Reviews | Bowser must take action against migrant buses coming to Washington DC
For months, the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network – volunteers working for free outside their daily jobs – and a changing patchwork of non-profit organizations have supported migrants arriving on their own initiative. But in recent weeks, reported Vanessa G. Sánchez of the Post, the number of buses has increased, exhausting the capacity of the mutual aid network and associations to support arrivals. When volunteers, whose limited capacity has been further stretched by coronavirus exposures, failed to show up two weeks ago to greet buses at Union Station for the first time since buses began arriving, there was an outpouring of media attention and calls from DC Council members to use city emergency funds, among other demands. The mayor doubled down on his position that this is “a federal problem that demands a federal response.”
Ms. Bowser is not wrong to argue that federal aid is needed, and the district is credited with facilitating a conversation between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and SAMU First Response, an international nonprofit humanitarian organization, which resulted in a grant to support about half of the arriving migrants. But even with federal assistance, the DC government must play a role. Volunteers estimate that 10-15% of migrants arriving in DC stay in the area; the others depart within a few days for their intended destination. Brownsville, Texas, is an example of how another city serves as a staging post for migrants: the city government there operates a migrant processing center, partners with local nonprofits for staffing needs and in equipment and uses FEMA funding to cover operations.
Ms. Bowser’s administration could replicate this approach. He could direct DC staff to help organizations that already support migrants. He could seek funding from FEMA, while considering calls from council members to dip into the city’s $500 million budget surplus for fiscal year 2022. He could find a spot near Union Station by as a respite center for arriving migrants, while providing coronavirus testing, masks and isolation spaces. Since April, Ms. Bowser has relied on unpaid labor and donations from local residents to help arriving migrants. They cannot – and should not – continue to do the government’s job.
Mr Abbott said he takes migrants to DC because he wants to “take the border with Joe Biden”. Mr. Abbott and Mr. Ducey hope to cause trouble, give the impression that migrants inevitably lead to chaos and thus force the federal government to adopt more draconian border policies. District government inaction, and local aid groups overwhelmed as a result, threatens to create a narrative of crisis that plays into the hands of Republican governors. But it doesn’t have to be like this: by implementing humane and effective programs, DC could model immigration solutions. The City should act soon.