About 50 migrants, including a one-month-old baby, have been sent in a bus from Texas to the Washington DC residence of Vice-President Kamala Harris, in the latest move by Republican-led states to transfer migrants unannounced across the country.
The bus let off the migrants, who are believed to be mostly Venezuelan, outside the Naval Observatory, the traditional home of US vice-presidents, on Saturday morning.
They had been sent by the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, while another group were flown to Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts, on a flight organized by Florida governor Ron DeSantis earlier this week.
Democratic politicians, immigration advocates and lawyers have decried the transfers and called for them to be investigated for potential trafficking offences. In an interview filmed on Friday, Harris told Vice News: “They are playing games. These are political stunts with real human beings.”
She added: “I think it is the height of irresponsibility much less, just frankly a dereliction of duty when you are an elected leader, to play those kinds of games with human life, and human beings.”
Abbott also sent three buses of migrants that arrived in New York City on Saturday. Abbott had already sent two buses of migrants to Harris’s residence on Thursday, containing about 100 people from Colombia, Cuba, Guyana, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela.
The latest transfers are an escalation of a series of actions by Texas and Florida, both led by Republicans, to move migrants without warning to Democratic-leaning areas. On Wednesday, DeSantis of Florida chartered two planes to take about 50 migrant adults and children to the wealthy liberal island of Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts, forcing local residents to scramble to help provide food and shelter for the unexpected newcomers.
Several of the migrants told journalists there was nobody at the airport to greet them, and they walked almost four miles to find help in the town, where they were put up in a church overnight.
DeSantis has said that every community in America, not just those on the border with Mexico, should be “sharing the load” in dealing with what he has framed as a failed border policy by Joe Biden. Abbott said that he will continue to send migrants to “sanctuary cities” until Biden and Harris “step up and do their jobs to secure the border”.
Biden, however, has condemned Republicans for using people as political props. “What they’re doing is simply wrong,” the US president said on Friday. “It’s un-American, it’s reckless and we have a process in place to manage migrants at the border. We’re working to make sure it’s safe and orderly and humane.”
Some charities that work with new migrants have argued that the transferees were misled as to where they were going, meaning they were essentially trafficked by the Republican governors. The migrants affected are largely those who are legally in the US, at least temporarily, while their claims to stay, including for asylum to escape violent regimes, are processed.
The US attorney for Massachusetts, Rachael Rollins, said she planned to speak with the justice department, and Nikki Fried, a member of the Florida cabinet and the only statewide-elected Democrat, wrote to the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, to demand a federal investigation into potential human trafficking.
One of the people sent to Martha’s Vineyard, Pedro Luis Torrealba, said he was promised work, food and housing. He thought he was going to New York.
“I am not a victim,” he said on Friday, expressing gratitude to residents of the island for their hospitality. “I simply feel misled because they told a lie and it has come to nothing.”
Texas has bussed about 8,000 migrants to Washington since April, including the people sent to Harris’s home. It also has bussed about 2,200 to New York and 300 to Chicago.
Arizona has bussed more than 1,800 migrants to Washington since May, but has kept officials on the receiving end informed of the plans. The city of El Paso, Texas, has sent at least 1,135 migrants on 28 buses to New York since 23 August and, like Arizona, shares passenger rosters and other information.
Last week, a two-year-old who arrived in New York from Texas was hospitalized for dehydration and a pregnant woman on the same bus was in severe pain, according to advocates and city officials. Volunteer groups often wait hours for buses arriving from Texas in a designated space of Manhattan’s Port of Authority bus terminal. They rely on tipsters for help.
“It’s a problem because we don’t know when the buses are coming, how many buses are coming, if anyone on these buses has medical conditions that they will need help with, if they need a wheelchair,” said Manuel Castro, commissioner of the New York City mayor’s office of immigrant affairs. “We at least want to know that so that we can best help people as they arrive.”