The campaign by red state governors to transport illegal immigrants to Democratic-led areas expanded dramatically this week with Texas dropping off busloads right outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence in Washington and Florida flying planeloads of Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard, a playground for the country’s liberal elite.
The moves drew howls of protest from immigrant rights activists, some of whom accused Florida of having “kidnapped” migrants to get them onto the planes.
Republicans cheered the arrivals as a logical outcome of President Biden’s border surge and questioned whether Democrats would rather have migrants sleeping on the streets of overwhelmed El Paso, Texas, or housed by wealthy and welcoming communities in blue states with resources to handle them.
The two busloads were dropped off at the Naval Observatory in Washington — Ms. Harris’ official residence — just days after the vice president claimed the southern border was “secure.”
“We knew we were coming to Washington, D.C., but no one told us we would be let off in front of the vice president’s residence,” said Deilinyn Mendoza, a 25-year-old man from Caracas, Venezuela.
Mr. Mendoza arrived with his wife on one of the buses from Texas. The couple told The Washington Times that they came to the U.S. to build a better life.
SEE ALSO: Florida ships illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard
“I wanted to claim asylum because there are better opportunities for myself and my family,” Mr. Mendoza said. His wife said they left Venezuela because the country’s economy is collapsing.
Asylum is supposed to be for those fleeing political persecution. Seeking better job opportunities or a safer community is not supposed to be a valid reason for asylum.
Under the Biden administration, analysts say, hundreds of thousands of migrants have been released into the U.S. with dubious claims. The migrants are counting on backlogged immigration courts to give them years to put down roots and to become difficult to deport when their cases are ultimately denied.
The chance for quick release has enticed record numbers to try to cross the southern border illegally. Border states are struggling to deal with the crush of people, and Texas and Arizona have begun campaigns to bus some of the new arrivals to Democratic-led cities to share some of the burden.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, joined them on Wednesday with two planeloads of migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. It’s a favorite vacation spot for big-name Democrats. Former President Barack Obama has an $11 million waterfront home there.
Critics called the move a “stunt” and blasted Mr. DeSantis for sending the migrants to a place with fewer opportunities than the District of Columbia, New York City and Chicago, where Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been busing migrants.
SEE ALSO: Busloads of illegal immigrants arrive at Kamala Harris’ Washington home: ‘I wanted to claim asylum’
Several lawyers associated with the immigrant rights movement wondered whether Mr. DeSantis was running afoul of the law.
“Forcible transfer of a civilian population is a crime against humanity. And human trafficking is a serious federal crime,” said David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and legal adviser to America’s Voice, an activist group.
Activists also complained that the Republican governors were in a “dehumanizing” race to see who could deliver the biggest splashy move on immigration.
An aide to Mr. DeSantis chided the critics on Twitter.
“Martha’s Vineyard residents should be thrilled about this. They vote for sanctuary cities — they get a sanctuary city of their own. And illegal aliens will increase the town’s diversity, which is strength. Right?” said Christina Pushaw, who works for the governor’s reelection campaign.
Martha’s Vineyard rallied the local community to welcome the 50 newcomers and found shelter space at a church. The Vineyard Gazette reported that volunteers rushed to help. One high school student taking Spanish classes came to help translate.
In the District, the migrants were met by SAMU First Response, a nonprofit organization that has been handling the arrivals for months. The migrants were taken to a church to have a chance to pause before heading on to their next destinations.
Texas began the transport campaign in April by collecting illegal immigrants caught and released by federal authorities and busing them to the District, where they were dropped off blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Arizona followed suit with busing.
Mr. Abbott added New York City to his list of destinations this summer. Last month, he started sending migrants to Chicago.
He has said those cities are getting just a taste of what Texas has been facing, with roughly 100,000 illegal immigrants caught and released at the border each month.
That taste has been sour for the Democratic-led cities.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared an emergency this month over the 9,000 or so migrants who have been sent to the city since April.
Ms. Bowser blasted Mr. Abbott for sending them but also complained that Mr. Biden has done nothing to help the city accommodate the newcomers.
She has asked for federal money and the federal government to approve the use of the D.C. National Guard. The mayor cannot unilaterally deploy Guard troops for the federal district.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, did deploy the National Guard to help with shelter, food and medical care for the migrants bused to Chicago.
The Biden administration has said the transport efforts interfere with the Homeland Security Department’s attempts to track the migrants.
An inspector general found this week that the federal government didn’t do a good job of tracking migrants. The sheer crush of people led to corner-cutting, with database fields left unfilled.
Nearly 30% of migrants released under “prosecutorial discretion” during the period under study failed to show up for their first 60-day check-ins at their intended destinations, the inspector general said.
Indeed, little about the border surge has been well-organized.
In Texas, the El Paso Times reported that 1,300 migrants have arrived each day this month and have overwhelmed the city’s resources. Migrants have taken to sleeping in tents on the sidewalk outside a bus station.
Many are Venezuelan, and some told the newspaper that towns back home are emptying as migrants make their way north.
The Republican National Committee suggested it made sense to send those migrants to communities like Martha’s Vineyard and said Democrats were having a “meltdown” over the issue.