Republican governors are sending more migrants released at the U.S.-Mexico border to Democratic strongholds, raising questions about their legal status, how they’re herded onto buses and planes and the cost to taxpayers.
Ron DeSantis of Florida flew about 50 Venezuelans last week to the small, upscale island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Over the weekend, Greg Abbott of Texas bussed more immigrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ home in Washington.
US authorities are grappling with unusually large numbers of migrants crossing the border from Mexico amid rapidly changing demographics. The government said Monday that people from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua accounted for more than one in three migrants stopped at the border in August.
Since April, Texas has bused about 8,000 immigrants to Washington, D.C., 2,200 to New York and 300 to Chicago. Arizona has flown more than 1,800 buses to Washington since May, while the city of El Paso, Texas has flown more than 1,100 buses to New York since August 23.
Here are some questions and answers:
ARE IMMIGRANTS IN THE UNITED STATES LEGAL?
Yes, temporarily. Tens of thousands of immigrants illegally crossing the border from Mexico are released into the United States each month with notices to appear in immigration court to seek asylum or on humanitarian parole with requirements to report regularly to immigration authorities. Immigrants can seek asylum if they enter the country illegally under US and international law, and US authorities have broad authority to grant parole based on individual circumstances.
Immigrants must have a current address with the authorities, who schedule an appointment in a city with the nearest court or immigration office. They must apply separately for a work permit.
Last year, it took an average of nearly four years for asylum cases to be decided in immigration court, according to the Biden administration, leaving immigrants in a legal purgatory that protects them from deportation. The backlog in immigration courts has grown to more than 1.9 million cases, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
To avoid massive overcrowding in detention facilities, the administration began releasing many immigrants with restrictive conditions. The Border Patrol released nearly 250,000 immigrants from August to June, including 40,151 in June, according to the latest figures released. In the previous seven months, only 11 immigrants were released.
WERE THESE IMMIGRANTS KIDNAPPED?
Kidnapping is a high legal threshold, but immigrants taken to Martha’s Vineyard say they were brought there under false pretenses. Migrants sign waivers that transportation is free and voluntary.
DeSantis used a state program in which immigrants deemed “unauthorized aliens” can be moved “from Florida,” although the governor has acknowledged that the flights originate in Texas.
They stopped in Florida first, before going to Martha’s Vineyard, but DeSantis hasn’t highlighted that. Instead, he argues that the two flights were a legitimate use of funds because otherwise the immigrants would have been targeted for Florida, though he offered no evidence of that or said how the immigrants might have been screened.
Migrants who boarded the flights told The Associated Press that a woman who approached them at a San Antonio shelter promised jobs and three months of housing in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Boston.
IS THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION NOT BUSING AND FLYING IMMIGRANTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY?
Yes, but under different circumstances. Like previous administrations, it shuttles immigrants between detention facilities, often en route to removing them from the country.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had more than 4,800 domestic flights last year, including 434 in August, according to Witness to the Border, a group critical of U.S. law enforcement. The top five destinations from March to August were: Alexandria, Louisiana; Laredo, Texas? Phoenix; and Harlingen and El Paso in Texas. ICE also transports many immigrants on buses.
The Department of Health and Human Services transfers unaccompanied children to “sponsors,” which are often family or child-only detention facilities.
DID ANYONE ASK FOR THIS?
Republican-led states say they are sending immigrants to “sanctuary” cities that welcome immigrants. While the definition of a sanctuary city is slippery, a sudden influx of immigrants can test attitudes and the limits of generosity.
Chicago’s Welcoming City Ordinance prohibits asking people about their immigration status, denying services based on immigration status, and disclosing information to federal immigration authorities.
New York limits cooperation with US immigration authorities, in part by barring police officers from participating in joint enforcement and or letting immigration agents work in city jails.
On Martha’s Vineyard, the six towns that make up the island south of Boston have not issued shelter-in-place declarations.
The Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictions, maintains an extensive list of “sanctuary” jurisdictions, which by definition limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. They include Boston and seven other Massachusetts cities. None of the towns on Martha’s Vineyard are listed.
WHO PAYS AND HOW MUCH?
Texas has committed billions of dollars to Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star,” an unprecedented border security drive that includes busing, prosecuting border guards for trespassing and a massive presence of state troopers and the National Guard.
The Florida Legislature appropriated $12 million for its program for the current fiscal year.
The city of El Paso, which last week contracted with a private bus company at a cost of up to $2 million, plans to seek compensation from the federal government.
Associated Press reporters Don Babwin in Chicago, Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida, and Sophia Tulp and Philip Marcelo in New York contributed to this report.