Weary parents, young children bused from Texas to L.A. in latest ‘political stunt’
The third group of migrants sent to California in transportation chartered by state governments in Texas and Florida arrived Wednesday, bringing along with it continued controversy.
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The bus pulled into Union Station in downtown Los Angeles carrying weary parents who had spent more than 20 hours on the road trying to soothe their infants and toddlers.
Carrying a woman whose husband had been separated from her family at the border and who is fighting deportation in Texas. Carrying 42 migrants from Guatemala, Venezuela, Haiti and at least one from China — among other countries.
The group, which arrived Wednesday afternoon, is among more than 21,600 migrants who have been transported across the country from Texas, under a plan hastily instituted by Lone Star State Gov. Greg Abbott last year.
There have been buses to Washington, D.C. To New York City. To Chicago. To Philadelphia. Most recently to Denver.
But Wednesday heralded the arrival of the first group of migrants bused from Texas to L.A., in a move that Abbott blamed on “overwhelmed” border towns that he said “are on the front lines of President Biden’s border crisis.”
In a statement Wednesday, Abbott said the state “will continue providing this much-needed relief until [Biden] steps up to do his job and secure the border.” The governor called L.A. “a city migrants seek to go to, particularly now its leaders approved its self-declared sanctuary status.”
The Los Angeles City Council recently approved a motion, referred to by council members as a “sanctuary city” law, that would essentially codify existing policies around the use of city resources for federal immigration enforcement, including a 2017 executive directive issued by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti.
“Obviously [Abbott’s] a weak-minded, far-right politician who is unable to meet this moment of the crisis that is occurring,” said L.A. Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who helped bring forward the “sanctuary city” motion. “Instead of dealing with it as a leader … he’s punting it off for a political stunt. We in Los Angeles, we’re a city for everyone, and we are ready to support them and welcome them.”
It’s the third time in recent weeks that migrants have been transported to California from other states, moves that are playing out amid a backdrop of intense national debate over how to handle the influx of migrants who enter the U.S. across the Mexican border each year.
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Last week, Florida officials took responsibility for two chartered flights that transported 36 migrants to Sacramento on separate days. California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a public records request Wednesday to the office of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Division of Emergency Management to determine the circumstances under which they were sent.
Though many of those who arrived in L.A. have connections in the region, some families have immigration hearings set in other states — including New York — creating logistical concerns. Organizers on the ground added that they learned of the impending arrival only the night before and believe it was meant to catch them flat-footed.
“It’s so important to really reiterate that what happened here was meant to be a political stunt. It was meant to shock Los Angeles and meant to have us not be able to welcome these people humanely,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, an attorney and executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. “Certainly, people, if they have connections to Los Angeles and they’re trying to get here, getting them here can be a good thing.
“However, doing it in a way where people are being used as political props, where there’s purposeful non-notification in order to try and ensure that people will not be met with the resources and the humanity that they deserve is really the issue here.”
As governors in other states began transporting migrants across the country, L.A. officials and organizers began to prepare.
Shortly after Mayor Karen Bass took office, she directed city departments to begin planning in the event that L.A. “was on the receiving end of a despicable stunt that Republican Governors have grown so fond of,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
Daniella Urbina, who works in L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office, said the supervisor has been directing county departments to prepare for “something like this” since last year, when Florida and Texas sent migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and to Vice President Kamala Harris’ Washington home.
The L.A. Welcomes Collective — a network of nonprofit, faith and immigrant rights organizations — was formed to ensure migrants arriving in the city felt welcomed. For the last several months, the collective has received and welcomed recent arrivals who came on their own.
In the past few months, organizers have heard rumors of Texas sending a bus of migrants to L.A., but none turned out to be true, said Angélica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. Then, on Tuesday night, they received a tip that a bus would be arriving in L.A. the next day. Wednesday morning it was verified that the bus was en route.
The group, which included 17 children, arrived about 4:30 p.m. Although a few were picked up at the station by family members or sponsors, the majority of the migrants went to a welcome center set up at a nearby church.
“If, in fact, this is a group that’s coming from Texas because this is their destination, well, let’s organize it,” Salas said. “That’s not what [Abbott] wants. He wants the shadowy ‘maybe they’re coming, maybe they’re not.’”
Among the migrants was a woman whose husband had been separated from her and her child at the border. The husband is still in Texas, fighting deportation, Toczylowski said, and the mother and child “are distraught.”
Toczylowski rode the bus with migrants to the church and told them they were welcome in L.A. and that organizers were happy to see them. When she communicated that to a mother and her preteen daughter, Toczylowski said, the mother began crying.
“In my mind that was because this was really the first time someone had welcomed her to the United States,” Toczylowski said.
Guerline Jozef, the founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an immigrant advocacy network that aids Black asylum seekers and others in migration, said her organization was aware of the bus before its arrival in L.A.
“For several months, we understood that there would potentially be buses coming to Southern California, including Orange County and L.A.,” Jozef said. “And we have reached out to our community to prepare for the potential arrival of people seeking safety and protection.”
Jozef had harsh words for the political message of Republican governors such as Abbott, and condemned Abbott’s policy of “using human beings as pawns.” But she said she supports some of the efforts to transport migrants.
“We are committed to continuing to welcome all people with dignity, and if that means somebody putting them on a bus to their final destination, where they have family and friends, we will continue to support and welcome them,” Jozef said.
But Jozef made clear she would support relocation only if migrants are being transported to places they actually want to go and if full and prior consent are guaranteed.
“For [Republican governors] to send them places that are not their final destination — that is inhumane and cruel,” Jozef said.
For years, Tiffany Burrow, director of operations for the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition in Texas, has helped migrants arriving in Del Rio book travel elsewhere on the border. When Abbott announced his busing scheme, Burrow became a willing participant.
Many migrants paroled by border agents have little money for travel and are unfamiliar with the U.S.’ vast geography, she said.
Burrows said she doesn’t always endorse the political message behind Abbott’s busing campaign, but she and other migrant advocates have supported the utility of the buses — they get many people where they need to go.
In Del Rio, Burrow leads orientations for migrants recently paroled. She shows them a map of the U.S., and explains in detail where the Texas state buses drop off. She and her team ensure that every migrant who boards has given consent and has a good reason to board. She ensures, for instance, that no one trying to reach Florida boards a bus to Chicago.
Burrow said she’s supported previous buses to New York, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago, but she has questions about this latest bus from McAllen to L.A. She said the fact that one man had a court date in New York concerns her.
“Migrants are able to change their addresses to different locations, but it does complicate their cases when they move around,” Burrow said.
Although many in the L.A. group are believed to have connections in the region, that did not appear to be the case in Sacramento. Two migrants who were approached in El Paso and offered flights by contractors working for the DeSantis administration said the Florida contractors didn’t specify which city the flights were heading to — only that they would land in California. They both declined the offer.
DeSantis and his spokespeople have defended the flights, arguing that migrants boarded them voluntarily.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly condemned the flights and said his administration was looking into whether they “violated any criminal laws, including kidnapping.”
Although it’s impossible to control DeSantis’ and Abbott’s actions, Toczylowski said, “what we can control here in L.A. is how we respond. With that, I’m just really proud of how we responded, and we’ll continue to be prepared to welcome people in the future if it continues to happen.”
Times staff writer Melissa Gomez contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.