The surprising details behind DeSantis and Abbott’s immigration stunts
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Republican governors are in a cynical competition to outdo each other and send migrants from the US border by bus to New York, Washington, DC, Chicago and, now, by plane to Martha’s Vineyard.
Two unannounced aircraft carrying approximately 50 the migrants landed in the wealthy Massachusetts seaside enclave on Wednesday evening, surprising locals.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed responsibility for the stunt, which took the migrants from Texas, not Florida, and left them unplanned on the streets.
His stunt may have been outdone by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who began sending migrant buses to Washington, DC, in April and Thursday morning, left asylum seekers outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris at the US Naval Observatory. She is facing fierce criticism from immigration hawks for telling NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday that she was convinced that the border is “secure”.
Many rightly pointed out that the political point came at the expense of vulnerable migrants who had already been through an extremely arduous journey – but some details of the transport may surprise you. For starters, many migrants enjoyed the ride.
These Republican governor stunts are built on the misconception that migrants are in the country illegally. Technically, those on the buses and planes are asylum seekers who have been processed by federal immigration authorities and await court dates.
While most of these migrants have crossed the border into Mexico, they are fleeing impoverished economies and dangerous situations at home in Central America and, increasingly, South America. After crossing the border and applying for asylum, they are released into in the United States to await hearings on their asylum claim.
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One person remained in Massachusetts, a 45-year-old man named Leonel, told the New York Times on his three-month trip from Venezuela through Colombia and Central America. He tried more than once to cross the US border with Mexico before being detained and then released in San Antonio.
It was there that he was approached and asked if he wanted to go to Massachusetts. It is unclear whether he knew he was heading to a wealthy island community unprepared for the arrivals.
Part of the anger over the stunts is also fueled by the idea that people are being forced onto buses. That’s not true, as CNN’s Gary Tuchman found out when he visited a shelter in Eagle Pass, Texas, in August.
He met asylum seekers who were planning to reunite with family and friends already scattered across the country. Other migrants coming to the US with nowhere to go were happy for the free trip.
Tuchman spoke to a 28-year-old woman named Genesis Figueroa from Venezuela who traveled for a month and a half by foot, bus and boat to Eagle Pass with her husband.
“I became very tired. My legs hurt and I got sick,” she told Tuchman in Spanish. “I caught pneumonia. I was hospitalized for three days in Guatemala. Watch Tuchman’s report.
He also spoke to cousins traveling from Venezuela; one man’s brother died on the trip after disappearing as they crossed the Rio Grande.
Nearly 750 migrants are known to have died at the southern border since October 2021, CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez recently reported.
“We went in search of a dream, but now it’s a very difficult and difficult situation,” Luis Pulido told Tuchman in Spanish. He was going to board a bus bound for DC, hoping to get off in Kentucky to be met by relatives before heading to Chicago.
A week after their bus trip, Tuchman reunited with Pulido and his cousin in Chicago, where they had reunited with relatives, were staying in a small shared apartment, and were looking for work at a restaurant. They probably can’t work legally for at least 180 days, according to the rules posted on the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Look at Tuchman’s follow-up.
Tuchman told me that Pulido and his cousin went on their first meeting, but it was mostly administrative and they are waiting for their next court appearance.
Obtaining a work permit can take up to a year, New York City officials told CNN’s Polo Sandoval, who also reported this issue last month.
He went to a shelter in Brooklyn and met a young couple from Venezuela, Anabel and Crisman Urbaez, who seek asylum.
They showed him cellphone videos of their two-month trek across 10 countries, often on foot, which began in Peru and more through the jungles of Colombia and the Darien Gap connecting South America and Central America – all with their children aged 6 and 9 and their dog Max.
It takes years. The average time to process an immigration file is 1,110 days, according to retained data by Syracuse University. Meanwhile, migrants and asylum seekers begin to build American lives.
Less than half of asylum applications have been accepted in recent years, according to Syracuse.
Under the Trump administration, the denial rate was over 70%, but in the first year of the Biden administration, the grant rate jumped to nearly 40%.
Alvarez recently wrote about the mass exodus from Venezuela. The United Nations says a similar number of people are fleeing the South American country – which has suffered from years of political repression and economic turmoil – as war-torn Ukraine. About 6.8 million Venezuelans are part of this diaspora.
There have been nearly 2 million border encounters reported by US Customs and Border Protection so far in the fiscal year ending September 30.
Some of these encounters are repeated crossings. Others were turned away under a Trump-era Covid-19 policy that the Biden administration has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to end. A fraction asks for asylum.
Officials in New York, Illinois and Washington, D.C. have declared emergencies to attend to buses, and they’ve complained that they don’t know when or where to expect them, and they want to be notified of Texas, from Arizona and now from Florida.
Texas spent more than $12 million and transported around 9,000 migrants north.
Overall, buses and now planes have moved thousands of migrants, but that’s a small fraction of the nearly 700,000 pending asylum claims that are slowly going through the justice system.
These stories are all unique, but many of them share the theme of fleeing a home without opportunity and being relatively happy for the trip inside the United States from the border.