Thousands of migrants are now pawns in immigration policy.
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Two buses chartered by the state of Texas arrived in Chicago late Wednesday evening, carrying 75 asylum seekers detained at the US southern border. Some were confused as they disembarked and many were hungry and weary, according to the dispatches. Naydelin Guerrel, a 19-year-old Panamanian, told the Chicago Tribune she was scared during the trip but that she “was looking forward to getting to Chicago”. Like most of those she traveled with, Guerrel said she was fleeing extreme poverty and violence and in search of economic opportunities and a better life.
Guerrel is one of thousands who have now been commutes hundreds – or thousands – of miles north of the border in a months-long campaign by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Since April, the state has transported more than 8,000 people by bus New York, Washington, D.C.and now chicago. Arizona flew another 1,500 people to Washington, DC, in an effort that CNN’s reports cost the two states at least $16 million combined.
Abbott says the move is meant to force Democratic politiciansAs New York Mayor Eric Adams and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to “step up” to their pro-immigration rhetoric. Adams and Lightfoot hit back at Abbott for shackling the lives of real people in what they and others characterized it as a political stunt. “These are not commodities. They are not movable property. They are human beings,” Lightfoot said Wednesday. Washington, DC received the most migrants of the three cities, and Mayor Muriel Bowser has requested (and refused) Assistance from the National Guard in managing the influx.
Immigrant rights advocates in the three cities have complained that Abbott’s efforts appear to have been intentionally designed to wreak havoc. Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, describes how his organization began to receive notices from the court appear on behalf of clients they did not even represent. Then the migrants started showing up at their offices, saying that the border authorities had told them that the organization would provide them with accommodation services and care.
While some migrants, like Guerrel, were happy with their destination, Awawdeh noted that wasn’t always the case. He estimated that between 30% and 40% of migrants arriving in New York do not want to be there, often because they have family or other support networks elsewhere in the United States. According to Pew Stateline, some people started getting off the buses at stops along the wayin places like Tennessee and Georgia.
Historically, the vast majority of migrants attempting to cross the US southern border came from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But a CNN analysis found that a dramatic increase in the number of migrants other countries, including Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, fuels the jump in border arrivals. The high numbers are one of the reasons the Biden administration has been turn quickly to a parole system — granting migrants the freedom to be deported and a one-year window to formally apply for asylum — instead of detention. It is one of several changes that the administration has pursuedunlike the Trump administration aggressive zero-tolerance approach.
But while far more migrants than ever before are being released on parole, tens of thousands still remain in detention centers, and the results can be tragic. Kesley Vial, who came from Brazil to seek asylum, died by suicide in a New Mexico detention center last week. Local attorneys and civil rights attorneys blamed “the conditions and heinous treatment of ICE and CoreCivic, the private company that runs the detention center.”
A separate CoreCivic detention center in Georgia was sued last week, with allegations that the company violated federal anti-slavery laws by forcing people to work under the threat of penalties, including solitary confinement. CoreCivic denied the allegations in a statement.
Meanwhile, GeoGroup – CoreCivic’s biggest competitor for immigration detention contracts – is facing allegations that California detention center staff put four people in solitary confinement as punishment for supporting a labor strike at the facility. GeoGroup also denied the allegations. The claim came just before the state Senate introduced a bill that making California the first state to restrict the use of solitary confinement in detention centers.