The first bus filled with dozens of undocumented immigrants from Texas arrived in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, a week after Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to transport migrants in the U.S. illegally to the nation’s capital.
The bus arrived in Washington around 8 a.m., parking blocks away from the U.S. Capitol in front of a building that houses Fox News, NBC News and C-SPAN.
The migrants exited the bus one by one, except for family units who left together, according to Fox News, whose cameras captured the arrival live. Officials cut off wristbands before the migrants were released.
“To help local officials — because communities are being overwhelmed by hordes of illegal immigrants who are being dropped off by the Biden administration — Texas is providing charter buses for these illegal immigrants who have been dropped off to Washington, DC,” Abbott said in announcing the move last week.
“We are sending them to the United States capital, where the Biden administration will be able to more immediately address the needs of the people that they are allowing to come across our border,” the Republican governor added.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management is leading the effort to transport the migrants from federal custody to the District of Columbia. Each bus will have capacity and supplies to transport up to 40 migrants.
The charter buses were dispatched last week to border communities in the Rio Grande Valley and Terrell County and picked up migrants who volunteered to be transported.
One group was reported on social media to have recognized that they were being used for political purposes but consented to the bus trip as their ultimate destination was Florida, where the group aimed to apply for asylum.
When migrants are released from federal custody after crossing the border — having avoided expulsion — they are typically given paperwork allowing them to remain in the U.S. They are also issued an order to appear in immigration court to make their case for asylum.
The Biden administration criticized Abbott’s bus maneuver on Thursday, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki calling it a “publicity stunt.”
“His own office admits that a migrant would need to voluntarily be transported, and then he can’t compel them to because, again, enforcement of our country’s immigration laws lies with the federal government and not a state,” she said.
Abbott has required inspections of commercial vehicles entering the state from Mexico, since many of them, he claimed, “smuggle immigrants and other illegal cargo into Texas and onto our roads.”
Abbott admitted last week that the measure will not “dramatically slow traffic from Mexico,” but said it will “immediately help ensure that Texans are not in danger.”
Truckers have since protested the order, blocking north- and southbound lanes on international bridges — causing more delays.
The White House slammed Abbott over the inspections on Wednesday, calling them “unnecessary and redundant” and accusing him of causing “significant disruptions to the food and automobile supply chains, delaying manufacturing, impacting jobs, and raising prices for families in Texas and across the country.”
“Local businesses and trade associations are calling on Governor Abbott to reverse this decision because trucks are facing lengthy delays exceeding 5 hours at some border crossings and commercial traffic has dropped by as much as 60[%],” Psaki said in a statement. “The continuous flow of legitimate trade and travel and CBP’s ability to do its job should not be obstructed. Governor Abbott’s actions are impacting people’s jobs, and the livelihoods of hardworking American families.”
The new Texas measures were announced days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it would lift the Trump-era Title 42 order on May 23. The order has allowed border agents to expel thousands of migrants without hearing asylum claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several border officials and bipartisan lawmakers have since warned that lifting the order will only increase illegal crossings, and strain border towns and cities already overrun by new arrivals.