As the sun was rising in Washington, D.C., on Thursday morning, two buses carrying about 100 migrants from Del Rio, Texas, arrived outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence at the Naval Observatory in the city’s northwest quadrant. It was the latest political stunt by Republicans to protest President Joe Biden’s immigration policies ― by sending waves of migrants to far-flung U.S. locations chosen to maximize political impact and conservative glee.
Only 24 hours earlier, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) sent two private planes with about 50 migrants, from Venezuela and Colombia, to Martha’s Vineyard Airport on Wednesday afternoon with no warning to local officials.
Democrats in Massachusetts condemned DeSantis, calling the move “fundamentally racist” and reminiscent of the Reverse Freedom Rides, when Southern segregationists and local KKK groups angered by the civil rights fight, retaliated against Northern liberals by busing African Americans northbound under the premise of false promises.
“This is deeply disgusting. This is a cruel ruse that manipulates families that are seeking a better life,” state Sen. Julian Cyr (D) told The Martha’s Vineyard Times.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is requesting that the Department of Justice open an investigation into the Texas and Florida migrant relocation programs, calling them “inhumane efforts to use kids as political pawns.”
The political footballing of migrants around the country has only intensified since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) sent thousands of migrants and asylum seekers across the country, including to Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.
The offices of both Abbott and DeSantis have been straightforward that this is primarily a political ploy. DeSantis even paid a videographer to join the 50 migrants on the plane to Massachusetts “in order to capture footage of them being dropped off.”
“States like Massachusetts, New York and California will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden administration’s open border policies,” the communications director for DeSantis said on Thursday.
“We’re sending migrants to [Harris’] backyard to call on the Biden Administration to do its job & secure the border,” Abbott tweeted.
Republicans have argued that border towns have been overwhelmed by the increase of migrants from the southern border and that their concerns have been ignored by Biden. The latest antics, they argued, are a test of the “sanctuary cities” in states with majority-Democrat legislatures. (The term sanctuary cities has no firm definition but is broadly applied to jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with deportation efforts, including for legal and public safety reasons.)
Republicans with presidential aspirations have rushed to applaud the cross-country caravans ― and even received a stamp of approval from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Republican voters also strongly approve.
Meanwhile, Democrats argued that those governors are essentially using migrants as political pawns and condemned the move as cruel and inhumane.
More than 9,400 migrants have been dropped off in Washington since April, a number that does not include Thursday’s arrivals, and more than 2,100 have been sent to New York.
Many of those migrants said they were lured by the promise of relief, which never came. And those trips have come at a cost: As of Aug. 9, Texas has spent over $12 million in taxpayer money to bus those migrants. Arizona has spent approximately $3.5 million to transport migrants to Washington, D.C.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public health emergency last week because of the influx of arrivals but promised to welcome migrants with meals, transportation, urgent medical care and transportation to connect people to resettlement services. In every city where migrants have been bused so far, mutual aid groups, immigrant groups and ordinary people have immediately met the newcomers with welcome banners, translators and food.
“These immigrants were not met with chaos, they were met with compassion. We are a community & nation that is stronger because of immigrants. The community coming together with water, food, interpretation help, & resources to support these families represent the best of America,” tweeted Dylan Fernandes, a Massachusetts state representative whose district includes Martha’s Vineyard.
The response from those on the ground is unsurprising, said Jose Muñoz, deputy communications director of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led community in the country.
“What’s really clear is that Republicans are trying to use every opportunity to divide us. They’re trying to use fear as a driving tactic. And unfortunately, people who are coming to seek asylum are caught in the crossfire,” Muñoz said. “How our leaders respond to migration, that says a lot about their values and their character.”