The Biden administration is trouncing Texas and Arizona in sheer volume in the battle over busing migrants.
In just a single week in late September, the Department of Homeland Security ran 79 “decompression buses” and made 29 “decompression flights” to shuttle illegal immigrants away from border locations in Arizona and Texas to places where the department said it had more capacity to handle them.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas revealed the numbers in a regulatory filing this week describing his plans to try to deal with Venezuelan migrants.
The busing and flight operation has grown so big that the Homeland Security Department says it has had to siphon manpower away from its regular duties. The department acknowledged that is creating a vicious circle with less enforcement, which invites more illegal immigration, further overwhelming the border and demanding even more resources.
Meanwhile, the department is blasting Republican governors for their migrant-shipping efforts. That was too rich for some of them.
“Correct me if I’m wrong here, but this seems to be a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do,’” said C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, one of the Republicans who had been transporting migrants out of his state.
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It also turns out that the migrants being bused were going to leave anyway and many of them planned to go to New York, Illinois and the District of Columbia even without the busing efforts by Arizona and Texas.
That was revealed in a Government Accountability Office report this week that examined the destinations told to Border Patrol agents as they were catching and releasing migrants.
New York tied with Texas and Florida as top destinations for the newcomers. Although the District wasn’t a huge destination, the surrounding states of Virginia and Maryland were, GAO reported.
Illinois and Massachusetts, both of which have been targeted by red-state migrant shipping operations, were also high on the list of destinations.
Leaders in each of those states have complained about the Republican governors’ efforts, but the GAO report indicates the migrants were going to those states no matter what. GAO tied the problem to the catch-and-release policies.
Homeland Security didn’t respond to requests for comment for this report, but the department had been withering in its criticism of the Republican-led states.
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Mr. Mayorkas, in an interview with MSNBC, called Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s busing campaign “political stuntsmanship” and said he was toying with “the lives of vulnerable individuals.”
Chris Magnus, head of Customs and Border Protection, said the busing campaigns were fueling the border chaos by “luring” more migrants to jump the boundary line.
Andrew R. “Art” Arthur, a former immigration judge and now a resident fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, said those criticisms ring hollow, given the Biden administration’s own busing operations.
“All this pearl-clutching and hand-wringing over what Abbott’s doing is ridiculous because the federal government’s doing it in spades,” he said.
He said Homeland Security is moving more people but isn’t giving any warning to the localities where the migrants end up, leaving those communities scrambling to provide resources for the new arrivals. That’s true even for supposed political allies of the Biden administration, such as New York Mayor Eric Adams.
When Mr. Adams first complained about migrants swamping his city’s services over the summer, Texas had barely begun its busing effort to New York, Mr. Arthur said. The migrants Mr. Adams was complaining about had come on their own or in some cases with Homeland Security’s help.
“DHS isn’t telling anybody what it’s up to. That’s a problem,” Mr. Arthur said. “If you’re going to have a ridiculous problem like this, you need to minimize the effect it’s going to have on localities.”
Mr. Adams’ office didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office or the New York Immigration Coalition, all of which blasted Mr. Abbott over his busing program.
GAO’s data on migrant destinations came from the Border Patrol. When it catches and releases migrants, Border Patrol, asks them about their intended destinations. Of roughly 77,000 migrants in the “Notice to Report” program who gave destinations, more than 5,000 said they were headed to New York.
That program ended in February, months before Mr. Abbott sent his first bus to the city.
A second catch-and-release program using Homeland Security’s “parole” powers also showed New York as a top destination, with more than 5,000 migrants telling Border Patrol agents that they planned to head there when they were released.
The numbers for New York may be much higher. GAO didn’t provide exact figures in its report and CBP, which has the original data, didn’t respond to inquiries seeking the data.
The busing situation has become a major political headache for the Biden administration, spreading the pain of border chaos deep into the country, including Democratic states that are usually insulated from border matters.
Data that Homeland Security submitted to a federal court earlier this year showed that hundreds of thousands of people were caught and released since January, most of them in Texas and Arizona. They overwhelmed local services, and the governors figured since the migrants said they wanted to go deeper into the country, the busing campaigns could help speed up those trips.
Since April, Texas has transported more than 12,500 migrants: 8,200 to the District, 3,300 to New York City and 1,000 to Chicago.
Arizona has transported about 2,200 migrants, all of them to the District.
Florida flew about 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, an exclusive playground for the country’s liberal elite.
Assuming 40 people per bus, Homeland Security transported more than 3,100 in just that single week in September. That’s more than Arizona’s total over the five months it has been busing.
Homeland Security didn’t reveal the specific destinations for its busing and flight operations, but it said the migrants were taken from overwhelmed parts of the border and sent to other CBP facilities where they had more processing capacity.
“In an effort to decompress sectors that are experiencing surges, DHS deploys lateral transportation, using buses and flights to move noncitizens to other sectors with capacity to process,” Mr. Mayorkas said in the filing printed in the Federal Register.
“Because these assets are finite, using DHS air resources to operate lateral flights impacts DHS’s ability to operate international repatriation flights to receiving countries, leaving noncitizens in custody for longer and further taxing DHS resources,” he said.
Mr. Mayorkas said in the filing that his new program to allow in 24,000 Venezuelan migrants under his parole powers is an attempt to tamp down the border chaos. He said a get-tough approach, with more deportations, can trim the level of illegal immigration but works better if coupled with a pathway for legal entry.
He predicted that the pairing of carrot and stick “will lead to a substantial decline in irregular migration by Venezuelans.”