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Greg Abbott’s Anti-Immigrant Busing Showed The Worst Of Republicans – And The Best Of Our Local Communities

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This month marks one year since Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott launched a costly and inhumane stunt busing what would eventually number thousands of newly-arrived migrants processed and released by U.S. immigration officials. Abbott initially targeted Washington, D.C., then expanded his cruelty to Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and even the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris

Note those regions are governed by Democratic leadership. It was never about immigration policy, it was about politics. But his busing would also have a couple consequences that Abbott probably didn’t anticipate. 

While there’s no question that the purpose of the political stunt was to use human beings as props with no concerns for their wellbeing — one child bused to Philadelphia arrived so sick that she had to be hospitalized — some migrants were actually thankful for the ride, helping them to get closer to their final destinations. Santo Linarte López told The New York Times last April that he didn’t have much money left after traveling from Nicaragua. He hoped to reunite family in North Carolina. “He said he did not understand why Mr. Abbott was paying for him to travel north, but he was grateful.”

Just as importantly, the political stunt shined a light on communities all across the country that rushed, sometimes in the middle of the night, to welcome and embrace migrants in search of new and better lives.

In Washington, D.C., grassroots volunteers used apps like WhatsApp to try to coordinate when migrants would arrive. Texas wanted chaos, and purposefully didn’t share bus arrival times with destination cities, or even where they would be dropped off. Volunteers eventually directed migrants to a local church, where they were helped with clothing, food, and the next steps in their journey, including making sure they were sheltered for the night and able to get to their flights the next day. Alberto Valdes was housed in a Quaker guesthouse and then flown to Kentucky thanks to the Central American Resource Center, The New York Times said.

In Philadelphia, Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney slammed Abbott’s actions as “irresponsible,” “callous,” and a “blatant disregard for the sanctity of human lives.” But he said Philadelphia would “greet our newly arrived neighbors with dignity and respect,” and acknowledged “the generosity and compassion we have already seen from residents and community partners since we were alerted to these individuals arriving in Philadelphia.” CBS News Philadelphia reported migrants arriving in the chilly winter were greeted with warm jackets. 

In New York City, photographs also showed migrants being welcomed off buses with handshakes and high-fives by local officials including New York Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro, himself a formerly undocumented immigrant. In Chicago, hundreds of migrants were treated to their first Thanksgiving feast, independent media outlet Borderless reported. “We’re grateful to be in a place that received us with open arms,” one migrant said.

“A year after Texas sent the first buses, this is clear: From a political stunt grew a network that now coordinates welcoming efforts across state lines,” The Washington Post reported this past weekend. In fact, some advocates said Abbott’s stunt helped strengthen communication between organizations.

“What used to be a very specific borderland issue now, because of Gov. Abbott’s initial response – his tactics of busing migrants to other parts of the country – has actually brought us into closer contact with colleagues in other communities,” Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center executive director Marisa Limon Garza told Border Report last September. Limon told the outlet it could lead to a more “concerted effort to work together in a humanitarian response to meet the needs of people on the move.”

While Texas has touted Abbott’s busing in press release after press release as a way to attack the Biden administration on immigration, he’d never tell the actual stories of the people he’s targeted. That might make them look like human beings, and that doesn’t do any favors to Abbott’s political cynicism. Among those targeted was Yorvi Sánchez, among the many Venezuelans who’ve had to flee their homes due to the authoritarian Maduro regime.

Sánchez told Borderless that while crossing the Darién Gap was treacherous, trying to cross through Mexico was far worse. He said “the immigration police there do not play.” Just last month, 40 detained migrants were killed in a horrific fire at a detention center in Ciudad Juárez. Surveillance video later showed guards walking away and letting them die. Following his arrival in Chicago, Sánchez called his family to tell them he’d arrived safely. “It was one of the best feelings,” he said. Since then, Sánchez has found work as a busboy at a hotel, and has made friends with other migrants also in search of better lives. He told Borderless it makes his new life here a little less lonely.

“I’m grateful for the work I have and the jobs my friends have found. It’s so important to work and have a routine. And I’m happy for having friends here, too,” he said. “Having good friends here who look out for each other is so important. If I was alone here, it wouldn’t be good; it’d be so much harder.”

Most Americans side with people like Sánchez, Linarte López, and Valdez over the anti-immigrant hostilities expressed by Abbott and other elected Republicans. In fact, the vast majority of “registered voters approve of providing refuge to individuals and families fleeing serious persecution and torture, while 7 in 10 say that welcoming newcomers to our communities is an American value,” Alexandra Villarreal of the National Immigration Forum said in a The Dallas Morning News op-ed.

It’s important to remember that as Republican candidates for president sink lower and lower in trying to outmaneuver each other on immigration. “We’re in a moment in which we as a country have a choice of either expanding, welcoming or shutting the door,” Amy Fischer, a community member who aided some of the first families to arrive to the nation’s capital, tells The Washington Post. “And if we choose shutting the door, which is what our politicians are trying to do, we are punishing people [with] death and violence.”