Republican governors are sending more migrants released at the US-Mexico border to Democratic strongholds, raising questions about their legal status, how they are lured onto buses and planes and the cost to taxpayers.
Ron DeSantis from Florida flew about 50 Venezuelans last week to the small, upscale island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Over the weekend, Greg Abbott of Texas bussed more migrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ Washington home.
US authorities are grappling with an unusually large number of migrants crossing the border from Mexico amid rapidly changing demographics. The administration said Monday that people from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua were responsible for more than one in three migrants stopped at the border in August.
Since April, Texas has bused about 8,000 migrants to Washington, 2,200 to New York and 300 to Chicago. Arizona has bused more than 1,800 to Washington since May, and the city of El Paso, Texas, has bused more than 1,100 to New York since August 23.
Here are some questions and answers:
IS AN IMMIGRANT IN THE UNITED STATES LEGAL?
Yes, temporarily. Thousands of migrants who cross the border illegally from Mexico are released into the United States every month with notices to appear in immigration court to seek asylum or on humanitarian parole and regular reporting requirements to immigration authorities. Migrants may seek asylum if they enter the country illegally under US and international law, and US authorities have broad authority to grant parole based on individual circumstances.
Migrants must maintain a current address with the authorities, who schedule appointments in a city with the nearest court or immigration office. They must apply separately for a work permit.
Last year, it took an average of nearly four years to decide asylum cases in immigration court, according to the Biden administration, leaving migrants in a legal purgatory that protects them from deportation. The backlog in the immigration courts has grown to more than 1.9 million cases, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
To avoid massive overcrowding in detention facilities, the administration began releasing many migrants on humanitarian parole. The Border Patrol processed nearly 250,000 migrants from August to June, including 40,151 in June, the latest figures released. In the previous seven months, it stood only 11 migrants.
ARE THESE MIGRANTS KIDNAPPED?
Kidnapping is a high legal threshold, but migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard say they were taken there under false pretenses. Migrants sign a waiver that the transport is free and voluntary.
DeSantis used a state program where migrants considered “unauthorized aliens” can be transferred “from Florida,” although the governor acknowledged the flights from Texas.
They first stopped in Florida, before going to Martha’s Vineyard, but DeSantis has not emphasized that. Instead, he claims that the two flights were a legitimate use of funds because the migrants would otherwise have aimed to go to Florida, although he did not provide evidence of this or say how it could be checked migrants.
Migrants who boarded the flights told The Associated Press that a woman who went to them at a shelter in San Antonio promised them a job and three months of housing in Washington, New York, Philadelphia and Boston.
WON’T THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION BUS AND THE FLIGHT TRAVEL ACROSS THE COUNTRY?
Yes, but under different circumstances. Like earlier administrations, it transports migrants between detention facilities, often on their way to being removed from the country.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has intercepted more than 4,800 domestic flights in the past year, including 434 in August, according to Witness to the Border, a group that criticizes US enforcement. The top five destinations from March to August were: Alexandria, Louisiana; Laredo, Texas; Phoenix; and Harlingen and El Paso in Texas. ICE also buses many migrants.
The Department of Health and Human Services transports unaccompanied children to “sponsors,” which are often family or child-only detention facilities.
IS IT LONG TO FIND THIS?
Republican-led states say they are sending immigrants to “sanctuary” cities that welcome immigrants. Although the definition of a city of sanctuary is slippery, a sudden influx of migrants can test attitudes and the limits of generosity.
Chicago’s “Welcoming City Ordinance” prohibits people from knowing their immigration status, denying services based on immigration status and disclosing information to federal immigration authorities.
New York limits cooperation with US immigration authorities, in part by barring police from participating in joint enforcement and or allowing immigration agents to work in city jails.
In Martha’s Vineyard, the six towns on the island south of Boston have not issued any “sanctuary” declarations.
The Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates restrictions, maintains an extensive list of “sanctuary” jurisdictions, which by definition limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Among them are Boston and seven other Massachusetts cities. None of the towns in Martha’s Vineyard are on the list.
WHO IS PAYING AND HOW MUCH?
Texas has pledged billions of dollars to Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star,” an unprecedented move into border security that includes bus tours, prosecuting border crossers for trespassing and a massive presence of state troopers and the National Guard.
The Florida Legislature appropriated $12 million for its program for the current budget year.
The city of El Paso, which awarded a contract to a private bus company last week at a cost of up to $2 million, plans to seek reimbursement from the federal government.
Associated Press reporters Don Babwin in Chicago, Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida, and Sophia Tulp and Philip Marcelo in New York contributed to this report.