A bus carrying 31 Texas immigrants pulled up in front of the 30th Street station in the cool fog on Wednesday morning. The bus was sent by Governor Greg Abbott to bring the challenges of the frontier to northern cities.
Immigration advocates in Philadelphia called the bus ride a cruel trick played on innocent people legally residing in the United States.
People began to disembark around 6:15 a.m. on a cold Philadelphia morning. The families received winter coats, blankets and hot chocolate from volunteers. City Council Member Helen Gym greeted a woman who had a baby with a hug and words of welcome. There were at least two young children in the group that had traveled from Texas.
“Seeking asylum is a human right,” Gym said. “Our country has always welcomed people who have sought refuge here and we have thrived on that. … Our city and country are strongest when we welcome people who are looking for a better life.”
By 6:25 a.m., the bus had exited 30th Street, leaving 19 people to board a SEPTA bus, which took them to a welcome center set up by the city in North Philadelphia. One of the children was treated at a local hospital after arriving with a high fever.
Others on the bus continued to other states. Some had called family members along the way and arranged to meet in Philadelphia.
Only one person will remain in town, according to Rep. Amen Brown, who met with families in North Philly.
“The mood is good,” he said of the arrivals. “They are happy to see family members. Philly stepped forward.”
Dobin Garmendia, 23, came to the United States from Nicaragua. He said people he believed to be Texas officials were offering to take him and others to Philadelphia for free if they didn’t have money for the trip. He described the bus ride as generally smooth.
“I have to find work,” he said of his plans for the next few days, “and report to immigration.”
Blanca Pacheco, co-director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, lamented the insecurity Abbott caused families by busing them to an unfamiliar city.
“People ask questions, ‘Why is the press here? What’s happening?'”
City officials and immigration services have been preparing for days to meet the bus, which carries people originally from Central and South America.
“Time and again, immigrants are used as a token to advance the political agenda of individuals who have no interest in the well-being of our communities,” said Erika Guadalupe Núñez, executive director of Juntos’ advocacy group. “Governor Abbott’s bus efforts are being used as a ploy to sow social discord and spread misinformation about the human right to asylum and what it means to be a welcoming city. We will not be fooled by his efforts.”
Mayor Jim Kenney pledged to treat the comers with dignity and respect, and shared a briefing titled “How You Can Help,” which can be read here. “It is disgusting that Governor Abbott’s administration continues to implement its willfully cruel policy of using immigrant families as political pawns,” the mayor said Tuesday.
Philadelphia officials said they would be on hand with food, water, emergency screening and shelter. Abbott confirmed Tuesday that alongside Chicago, New York and Washington, DC, “Sanctuary City Philadelphia will now be a delivery point for Texas State’s bus strategy.”
Texas has been sending migrants to northern cities in a bid to ease pressure at the border, in what others call a political stunt hurting and confusing innocent people.
This bus came from Del Rio, Texas on the border west of San Antonio. Philadelphia officials said Texas authorities had not coordinated with them.
Only three people had reported Pennsylvania as their final destination, and others are expected to continue on to stopovers in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland, the city said.
Since the summer, the city’s Immigration and Emergency Management Office has been preparing for the potential arrival of migrants on unscheduled, unexpected bus routes from the South. These agencies have met regularly to plan a response with 15 local community-based 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 been intensified in recent days. Officials found that a large city like Philadelphia could easily accommodate a single bus of arrivals.
Most people arriving in Philadelphia are expected to travel on to meet family members. All have legal means of residing in the United States. Many, if not all, are seeking asylum and have passed “credible fear” interviews to be released into the interior of the United States.
This standard requires immigrants to demonstrate that they face a real risk of harm in their home country or that they have already been harmed. And they must have been harmed in some way, such as 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 creating more shelter cities as drop-off sites for our bus strategy.”
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, estimates that Texas has 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 several first-class airline 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 policy, which is overwhelming border communities in Texas.”
“Biden, until the Biden administration does its job and provides sustainable border security for Texans and the American people, Texas will continue to do more than any other state in the nation’s history to defend against invasion along the border, including creating more sanctuary cities like Philadelphia as drop-off sites,” Abbott said in a statement.
He cited Kenney’s endorsement of Philadelphia’s role as a haven to “make the city an ideal addition to the Texas list.” The Kenney administration fought and won a major lawsuit over the Trump administration’s efforts to withhold funding unless the city helped enforce federal immigration laws.
Safe havens like Philadelphia aim to treat undocumented migrants the same as everyone else when dealing with the legal system. These cities and states say it is illegal for ICE agents to detain migrants without a warrant for arrest.
In the spring, Abbott directed 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 City and Chicago as destinations. Thousands of migrants have been sent to those cities, he said, “to provide much-needed relief to overwhelmed Texas border communities.”
Immigration advocates call the buses a cruel trick played on people who follow legal immigration procedures and are simply trying to find their way back to their families.
“Greg Abbott should be the loudest supporter of a humane immigration reform plan in Congress,” Councilwoman Helen Gym tweeted over the weekend. “Instead, as a sick political stunt, he spends $$ on these buses because he invests more in exploiting a problem than in finding a real solution.”