WASHINGTON — When Lever Alejos arrived in South Texas last month, he was out of money and out of options, after a 1,300-mile journey from Venezuela that culminated in him fording the Rio Grande in water up to his chin. Border Patrol quickly apprehended him, and upon his release he was offered a choice: a $50 bus ride to San Antonio or a free bus ride to Washington, DC, paid for by the state of Texas.
“I wanted San Antonio, but I ran out of money,” said Mr. Alejos, 28, who has no family in the United States. “I got on the bus to Washington.”
A few days later, he arrived in the nation’s capital among busloads of tired migrants. He spent his first night on the plaza in front of Union Station, but eventually found a bed at the Central Union Mission, where he hopes to stay until he can apply for asylum, get a work permit and find a job, a process that could take months.
A The political tactics of the governors of Texas and Arizona Washington, D.C., is beginning to face problems with record levels of border migration, as hundreds of undocumented migrants arriving each week on the governor’s free buses increasingly strain the capital’s ability to provide food and housing.
Without money or family to take them in, migrants overwhelm nonprofits and other volunteer groups, many of whom end up in homeless shelters or on park benches. Five buses arrived the previous day, pouring young men and families with nowhere to go into the streets near the Capitol.
Texas has sent more than 6,200 migrants to the nation’s capital since April, and Arizona has sent another 1,000 since May. The surge prompted Muriel E. Bowser, Washington’s Democratic mayor, to ask the Defense Department to send in the National Guard. The request angered organizations that have helped migrants without any support from the city.
The vast majority of recent bus riders are Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-ridden country, and many also come to New York, often via Washington. Eric Adams, Mayor of New York, announced emergency measures on Monday so the city can quickly build additional shelter capacity. The mayor, also a Democrat, said the city has taken in 4,000 asylum seekers since May, a 10 percent increase in the homeless population, and about 100 new arrivals each day.
Venezuelans have been making daily visits to the offices of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York seeking help. “Their main concern was a place to stay, food for the children,” said Maryann Tharappel, director of the organization’s immigrant and refugee services.
“New York’s infrastructure is not built for that,” she said. “We are not at the border.”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, both Republicans, have blamed President Biden for the record number of migrants crossing the southern border.
Cities along the Texas-Arizona border have at times been overwhelmed by the number of illegal border crossings, which have peaked under the Biden administration, which has sought to roll back some of the strict border restrictions imposed by former President Donald J. Trump.
Although there were thousands of migrants quickly expelled Under the pandemic-related health order known as Title 42, thousands more are being allowed into the country to seek asylum because they cannot be returned to Mexico or their home countries.
Officials in Texas and Arizona welcomed many migrants after they were released by US Border Patrol, offering them a free bus ride to Washington, D.C., in an effort to force the federal government to take responsibility for what they say is a broken immigration system.
After arriving at their destination, migrants may remain in the country for months or even years while fighting their deportation case in court; they are allowed to work while they submit their asylum applications.
The situation has become acute in recent weeks with the arrival of so many Venezuelans who cannot be deported under Title 42 because Mexico will not accept them and their own government has no agreement with the United States to accept deportation flights. And unlike most Mexican and Central American migrants who have family and friends in the United States, Venezuelans often arrive with no money and nowhere to go.
In the first nine months of this fiscal year, border patrols have encountered 110,467 Venezuelans along the southern border, compared with 47,408 in all of fiscal year 2021. With the arrival of hot summer temperatures, illegal logging has decreased.
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The situation led to accusations back and forth with Democratic mayors on the East Coast in recent weeks. In the latest salvo, Mr Abbott sent on Monday letter to Mayors Mr. Adams and Ms. Bowser, inviting them to inspect the “terrible situation” on the border with Mexico.
“Your recent interest in this historic and preventable crisis is a welcome development — especially since the president and his administration have shown no remorse for their actions and unwillingness to take matters into their own hands,” Mr. Abbott wrote.
Fabien Levy, press secretary for the mayor of New York, said: “Instead of a photo at the border, we hope that Governor Abbott will focus his energy and resources on support and resources for asylum seekers in Texas, because we have had a hard time.” work in New York’.
