposed on them," Karamargin said. "We have food banks in Yuma that can't keep up. There's one community hospital in Yuma. The 911 system in Yuma crashed not too long ago. A county supervisor said three churches contacted him Sunday because migrants were showing up [from the border], and they didn’t know what to do."
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) questioned Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week about the federal government’s plan for ending the Title 42 pandemic policy of turning migrants away at the border and the influx of illegal migrants that are expected to cross the border later this month. Sinema told Mayorkas that the Border Patrol’s releases of migrants have overwhelmed towns and nonprofit organizations up and down the state’s border.
Officials in Yuma, Arizona, are short on flights and airports for how many people are being released and choosing to fly across the country to family or friends. The 90,000-person city is a three-hour drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Transporting migrants released from custody has been a challenge, according to Republican Mayor Douglas Nicholls, but with limited flights, authorities are looking at other airports they can use to bus the 350 people who are booking flights each day.
“I don't think you can do it all through Phoenix. Right now, we're looking at a lot of different options, like Vegas, Palm Springs, Mesa Gateway, which is in Phoenix,” Nicholls said.
Since illegal immigration through the western half of Arizona began to climb a year ago, the Regional Center for Border Health stepped up as the sole organization helping migrants when they are discharged from Border Patrol facilities. Until recently, the organization had been able to bus migrants to the Phoenix airport without any real problem, but any increase in those numbers will trigger a need for housing due to logistical constraints in getting everyone out of town the same day they are released. Nicholls has been trying to avoid having to set up shelters to hold migrants overnight, but he said that come summer, it will likely be a necessity.
Buses in both states pick up migrants right after they are released by the Border Patrol. Migrants who have come across the border illegally are taken into federal custody by Border Patrol and then processed. The U.S. is limited in its ability to repatriate migrants to countries beyond Central America, forcing the government to detain or release them at the border. Many migrants who are released into the United States are on humanitarian parole, while others are given documents mandating that they appear in immigration court. All migrants are tracked through ankle monitors or cellphone apps. Migrants must sign waivers to board the buses.
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Over the past year, fewer than half of the people who illegally crossed the southern border have been released into the U.S., but with encounters rising from 20,000 per month two years ago to more than 220,000 in March, the mass releases have placed a significant strain on small and large border communities that do not have the shelter space, food, transportation, or other means to help people get to other parts of the country where they have family or friends.