A bus carrying 31 Texas immigrants pulled up outside 30th Street Station in the cool fog Wednesday morning. The bus was sent by Governor Greg Abbott in what he said was an effort to bring the challenges of the border to northern cities.
Philadelphia immigration advocates called the bus ride a cruel trick played on innocent people legally residing in the United States.
Immigrants, who an immigration attorney said came mostly from Colombia, in addition to the Dominican Republic and Cuba, began disembarking at about 6:15 a.m. in the cold Philadelphia morning. The families received winter coats, blankets and hot chocolate from volunteers. City councilor Helen Gym greeted a woman who had had a baby with a hug and words of welcome. There were at least two babies in the group making the trip from Texas.
“Seeking asylum is a human right,” Gym said. “Our country has always welcomed people who seek refuge here, and that is why we have flourished. … Our city and our country are strongest when we embrace and welcome people who are looking for a better life.”
Dobin Garmendia, 23, came to the United States from Nicaragua. He said in Spanish that people he thought were Texas officials offered to take him and others to Philadelphia for free if they didn’t have the money for the trip. He described the bus journey as generally smooth.
“I have to find work,” he said of his plans for the next few days, “and report to immigration.”
By 6:25 a.m., the bus had departed 30th Street, forcing 19 people to board a SEPTA bus to take them to a welcome center set up by the city in North Philadelphia. One of the children was treated with a high fever at a local hospital upon arrival.
Others on the bus continued on to other states. Some had called relatives from the road to make arrangements to meet in Philadelphia.
Only one person will remain in the city, according to state representative Amen Brown, who met with the families in North Philly.
“The mood is good,” he said of the arrivals. “They’re excited to see relatives. Philly stepped up.
Georgina, who was collected from the reception center by family before she could give her last name, described in Spanish that she was on the bus for about two days and said travelers were given a small packaged meal. The 24-year-old said she was feeling “super good” and looking forward to spending time with family in Phiadelphia.
Emilio Buitrago, founder of Casa De Venezuela, said everyone still in the reception center was screened and fed.
“It’s not the Four Seasons,” he said. “They have a room to rest. They have a small TV, a microwave. Their basic needs will now be covered.”
City officials and immigrant aid have been preparing for days to meet the bus, carrying people originally from Central and South America.
“Again and again, immigrants are used as tokens to advance the political agendas of individuals who have no interest in the well-being of our communities,” said Erika Guadalupe Núñez, executive director of the Juntos advocacy group. “Governor Abbott’s busing efforts are a ploy to sow social division 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.”
Mayor Jim Kenney pledged that the new arrivals would be treated with dignity and respect, and shared a “How You Can Help” briefing, which you can read here. “It is disgusting that Governor Abbott’s administration continues to implement their deliberately brutal policy of using immigrant families as political pawns,” the mayor said Tuesday.
Philadelphia officials said they would be ready with food, water, health screenings and shelter. Abbott confirmed Tuesday that along with Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., “sanctuary city of Philadelphia will now be an outlet for Texas state bus strategy.”
Texas is sending migrants to northern cities in what it says is an effort to ease pressure at the border, and others are calling it a political stunt that harms and confuses innocent people.
This bus came from Del Rio, Texas, located on the border west of San Antonio. Philadelphia officials said Texas authorities have not coordinated with them.
Only three people had listed Pennsylvania as their final destination, with others expected to continue with stops in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland, the city said.
Since the summer, the City Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Office of Emergency Management have been preparing for the possible arrival of migrants on unscheduled, unexpected bus routes from southern states. Those agencies met regularly to plan a response with 15 local community organizations, including New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Juntos, HIAS Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and Nationalities Service Center
That planning has intensified in recent days. Officials noted that a large city like Philadelphia can easily welcome a single bus of arrivals.
Most people arriving in Philadelphia are expected to continue traveling to meet relatives. They all have legal means to be in the United States. Many, if not all, are seeking asylum and have endured “credible fear” interviews to be released into the interior of the United States.
That standard requires immigrants to show that they are in real danger of being harmed in their home country, or have already been harmed. And they must have been harmed in some way, for example 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 adding more sanctuary cities as drop-off locations for our bus strategy.”
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, estimated that Texas spent more than $2,166 per migrant to bus people to Washington, New York and Chicago. “For that price,” he tweeted, “Texas could have bought several first-class airline tickets for each person.”
Abbott’s office said he sent the bus here as “part of the governor’s unprecedented response to President Biden’s open border policies overwhelming Texas border communities.”
“Until the Biden administration does its job and provides Texans and the American people with lasting border security, Texas will continue to do more than any other state in the nation’s history to defend against invasion along the border, including adding more sanctuary cities like Philadelphia as delivery locations,” Abbott said in a statement.
He cited Kenney’s advocacy of Philadelphia’s role as a sanctuary city for “making the city an ideal addition to the Texas list.” The Kenney administration fought and won a major lawsuit over the Trump administration’s attempt to withhold subsidies unless the city helped enforce federal immigration laws.
Sanctuary jurisdictions like Philadelphia strive to treat undocumented migrants the same as anyone else when they come into contact with the justice system. Those cities and states say it is illegal for them to detain migrants for arrest by ICE agents, without a warrant from a judge.
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 bring much-needed relief to Texas’s overwhelmed frontier communities.”
Immigration advocates call the buses a cruel trick, played on people pursuing legal means of immigration and simply trying to find their way back to their families.
“Greg Abbott should be the loudest advocate for a humane immigration reform plan in Congress,” City Councilwoman Helen Gym tweeted over the weekend. “Instead, he spends $$ on these buses as a sick political stunt because he invests more in exploiting a problem than in coming up with a real solution.”