Busloads of migrants and refugees have been sent from Texas to the US capital and dropped off over the Christmas weekend near Vice President Kamala Harris’s residence, immigrant aid groups have said.
The move is part of an ongoing, Republican campaign led by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to blame Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration for increased numbers of asylum seekers arriving on the United States’s southern border with Mexico.
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Between 110 and 130 people seeking asylum in the US – many of them families with children – were placed on buses by Texas officials and left in freezing temperatures in Washington, DC, on the weekend, said Tatiana Laborde, managing director of SAMU First Response, a relief agency.
Laborde said aid groups had been informed of the journey and awaited the group’s arrival late on Saturday. They handed out blankets and then transported people to a church in the city’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood.
Some of the migrants and refugees were wearing T-shirts despite temperatures hovering about -9 degrees Celsius (15 degrees Fahrenheit).
Aides to Abbott were not available to comment on whether the state coordinated their transport. His office said last week that Texas has given bus rides to more than 15,000 people since April to Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a fellow Republican, are strong critics of Biden’s handling of the US-Mexico border, where thousands of people are trying to cross daily, many to seek asylum.
Republicans argue Biden and Harris, designated the administration’s point person on the root causes of migration, have relaxed restrictions that induced many people to leave their countries of origin.
While Biden has ended some of his predecessor Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies, he kept others in place – including a pandemic-era restriction known as Title 42 that allows US immigration authorities to turn away most people without giving them a chance to apply for asylum.
Plans to end that contentious policy – which rights groups have slammed as dangerous and a violation of international law – led thousands of refugees and migrants to recently converge on the border area in hopes of being allowed into the US.
But the US Supreme Court ruled last week that Title 42 could remain in place temporarily, and officials on both sides of the frontier have sought emergency help in setting up shelters and offering services for people, some of whom are sleeping on the streets.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan on Monday called the bus drop-offs a “cruel, dangerous, and shameful stunt”.
“Governor Abbott abandoned children on the side of the road in below freezing temperatures on Christmas Eve without coordinating with any Federal or local authorities,” Hasan said in a statement.
“The political games accomplish nothing and only put lives in danger.”
Laborde at SAMU First Response in Washington, DC, said nine busloads of migrants and refugees had been dropped off in the city in the past week.
“Lately, what we’ve been seeing is an increase in people from Ecuador and Colombia,” said Laborde, explaining that previously, many Venezuelans had been arriving by bus.
Many of the most recent arrivals, she added, are now attempting to go to New York or New Jersey where they have relatives or other community support.
The mayor of New York City declared a state of emergency in October over the buses of migrants and refugees arriving in the city, and opened emergency shelters in an effort to provide people with temporary housing and other support.