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Federal court ruling on border could increase migrant buses to DC area, advocates say

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After slowing in recent weeks, the arrival in the Washington area of ​​bus migrants from Texas and Arizona is poised to pick up again after a Federal Court decision has effectively restored asylum seekers’ access to the country’s borders, according to local immigrant advocates.

Additionally, more and more people who have been bussed to other cities, such as New York or Chicago, are coming to the area after finding those areas too expensive or too cold, said Tatiana Laborde, director of SAMU First Response, the non-profit group that helped place these migrants in temporary shelters.

At a meeting last week between migrant support organizations, the consensus was: “Okay, we have to prepare,” Laborde said of the possibility of increased arrivals.

“We believe we now have a better infrastructure,” she added, referring to a support network, including through a migrant services office. created by DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) – which has been installed since the region was initially overwhelmed by bus programs intended to criticize the border policies of the Biden administration.

About 11,000 migrants, mostly from Venezuela or Colombia, were dropped off in the district — either at Union Station or the National Observatory which serves as Vice President Harris’ residence — after Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) launched his state’s program in April. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) followed suit a few weeks later.

Most of those people have since moved to other areas, although around 700 – many of them children – remain in local hotels and shelters, advocates say. Most are at two DC hotels, while about 50 people are at a hotel in Montgomery County, according to local nonprofits.

A federal judge’s order last week to overturn Title 42 – the Trump-era policy that allowed US border officials to quickly deport migrants due to the covid-19 pandemic – could lead to a surge border crossings which, in turn, will mean more buses sent to the Washington area, say immigrant advocates.

But with the order held until the end of December to give the Biden administration time to send more resources to the border and coordinate with local governments and the aid group, it’s unclear what the situation will be. magnitude of this increase.

From border town to “border town”, bus migrants seek a new life in Washington DC

Abbott, who won re-election this month and is a potential presidential candidate, said he intends to maintain his state’s bus program. He raised $400,000 in private donations to fund the effort, which has expanded to include other cities as destinations, most recently Philadelphia.

Arizona’s new governor, Democrat Katie Hobbs, said she would end her state’s bus program, which accounted for nearly 2,580 migrants transported through the district.

“We really don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Sharlet Ann Wagner, director of Catholic charities for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Newcomer Network, which handled the bulk of legal assistance, schooling and other long-term services for migrants. stay at three hotels.

With the order to vacate Title 42 pending, “it’s good to have this respite to do some planning,” Wagner said.

Border crossings declined overall after the Biden administration launched a program last month admit 24,000 Venezuelans who have a U.S. sponsor who is able to house and support them financially, as long as those applicants are crossing Panama and Mexico legally.

That and the fact that other cities have become destinations has led to a drop in the number of buses arriving in DC, to a manageable number of three migrant buses per week, Laborde said.

For those who have decided to stay in the area, the challenges of settling in one of the most expensive regions of the country are just beginning.

Most were admitted to the United States after indicating that they wanted to seek asylum but did not have a federal work permit during this process, which can take several years amid a backlog of cases. .

This forced them into an underground labor market already filled with immigrants, making it harder to get a job.

“We want to work,” said Betsy Marquez, who came from Venezuela, mostly on foot, in late summer and is now staying in one of the hotels. “They won’t let us work. Everyone asks if we have permission.

Many migrants have arrived in the region without identification after handing over these documents to federal agents at the border.

Others have been appointed to immigration court in different parts of the country. Still more were unaware that they even had to appear in immigration court after notices aimed at them were mailed to the offices of area nonprofits. who did not have contact with these migrants.

The Department of Homeland Security said those situations have been resolved. The mail mix-ups involved instances where migrants did not have an address for a U.S. contact or a nonprofit organization capable of assisting them in their desired destination, the department said.

In these cases, Border Patrol agents filled in the addresses of the nonprofit organizations on the release documents based on information provided by the migrants.

Officers were instructed not to do so again and, instead, to list the name of the city and state where the migrants plan to reside on release forms if no other information is available, DHS said. Migrants receive a form to update their addresses once they arrive at their destination and, in many cases, mobile devices with which they can register with immigration authorities, the department said.

Still, the situation has caused some fear and confusion, local lawyers said.

Julia Rigal, an attorney with Ayuda, a DC-based immigrant advocacy group, said her organization urges migrants to watch their court dates online.

” If you do not show up [to that initial hearing]the judge will issue a restraining order in absentia, which obviously will complicate your case a lot,” she said.

Biden plans border asylum overhaul but legal challenges loom

Meanwhile, migrant families in hotels have settled into a routine. At DC hotels, this includes security gates and guards limiting visitor access to these sites.

At a Days Inn in northeast DC, young mothers walk through the doors in the morning, push strollers while driving their older children to school.

A group of men wait outside the hotel in their donated winter coats for walks that will lead them to temporary jobs they have landed at construction sites or restaurants.

Each day, families receive three cooked meals by a city contractor, according to Bowser’s office.

Free food is appreciated, though not always ideal, some migrants said.

“It smells rotten,” said in Spanish Alejandra Pinto, who arrived with her family from Venezuela during the summer. “It’s not something you would buy fresh from the store. But we can’t say anything because we don’t feel entitled to reject it.

Volunteer groups working with migrants say perimeter security at DC hotels has made it more difficult to provide further assistance.

“We have to call the families individually and have them come and meet us outside the hotel grounds,” said Mariel Vallano, an organizer with the Migrant Mutual Aid Solidarity Network, a coalition of groups who welcome migrants upon their arrival.

Bowser’s office said security includes background checks on anyone who works there and a restriction against social workers meeting migrants inside their rooms.

Wagner, with Catholic Charities, said security is necessary, but residents are free to come and go as they please.

“Our primary concern must be the safety and security of residents; it’s a vulnerable population,” she said.

With the expected increase in migrant arrivals, Laborde said his DC-based organization is looking for a second temporary shelter. near Union Station with enough space to accept more migrants, a quest hampered by the expensive real estate market in the surrounding Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Bowser’s declaration of the matter as a public emergency in September allowed the city to release $10 million in funds to help migrants, with plans to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA awarded EMS First Response nearly $2 million to operate its temporary shelter in Montgomery County, which can accommodate 50 people at a time.

Montgomery County, which provided this space, also offers migrants assistance with health care, long-term housing and schooling.

Providing long-term support to migrants arriving on buses would be easier with help from other localities in the region, Laborde said. But, so far, no other jurisdiction in the region has dedicated local resources to this effort.

Fairfax County spokesman Tony Castrilli said the county already has a program that helps refugees, including migrants, resettle in the area.

“While this does not include formally accepting buses from other parts of the country, Fairfax County is committed to treating everyone who travels here with dignity and respect,” Castrilli said in a statement.

Arlington County said it is monitoring the situation to see if additional resources are needed for migrants ending up in its community, beyond what the county is offering anyone in need of food and assistance. temporary shelter. A spokesperson for Prince George’s County said officials were working with community groups that provide assistance to bus migrants, but did not provide details.

Pinto, whose family fled Venezuela after her husband, a former government soldier, disobeyed orders to overthrow another family, said she and other migrants understand their path to economic stability will be long .

In an area full of immigrants, “everyone started out the same way, with a lot of difficulty,” she said. “We just have to keep hoping”

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