When Governor Greg Abbott of Texas directed state agencies to charter buses to transfer migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C., in early April, he said, “Texans cannot continue to shoulder the burdens imposed by open-border advocates in other parts of the country.”
So the Republican governor, who’s up for reelection this year and is considered a presidential hopeful, wanted to ship “the burdens” — and, presumably, the ensuing chaos — to the nation’s capital. Abbott wanted to underscore the perils of what he believes are the Biden administration’s open-border policies after federal authorities announced the end of Title 42 expulsions.
Instead, Abbott’s bus gimmick is backfiring.
Much like the governor’s failed policy of redundant truck inspections at the border — which economists say cost the United States nearly $9 billion in GDP losses (and Texas $4.3 billion) and was designed to catch smuggled drugs or migrants but did not yield any illegal cargo — the bus plan, by several accounts, is not having the intended impact.
The bused migrants, who are asylum seekers with pending cases who were released in Texas, are thankful for the free trip. One Venezuelan asylum seeker told The Dallas Morning News that it took him months to get to the Texas border but only 30 hours to get to the US capital.
“I thank [Abbott] wholeheartedly because I was able to make it safe and sound and, even better, with good service and at no cost. I consider it true humanitarian aid,” he said.
It’s safe to say that Abbott would not refer to his bus policy as humanitarian. He’s said that “the Lone Star State will do whatever it takes to keep Texans safe.” Instead, he’s keeping migrants safe as they reach their final destinations in America. In fact, Abbott’s bus policy does not look like a border crackdown or punishment at all. And so far, the gimmick’s impact — more than 10 buses — has only been gratitude.
Just ask the family of Mechack, a 17-year-old immigrant who was in Boston over the weekend with his three siblings, ages 14, 12, and 2, and his mother and father. The family, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were on their way to Portland, Maine, the final destination of a months-long journey that took them from Congo to Angola and Brazil before making the trek through South and Central America to reach the US-Mexico border. The family, who did not want to be identified by last name, was able to catch one of Abbott’s chartered buses to Washington last week.
“We had no money to continue our trip [to the East coast],” Mechack said in Portuguese via an interpreter. The family, which is expected to seek asylum, wanted to go to Portland after “doing research” and realizing that there is a strong Congolese and Angolan communities in Maine. Mechack’s family is fleeing the African countries’ violent sociopolitical climate and economic hardship.
Fatima Saidi, development and relations manager at the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, told me that, as of last fall, there were roughly 1,600 recently arrived asylum seekers in the state. “The vast majority of them are from Angola and Congo,” Saidi said. The coalition helps them with food, housing, and other basic services, she said. “Just the past week alone, at least 13 families arrived in Maine on the free bus from Texas via the capital.”
Even though Abbott’s intent is to prove that these migrants are dangerous and a threat to local communities, “his action of hate is almost a blessing,” said Saidi. “They want to come to the north of America. We need a lot of workers in Maine.”
Elizabeth Nguyen, a volunteer with the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network, housed Mechack and his family while they were in Boston. “There is a coalition of organizations based in D.C. that rose up specifically in response to Abbott’s buses,” Nguyen said. The coalition reached out to BIJAN to ask for assistance. “Many people don’t realize that [federal immigration] enforcement has an impact on a lot of people in Eastern Mass., even if it’s less visible in the news.” The majority of the bused migrants have not stayed in D.C.
Meanwhile, Abbott said he’s launching a website to accept donations because the state has been overwhelmed by requests from Americans all over the country who want to help him continue with his busing plan. Maybe you could call it a lose-win. Abbott keeps in motion his anti-immigrant theater, a loss for common sense. But for the immigrants, it’s more free trips out of Texas and on to friendlier destinations while they await decisions on their asylum applications.
Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.