Mary Curtis: Today I spoke with Murata WADA. He had been up at dawn at New York’s Port Authority terminal, waiting for a bus full of migrants to roll in.
Speaker 2: The journey is super long. It’s a two day ride at times, you know, given very little food, if any food at all. They’re coming off the bus with nothing in hand except for their paperwork that they were given by immigration officials.
Mary Curtis: They had started in Venezuela, Guatemala, Mexico and other parts of South and Central America, eventually crossing the U.S. border to seek asylum. And then they found themselves on a bus, some with no idea where they were headed.
Speaker 2: Like they did a huge journey to get to the southern border. And then they’re bused another two days to New York City without real care or support. Some folks are coming off the bus sick. There’s a little girl who needed insulin. There is a young man who had chest pain.
Mary Curtis: Morata Wilder is the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, a nonprofit network helping the city provide for the new arrivals. Texas began busing asylum seekers and other migrants northward in April for the orders of Governor Greg Abbott.
Speaker 3: Here in New York City, more than 100 asylum seekers arrived on buses from Texas early Wednesday morning at Port Authority bus terminal near Times Square. Another bus arrived Sunday with no advance notice from Texas, officials say.
Speaker 4: So, yeah.
Speaker 2: It’s been six years already, six years since I left my country first to Colombia, next to Ecuador. And in February, I decided to come here to the dairy and reserve, Panama, Costa Rica.
Speaker 3: This comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced he’s sending asylum seekers to so-called liberal cities. On Friday, he said he chosen New York City to be a designated, quote, drop off location along with Washington, D.C..
Mary Curtis: Governor Abbott says the stunt is meant to protest President Biden’s relaxing some COVID era deportation policies. Abbott is basically telling Democratic cities, If you won’t let us send these migrants back, then you can deal with them. More than 4000 migrants have come to New York. Even more have already arrived to Washington, D.C. The state of Arizona has also started its own busing program.
Speaker 2: Seeing families come off the bus like babies, infants with their mothers. Families that the mother and the children are here and they don’t know where the father is or the father coming up to New York City and his family being in Texas or Arizona.
Mary Curtis: Tell me about the schedule, if there is one. How do you know when these buses are going to get there?
Speaker 2: There really isn’t any notice that the state of Texas gives to New York City. So what Governor Abbott is also doing is utilizing this moment to try to create chaos in the city. He’s sending people who have nothing but the clothes on their back to a major city like New York City. So his intention is really to create this chaos, which we’re trying to make sure doesn’t really happen. And we’re going to continue to show up.
Mary Curtis: Today on this show, why Texas and Arizona are shipping thousands of people to blue cities, ensnaring migrant families in their political game. I’m Mary Curtis, filling in for Mary Harris. You’re listening to What Next? Stay tuned.
Mary Curtis: Governor Greg Abbott announced plans for his busing scheme back in April, but Marotta and his colleagues had no idea. New York was on the itinerary. They started receiving mysterious immigration hearing notices, which appeared to be mistakes.
Speaker 2: We were perplexed as to why people that we we have no contact with or know of were receiving their NTA. Is that our office and their address to us as well as I would say New York Immigration Coalition and then the person’s name. But then we actually started receiving families and individuals at our office who were being told by, you know, folks at the southern border to come here for shelter and services. And, you know, at that point, we quickly met with the mayor’s office, with the New York City council speaker and briefed them on the situation and asked them to prioritize expanding our emergency shelter system in New York City, as well as creating a welcome center and then providing some support to organizations who are going to work with asylum seekers as they get here.
Mary Curtis: How does an asylum seeker go from the border to a bus bound for D.C. or New York? Do they start in a detention center when they cross the border, they travel this all this way ways they get here. Are they approached by an officer, put in a detention center? How does that work?
Speaker 2: It varies. That’s happening in some cases. Other folks are being held and detained for a short period of time and being paroled into the U.S., which allows them to be here as they are moving forward their immigration cases. Some folks are being told that they’re going to be transported to their destination without that their being described and others are told that they may be able to get off where they’re going. You know, one thing that is very clear is that folks are being asked to sign a waiver form as they’re getting on the bus in English that says that they relinquish any responsibility or liability if they are injured in the process of the transportation and that they release liability from the state of Texas.
Mary Curtis: You’ve got Mayor Eric Adams in New York saying this process is forced. You have Governor Greg Abbott in Texas saying it’s fully voluntary. Just how consensual are these trips?
