Southern border crossings are their highest level in years, according to statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And since April, more than 170 buses have left the state of Texas under Governor Greg Abbott‘s “Operation Lone Star” program, filled with more than 6,600 asylum seekers sent on 30+ hour rides to Washington D.C. and New York City — often without food, water, medical supplies or rest stops.
Run by the state’s Division of Emergency Management, Texas officials insist that these rides are free, safe and voluntary. And Abbott insists that the asylum seekers should be welcomed in the Big Apple.
“In addition to Washington, D.C., New York City is the ideal destination for these migrants, who can receive the abundance of city services and housing that Mayor Eric Adams has boasted about within the sanctuary city,” Governor Abbott’s office said in a statement published on August 5, after a bus with the first group of migrants reached Adam’s city.
“I hope he follows through on his promise of welcoming all migrants with open arms,” Abbott added, “so that our overrun and overwhelmed border towns can find relief.”
But considering reports of mistreatment and the absence of coordination between Texas authorities and the destination cities, Abbott is being accused of using this mass bussing of asylum seekers as political theater.
“I find what Abbott is doing to be abominable,” said Ilze Thielmann, director of Team TLC NYC, a Grannies Respond affiliate.
She welcomed the first group of NYC arrivals (54 in total) with a small group of just nine volunteers. On Monday, she helped to welcome 130 additional arrivals, this time partnering with other non-profits and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
“We are a sanctuary city and we are proud of it,” Thielmann told Newsweek. “There are so many people here who want to help, including the people representing the city itself. But Abbott is intentionally making it as difficult as possible.”
The unexpected and unplanned bussing of so many asylum seekers is part of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s master plan to “show the hypocrisy of liberal leaders in the northeast,” which he confirmed two weeks ago on Fox News.
The state of Texas has spent more than $6 million to prove this point, according to official records.
“We’re going to keep sending those buses up there until they fully understand,” Abbott told Fox News on August 2, “and most importantly, until the Biden administration does its job to enforce the laws concerning the border.”
Thielmann emphasized that the people Abbott is sending on buses are awaiting asylum hearings from the U.S. government, and are legally allowed to be in this country.
Those people include Jose Rodriguez, a father of five from Venezuela who crossed the border from Mexico into Texas without any money or connections. Seeking economic opportunity, he hoped to get a job in the U.S. to help support his family back home.
After his two-month journey into the U.S., he heard there was a free bus to New York City. Officials told him that if he boarded the bus there’d be help waiting for him when he arrived. Rodriguez believed there was a plan, that Texas and New York City were working together to give their support.
But he was wrong.
“We arrived deceived,” he later told the Dallas Morning Star. “I didn’t know that the governor had commanded this. They boarded us and brought us and that’s it.”
Since arriving in New York City one week ago, Rodriguez has looked for a job by day and slept in a Brooklyn homeless shelter at night.
“We didn’t know [much] — just that the bus was free,” he told the Star. “I thought they [Abbott and Adams] were friends.”
Leidy, a woman from Colombia who traveled by bus with her two children, shared a similar story. She told Reuters that she believed help would be available once she reached New York City.
“We came here because they said they would help us find a place to sleep to not have to stay in the street,” she said.
But the chance that even these limited expectations will be fulfilled remains uncertain.
Former New York Governor David Paterson said Abbott has made political capital with the bussing, while putting New York City’s mayor in a bind.
“It has really paid dividends to him politically,” Abbott told WABC 770 last week. “In addition, it has put New York’s Mayor Eric Adams in the position where he can’t say he won’t accept the immigrants.”
“That would be going against what has been the policy most Democrats have on immigration in the first place,” he added.
For now, Mayor Adams has remained steadfast on his commitment to welcome asylum-seekers,
“Our goal is every asylum-seeker that comes to New York, we’re going to give them shelter and support that they need,” Adams told a press conference last week.
Adams later chided Abbott for his “inhumanity,” accusing Texas authorities of “putting them on a bus for the 44-hour ride, very few breaks, no food, no direction and clear information.”
Thielmann said that, for the last week, the city has effectively coordinated with volunteers, non-profit organizations and community leaders to welcome the new arrivals with interpreters, transportation options, legal and medical services.
And while early responses are encouraging, advocates still worry about the long-term prospects for these new arrivals. Considering the ongoing lack of coordination between states, some speculate that the city’s critical services will be strained if these bus drop-offs continue indefinitely.
Most newly arrived asylum seekers will end up staying in homeless shelters throughout the five boroughs, added Thielmann.
“These people are not being treated like animals,” she said. “Animals get treated better than this. They’re being treated like insects.”
Despite being presented with firsthand reports, the state of Texas has denied any accusations of mistreatment or wrongdoing, and officials insist that they have prioritized a “safe journey for all on board.”
Abbott’s office claims that all the migrants who have been legally transported to New York and Washington D.C. have signed waivers acknowledging that the program is voluntary.
But Commissioner Manuel Castro of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs questioned that assertion.
“People are confused as to why they are being put on buses headed to New York City,” he told reporters. “We are concerned that they are being forced or intimidated to stay on the bus to arrive here.”
As the political and legal fights around the migrant bussing intensifies, Thielmann said that she will remain primarily focused on welcoming these new arrivals.
“It should be a celebration that they finally come to a place where they’re going to get some help,” she said. “So when they get off the bus, we applaud.”
Looking to the future, she hopes that New York City will continue to support the arrival of asylum seekers. She also wants more federal support and better coordination from Texas officials — especially Abbott — when it comes to busing and relocating migrant families elsewhere.
“If you could just coordinate with us and tell us who you’re sending, and where and when they’re arriving it would be very helpful,” Thielmann said. “I get that you are overwhelmed, but doing it this way is not a solution; it is just cruel.”
“But I think that is the point,” she added.
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