Texas’ governor and mayors agree on one thing: All three are calling on the federal government to act.
“The migrant crisis facing our city and our country due to the cruel political game played by the governors of Texas and Arizona must be addressed at the federal level,” Ms. Bowser wrote. letter to White House officials.
In requesting the activation of the D.C. Weapons Processing Center and the National Guard, she said the number of migrants has reached a “tipping point” that has “overwhelmed” the District’s ability to deal with them.
Ms. Bower’s request drew criticism from immigrant advocates, who said she had ignored repeated requests for asylum, a respite center and rapid testing for the coronavirus for migrants, among other things.
“The last thing we want is a militarized response to a humanitarian crisis,” said Andrea Scherff, lead organizer for the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a grassroots coalition.
Noting that Washington is a haven for immigrants, she said, “We should meet everyone’s housing needs.”
The Biden administration said it had been in contact with Mayor Bowser, but White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the governors were using migrants as a “political tool” to achieve their goals.
“There is a process of managing migrants at the border. That’s not the case,” she said, adding that the administration continues to deport some migrants, detain others and release those eligible to the care of local nonprofits “while they await processing.”
About 15 faith and community groups in Washington have opened their doors to migrants, offering them meals, showers and hygiene items during daylight hours. But the increase in the frequency of the buses, from two to four a day to now sometimes eight, has exhausted the number of volunteers and exceeded capacity, and many volunteers have contracted Covid-19,” Scherff said.
“The mayors played into the hands of the Republican governors,” said Adam Isacson, a researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America who studies the border.
“Of course they make a fuss about incoming migrants, because those who need shelter are a strain on the social services of their cities,” he said. But “the gist of their comments,” he said, is giving governors ammunition to crack down on immigration, including measures such as border walls and defunding asylum.
Migrants disembarking from three buses recently were greeted by volunteers and staff from SAMU First Response, an international aid organization that received some funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and began operations in Washington in late June.
They were given water, pizza and granola bars, and some were given onward tickets. By 1 a.m., most were settled on the marble floor of Union Station’s East Hall. Others from earlier buses were forced to sleep on the streets. This created an unusual stand: on one side of the field, the unseated Americans; on the other hand, migrants with their meager belongings lay on the ground, all within sight of the Capitol.
SAMU CEO Tatiana Laborde said her organization had enough funds to buy onward tickets for about a third of the migrants they serve. She said the group’s shelter in Montgomery County, Md., could not provide long-term housing.
Ten city council members have sent a letter to Washington’s mayor, urging her not only to ask for federal aid, but also to release contingency funds and hire workers to help migrants, as well as provide Covid testing, isolation hotels and other resources.
“This is a crisis created by other state Republican leaders, but unfortunately the mayor has had to allocate resources locally,” said Councilwoman Brianne Nadeau, who drafted the letter.
Many Venezuelans said they traveled to the United States because they believed the country’s doors were open.
“What we’ve seen on TikTok is that it’s easy for people to enter the United States,” said Yennifer Ortiz, who traveled with her partner, Luis Moreno, and their 5-year-old daughter, Sofia.
Their journey to the United States took 45 days, including nine days through the dangerous jungle on the Colombia-Panama border known as the Darién Gap, Mr. Moreno.
When they reached Texas, they had no money and were happy to get on a free bus to Washington. “They told us there would be people here to welcome us and help us,” Ms. Ortiz said.
When recently around 8 a.m. morning their bus arrived, volunteers directed them to a respite center run by the church, where they bathed and changed into new clothes. They spent their first night on park benches and have been hopping between American homes ever since, they said.
Juan Rojas, 22, said that when he and a friend arrived in Washington, D.C., they were sent to a mostly American shelter in the city, where they felt unwelcome.
“Guys were shouting at us and we couldn’t understand a word,” he said. “It was clear they didn’t want us there. The couple left after two nights and slept on the street for a week, he said.
In recent days, Mr. Rojas said, some nights they were cared for by a “woman who helps migrants” and other nights in hotels organized by volunteers. He said he hasn’t given up on America yet after his odyssey.
But he was not an optimist. “We were told in Texas that we would get help here with housing and jobs and anything else we needed,” he said. “It was all a lie.”