Democratic-run Texas city ramps up migrant bus rides to New York, outpacing Republican effort

By Ted Hesson, Paul Ratje and Kristina Cooke

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – The Democratic-run border town of El Paso, Texas sent more migrants on buses to New York and Chicago than a campaign by the Republican governor of Texas, a twist in an ongoing partisan battle over US border security.

El Paso, which is across the border from Juarez, Mexico, has ferried about 7,000 migrants to New York since late August and sent more than 1,800 to Chicago, a city-run effort that far exceeds the more ad hoc transport of the past.

The city’s bus effort has received less attention than a separate statewide campaign from Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who is seeking a third term in the November 8 midterm elections. . Abbott bussed more than 3,000 migrants to New York and more than 900 to Chicago as part of a wide-ranging campaign to highlight record crossings at the US-Mexico border.

Texas and Arizona combined also transported more than 10,000 migrants to Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Republican Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis recently transported a group of approximately 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, but those who boarded the planes said they were misled.

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Republican moves to keep migrants, including those seeking asylum, away from the border have drawn attention to the issue just weeks before the election. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that American voters prefer them to Democrats to solve immigration problems.

US President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration and Democratic mayors receiving the migrants have criticized Republican governors for creating confusion with surprise landings and said the bus campaign was draining resources.

But Democratic leaders in El Paso say they are coordinating with receiving towns and that migrants voluntarily take their chartered buses. City officials say their buses were needed because up to 2,000 migrants were arriving daily, including poor Venezuelans without families in the United States to pay for the onward journey.

Coordination between home and host cities is crucial, according to Theresa Cardinal Brown, chief executive of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank.

“If there’s no coordination,” she said, “you drop penniless people who don’t speak the language in an unfamiliar town and say, ‘Make your own way. “”

Still, El Paso’s coordination could be better, said New York Mayor’s spokeswoman Kate Smart. El Paso notifies New York when a bus is heading into the city, but, she adds, officials from both states should discuss in advance whether the bus should actually be going to New York and how many migrants are in the way. edge.

Many of those being sent to New York are Venezuelans, who have been stopped at the border in greater numbers than ever before. The United States cannot deport them to Mexico under a pandemic-era order like it can for other migrants.

El Paso’s program isn’t new: Last year, the city rented a handful of charter buses to ferry migrants to nearby towns, a city official said.

But when overstretched U.S. border officials began releasing hundreds of migrants at a time in El Paso in August and September, the city began making their way to New York and Chicago.

Buses now depart from a converted warehouse in northeast El Paso that serves as a migrant processing center. On Monday, several hundred migrants were waiting for buses to New York and Chicago, including Frederick Pinango, 28, his wife and 3-year-old daughter.

The Venezuelan family crossed the Darien Gap, an often dangerous passage through a jungle separating Colombia and Panama. According to Pinango, they crossed Central America and Mexico cleaning bathrooms, emptying trash cans and begging.

They took a bus to New York because they had no contacts in the United States and it was free.

“I trust they will help us with shelter, so I can start working,” he said.

Edwin Rico, a 28-year-old Venezuelan who boarded a bus for Chicago on Monday, said the food El Paso officials provided for the trip was not enough, but he had rationed.

“I don’t have any money, so I’m grateful for the help,” he said.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, a Democrat, said the city’s program was “completely different” from other bus efforts and that they sought to “treat people with respect.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams, also a Democrat, criticized Abbott, the Republican governor, for his refusal to share information about bus arrivals. Adams told a press conference in mid-September that Leeser, unlike Abbott, was willing to meet and “find a humane way to coordinate.”

New York City officials traveled to El Paso last month to observe the process firsthand. During the visit, they discussed adding drop-off points in cities on the way to New York, Leeser said.

El Paso remains in contact with the Biden administration and is seeking federal bus fare reimbursement, Leeser said, and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson confirmed the coordination.

“It’s a federal issue,” Leeser said. “They’re not coming to El Paso, they’re coming to the United States.”

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington, Paul Ratje in El Paso, Texas, and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Aurora Ellis)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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