A bus carrying 28 immigrants from Texas stopped outside the 30th Street Station in the cold fog Wednesday morning. The bus was commissioned by Governor Greg Abbott in an effort to bring challenges along the border to northern cities.
Immigration lawyers in Philadelphia called the busing a cruel ploy against innocent people who are legally in the United States.
Mayor Jim Kenney called Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration “cruel and racist” for not sending a bus to the city without a plan to help families once they arrived.
“It is sad and outrageous that Governor Abbott and his administration continue to use immigrant families — including children — as pawns to implement their cruel and racist policies,” he said.
The migrants, who a lawyer said came mostly from Colombia in addition to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, began disembarking in chilly Philadelphia around 6:15 a.m. The families were handed winter coats, blankets and hot chocolate by volunteers. City Council member Helen Zim hugs and welcomes a woman who has just given birth. At least two children were among the group that traveled from Texas.
“Asylum is a human right,” Jim said. “Our country has always welcomed people who seek refuge here, and we’ve thrived because of it. … Our city and country are stronger when we embrace and welcome people who seek a better life.”
Tobin Carmentia, 23, came to the United States from Nicaragua. He said in Spanish that people he believed to be Texas officials had offered to bring him and the others to Philadelphia free of charge if they didn’t have the money for the trip. He described the bus journey as generally smooth.
“I need to get a job,” he said of his plans for the next few days, “and report to immigration.”
At 6:25 a.m., the bus left 30th Street and boarded a SEPTA bus to take the 19 people to a welcome center set up by the city in North Philadelphia. One of the children was suffering from high fever and was being treated at a local hospital.
Others in the bus were going to other states. Some made arrangements to meet in Philadelphia and called family members from the road.
According to state Rep. Amen Brown, who met with families in North Philly, only one person will remain in the city.
“The mood is good,” he said of the visit. “They’re excited to see family members. Philly stepped up.
Georgina, who was picked up by her family before giving her last name, described in Spanish how she had been on the bus for about two days, and passengers were given small packaged meals. The 24-year-old said he is feeling “very well” and is looking forward to spending time with family in Philadelphia.
Emilio Buitrago, founder of Casa de Venezuela, said everyone is still being screened and fed at the reception center.
“It’s not four seasons,” he said. “They have a room to relax in, they have a small TV, a microwave, their basic needs are met right away.”
City officials and migrant-aid workers have been preparing for days to meet the bus carrying people from Central and South America.
“Immigrants are repeatedly used as tokens to advance the political agendas of individuals who do not care about the well-being of our communities,” said Erika Guadalupe Nunez, executive director of the advocacy group Juntos. “Governor Abbott’s disaster efforts serve as a ploy to create 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.”
Kenny assured attendees that they would be treated with dignity and respect and shared an explanation of “how you can help,” You can read here. “It’s disgusting that the Abbott administration continues to use migrant families as political pawns to implement their objectively cruel policy,” the mayor said on Tuesday.
Philadelphia officials said they were prepared with food, water, emergency health screenings and shelter. Abbott confirmed Tuesday that “sanctuary city Philadelphia will now be a drop-off location for the Texas state bus strategy,” along with Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.
Texas is sending migrants to northern cities in what it says is an effort to ease pressure on the border, which others call a political stunt that harms and confuses innocent people.
The bus was coming from Del Rio, Texas, which is just west of San Antonio. Philadelphia officials said Texas officials were not coordinating with them.
Only three have declared Pennsylvania as their final destination, while others are expected to stop in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland, the city said. Two will remain in Philadelphia.
Since the summer, the city’s Office of Immigration Affairs and Office of Emergency Management have been preparing for the possible arrival of unplanned, unexpected bus routes of migrants from southern states. Those agencies continue to meet with 15 local community-based organizations to plan a response, including the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Juntos, HIAS Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition and the National Service Center.
That planning has intensified in recent days. Officials noted that a large city like Philadelphia could easily accommodate a visiting bus.
Most people coming to Philadelphia are expected to travel to visit family members. All have legal means of being in the United States. Many, all claim asylum and are released into the U.S. interior if they pass “credible fear” interviews.
That standard requires immigrants to show that they face a real risk of being victimized in their home country or that they have already been victimized. They must have been affected in a certain way because of their race, religion or politics.
“The Lone Star State,” Abbott tweeted, “will do more than any state in history to protect our border, including adding more sanctuary cities as drop-off points for our bus strategy.”
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director of the American Immigration Council, estimated that Texas spent more than $2,166 per immigrant traveling to Washington, New York and Chicago. “At that price,” he tweeted, “Texas could have bought several first-class plane tickets for each person.”
Abbott’s office said he was sending the bus here “as part of the governor’s unprecedented response to President Biden’s open border policies that are hitting border communities in Texas.”
“Until the Biden administration does its job and provides consistent border security for Texans and the American people, Texas will do more than any other state in the nation’s history to combat border incursions, including including sanctuary cities like Philadelphia and other dying places,” Abbott said in a statement.
He cited Kenney’s advocacy for Philadelphia’s role as a sanctuary city to “make the city a great addition to Texas’ roster.” The Kenney administration fought and won a Trump administration effort to withhold grant money until the city helped enforce federal immigration laws.
Sanctuary jurisdictions like Philadelphia aim to treat undocumented immigrants like everyone else when they interact with the legal system. Those cities and states say it’s illegal for ICE agents to detain immigrants without a judge’s order.
In the spring, Abbott directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to charter buses to transport evacuees from Texas to Washington, DC, and in August the governor added New York City and Chicago as destinations. Thousands of immigrants have been sent to those cities, he said, “providing much-needed relief to Texas’ overstretched border communities.”
Immigration advocates call the buses a cruel tactic, played on people trying to find their way back to their families while pursuing legal immigration solutions.
“Greg Abbott needs to advocate loudly for a humane immigration reform plan in Congress,” City Councilwoman Helen Zim tweeted over the weekend. “Instead, he’s spending $$ on these buses because he’s more invested in exploiting a problem than finding a real solution.”
Staff writer Rodrigo Torrejon contributed to this article.
“Total coffee maven. Extreme web geek. Award-winning explorer. Travel aficionado.”