Texas buses migrants to Chicago, worsening political tensions

Texas Governor Greg Abbott says the buses are needed because President Joe Biden has failed to secure the southern border.

Asylum seekers arriving at Union Station near the US Capitol in Washington, DC from Texas [File: Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

The Republican governor of the US state of Texas has bused a group of asylum seekers to the city of Chicago, in an expanded effort to denounce President Joe Biden’s migration policies, and to push the responsibility of increased arrivals along the US-Mexico border, to his Democratic political rivals.

Officials confirmed that two buses carrying about 60 migrants had arrived at Chicago’s main train station late on Wednesday, on a bus from Texas for the first time. The Associated Press news agency reported 75 migrants had arrived.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has bused more than 7,000 migrants to Washington, DC, and New York City since April. In a statement on Wednesday, Abbott said Chicago will now serve as “a drop-off location” for his “busing strategy”.

The development comes as Abbott is seeking a third term in office in the upcoming November mid-term elections. He has seized on the issue of rising arrivals along the US-Mexico border to advance his political campaign. He says the buses are needed because Biden has failed to secure the border with Mexico.

US Border Patrol made a record 1.8 million migrant detentions at the southwest border from October 1, 2021 to July 31, 2022. The numbers include migrants who have made multiple attempts to cross the border with each attempt counted separately.

In a statement on Wednesday, Abbott called out Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, for her city’s “sanctuary” law, which limits cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

“Mayor Lightfoot loves to tout the responsibility of her city to welcome all regardless of legal status,” Abbott said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing this responsibility in action.”

Following Abbott’s announcement, Lightfoot’s spokesman Ryan Johnson confirmed on Twitter that migrants had arrived in Chicago.

“Chicago is a welcoming city and as such has collaborated across various departments and agencies to ensure we greeted them with dignity and respect,” he said.

“As a city, we are doing everything we can to ensure these immigrant and their families can receive shelter, food, and most importantly protection,” according to the statement.

The immigrants are being bused from Texas as part of an effort launched by Abbott this year to share the influx of people from outside the US with liberal cities. His state has spent nearly $13m on the initiative through August 8, according to state data obtained by Reuters news agency through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has also adopted this policy, sending the state’s own buses to Washington, DC and New York City.

Since Abbott began the busing effort, the Democratic mayors of Washington and New York City have clamoured for federal assistance. Newly arrived migrants in Washington, DC, many of whom come from Venezuela, Haiti, and Nicaragua, have struggled to secure permanent housing and medical care, migrants and volunteers have said.

In a New York Post op-ed last week, Abbott accused New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams of “hypocrisy” writing that the leader claims that putting migrants on lengthy bus trips is inhumane, while supporting policies that have encouraged migrants to trek for days and weeks under often dangerous conditions towards the US borders.

On Thursday, Fox News reported that many of the migrants arriving in Chicago were from Venezuela.

The US applies Title 42 along the US-Mexico border, a pandemic-era policy that allows for the swift expulsion of migrants seeking asylum, back to Mexico, or to their country of origin. But Mexico does not accept Venezuelan migrants and the US does not maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela, making it impossible to expel them.

The US has been allowing many Venezuelan nationals – who cite the crippling economic and political crises in their country as reasons for leaving – to apply for asylum in the US.

At least 753,000 Venezuelans have fled their country since November, and some 6.8 million have left since 2014, according to recently released data.

Earlier in the year, Abbott announced that state troopers would stop and inspect commercial vehicles crossing the US-Mexico border, a move he acknowledged would “dramatically slow” vehicle traffic near the US ports of entry. He later eased that plan after massive gridlock at the border started to take an economic toll.

The White House has said Abbott’s efforts are sowing chaos and using migrants as political pawns. But this past week, the Democrat-led city of El Paso, Texas also sent a bus carrying migrants to New York City and planned to send one to Chicago, according to local news reports.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies