Bus carrying migrants sent from Texas arrives in Philadelphia

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A bus carrying 28 immigrants sent from Texas stopped outside the 30th Street train station in the cool fog Wednesday morning. The bus was sent by Governor Greg Abbott in what he said was an effort to bring the challenges of the border to northern towns.

Immigration advocates in Philadelphia have called the bus ride a cruel trick played on innocent people who are legally in the United States.

Mayor Jim Kenney called Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s administration “cruel and racist” for sending the bus into town without notice and without any plan to help families once they arrived.

“It is sad and outrageous that Governor Abbott and his administration continue to implement their cruel and racist policies by using immigrant families – including children – as pawns to shamelessly advance their distorted political agenda,” did he declare.

The immigrants, who a lawyer said were mostly from Colombia in addition to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, began arriving on the chilly Philadelphia morning around 6:15 a.m. Families were given winter coats, blankets and hot chocolate by volunteers. City Council member Helen Gym welcomed a woman who had a baby with a hug and words of welcome. There were at least two babies in the group that made the trip from Texas.

“Seeking asylum is a human right,” Gym said. “Our country has always welcomed people seeking refuge here, and we have thrived on that. … Our city and our country are stronger when we embrace and welcome those seeking a better life.

Dobin Garmendia, 23, came to the United States from Nicaragua. He said in Spanish that people he believed to be Texas officials had offered to take him and others to Philadelphia for free if they had no money for the trip. He described the bus ride as generally smooth.

“I have to find a job,” he said of his plans for the next few days, “and report to immigration.”

By 6:25 a.m., the bus had departed 30th Street, leaving 19 people to board a SEPTA bus to take them to a reception center set up by the city in North Philadelphia. One of the children was being treated at a local hospital after arriving with a high fever.

Others on the bus were traveling to other states. Some had called family members from the road, making arrangements to meet in Philadelphia.

Only one person will be staying in the city, according to state Rep. Amen Brown, who met with the families in North Philly.

“The mood is good,” he said of the arrivals. “They are delighted to see their family members. Philly stepped up.

Georgina, who was picked up from the reception center by her family before she could give her surname, described in Spanish being on the bus for about two days and said travelers received a small packed meal. The 24-year-old said she was feeling “great” and looking forward to spending time with her family in Philadelphia.

Emilio Buitrago, founder of Casa De Venezuela, said everyone still at the reception center was being checked and fed.

“It’s not the Four Seasons,” he said. “They have a room to rest, they have a small TV, a microwave, their basic needs are going to be covered right now.”

City officials and immigrant aid have been preparing for days to meet the bus, carrying people from Central and South America.

“Time and time again, immigrants are used as tokens to advance the political agendas of individuals who have no interest in the well-being of our communities,” said Erika Guadalupe Núñez, executive director of advocacy group Juntos. “Governor Abbott’s busing efforts are being used as a ploy to sow social discord and spread misinformation about the human right to seek asylum and what it means to be a welcoming city. We will not be fooled by his efforts.

Kenney promised arrivals would be treated with dignity and respect, and shared a “How You Can Help” briefing, which can be read here. “It is disgusting that Governor Abbott’s administration continues to implement its deliberately cruel policy of using immigrant families as political pawns,” the mayor said Tuesday.

Philadelphia officials said they would be ready with food, water, emergency health screenings and shelter. Abbott confirmed on Tuesday that along with Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., “the sanctuary city of Philadelphia will now be a repository for the Texas state bus strategy.”

Texas has sent migrants to northern cities in what it says is an effort to ease border pressure, and others are calling it a political stunt that is hurting and confusing innocent people.

This bus was coming from Del Rio, Texas, located on the western border of San Antonio. Philadelphia officials said authorities in Texas have not coordinated with them.

Only three people had flagged Pennsylvania as their final destination, and others are expected to continue to stops in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland, the city said. Two will remain in Philadelphia.

Since the summer, the city’s Bureau of Immigration Affairs and Office of Emergency Management have been preparing for the potential arrival of migrants on unexpected and unplanned bus routes from southern states. These agencies met regularly to plan a response with 15 local community organizations, including the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Juntos, HIAS Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition and the Nationalities Service Center.

This planning has intensified in recent days. Officials noted that a large city like Philadelphia can easily accommodate a single arrivals bus.

Most people arriving in Philadelphia are expected to travel to meet family members. All have the legal means to be in the United States. Many, if not all, apply for asylum and have gone through “credible fear” interviews in order to be released inside the United States.

This standard requires immigrants to show that they are at real risk of being harmed in their country of origin, or that they have already been harmed. And they must have been harmed in some way, for example because of their race, religion or politics.

“The Lone Star State,” Abbott tweeted, “will continue to do more than any state in history to secure our border, including adding more sanctuary cities as drop-off locations for our bus strategy.”

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, director of policy at the American Immigration Council, estimated that Texas spent more than $2,166 per migrant busing people to Washington, New York and Chicago. “At that price,” he tweeted, “Texas could have bought each person multiple first class plane tickets.”

Abbott’s office said it was sending the bus here as part of “the governor’s unprecedented response to President Biden’s open border policies that are overwhelming Texas border communities.”

“Until the Biden administration does its job and provides Texans and the American people with enduring border security, Texas will continue to do more than any other state in the nation’s history to defend against invasion along of the border, including adding more sanctuary cities like Philadelphia as drop-off locations,” Abbott said in a statement.

He cited Kenney’s advocacy of Philadelphia’s role as a sanctuary city to “make the city an ideal addition to Texas’ roster”. The Kenney administration fought and won a major lawsuit against the Trump administration’s efforts to withhold grant money unless the city helps enforce federal immigration laws.

Sanctuary jurisdictions such as Philadelphia aim to treat undocumented migrants the same as everyone else when they come into contact with the justice system. These cities and states say it is illegal for them to detain migrants for arrest by ICE agents, absent a judge’s order.

In the spring, Abbott ordered the Texas Division of Emergency Management to charter buses to transport migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C., and in August the governor added New York and Chicago as destinations. Thousands of migrants were sent to these towns, he said, “bringing much-needed relief to overstretched border communities in Texas.”

Immigration advocates call the buses a cruel trick, played on people pursuing legal immigration remedies and simply trying to reunite with their families.

“Greg Abbott should be the loudest advocate for a humane immigration reform plan in Congress,” City Councilwoman Helen Gym tweeted over the weekend. “Instead, he’s spending dollars on these buses as a sick political stunt because he’s more invested in exploiting a problem than finding a real solution.”

Writer Rodrigo Torrejón contributed to this article.

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