Speaker 2: You know, for people who want to come to New York City, it’s consensual. Like they they want to be here. Right. Like they they don’t know that the journey is going to be how long it’s going to be or that they’re not going to be given care or much food in the process or any food at all. But for folks who thought that they were going to be able to go to their, you know, the destination they wanted, it is pretty forced. Right? Like, imagine you wanting to go to San Antonio, Texas, getting on a bus for two days and ending up in New York City while your family is in San Antonio, Texas, which was 10 minutes away from where your bus took off from.
Mary Curtis: In the rush to bus migrants from the border to blue cities. Families can get separated. Parents are bussed at different locations away from their children. And in that chaotic process, important identity documents get confiscated or lost.
Speaker 2: In New York City. When folks get here, the identity documents do play a role and the families being able to stay together. And we’ve been trying to work with the city on making sure that families do stay together in the family shelter system. But you have to prove that you’re either married or that you know you’re married and these are your children. So for the most part, kids are not being separated from their parents. The families who are presenting as families are kept together as a family.
Mary Curtis: With Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey explicitly making it as hard as possible to be an asylum seeker or migrant in their states and making a point of it. Could one argue that being sent to D.C. or New York is still a safer outcome than staying in Texas or Arizona?
Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. New York City is and will always be a welcoming city for immigrants and newcomers. We always have been that. But, you know, for the folks who have been clear that they do not want to come here, it’s it’s incredibly inhumane that you would put someone through this process to get them out of your state just to use them and, you know, play politics with their lives.
Mary Curtis: So drawing from your experience, what’s a big mistake that New York could make during this emergency and what should it do instead to make it run as smoothly as possible?
Speaker 2: Sometimes we have to be creative in the way that we respond to things based on how we’re able to meet the moment. New York City doesn’t have the amount of legal service dollars into the city as well as the state. So we want to make sure that they actually increase that to meet the needs of the moment and to provide folks with legal assistance so that families have a fighting shot to, you know, be able to go through their case and have the support that they need through the immigration hearing process. New York City has a moral and legal obligation to ensure, you know, shelter, housing care and so many other services are provided for folks. So I just don’t want us to be responding in this moment and not have a medium and long term plan as well to continue to support asylum seekers who’ve made it to New York City.
Mary Curtis: After the break, how does New York handle a refugee emergency? We’ll be right back.
Mary Curtis: Governor Abbott has said the bussing scheme came in response to President Biden relaxing to Trump era immigration policies. One was Title 42 expulsions in which asylum seekers were sent home en masse due to COVID 19 concerns. Another Trump era program was the Migrant Protection Protocols, a.k.a. the Remain in Mexico policy, in which asylum seekers have to wait across the border while their cases are being processed. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Biden can end the Remain in Mexico policy, though it remains in place.
Speaker 2: Title 42 is a CDC health policy that has never been used as an immigration policy up until former President Trump and Stephen Miller used it that way. And the Biden administration, to their credit, has tried to rescind it and it’s gotten held up in court. In addition to that, the Supreme Court certified President Biden has the right to rescind MPP, which is another program also known as REMAIN in Mexico, which has not happened just yet. They’ve not put out the process or the guidance or the plan.
Speaker 2: So this is Governor Abbott just talking out of both sides of his mouth and saying that, you know, we have open border policies, but the policies that he’s supported are technically still in place.
Speaker 2: This is not a moment for folks like Governor Abbott who’s pandering to, you know, his Maccabees to actually try to win a reelection that he is currently running for and utilizing state dollars and resources and taxpayer resources in Texas to run his campaign by using the buses as a political stunt.
Mary Curtis: So you’re saying that how he uses these resources and enforces these policies is pretty discretionary based on the politics and the optics?
Speaker 2: I think Greg Abbott is just using this this entire situation to rally support for himself.
Mary Curtis: Now, no one would say that U.S. immigration policy is a well-oiled machine. Do you think that other than political points, could this stunt accomplish anything? Could it spur some action from the Biden administration or on policy?
Speaker 2: The hope is, is that people see this action by Texas for what it is and that Governor Abbott is utilizing human beings in this moment who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing impacts of climate change, who are fleeing a number of other reasons and manipulating the situation to benefit him politically.
Speaker 2: I would hope that our federal leaders are seeing what’s happening and working towards a solution. Making sure that they’re working towards a solution where we have a real, fair, humane immigration system. And you know that there are efforts to restore the asylum process that was gutted under the previous administration. So for us, it’s more so thinking about how can our federal leaders actually see that this is a moment for them to take action and actually reform our immigration system to provide people with pathways and really making our immigration fair, humane and just.
Mary Curtis: Eric Adams, Mayor Adams. He has instituted some emergency measures to provide more resources to the migrant effort. I know that early on there were reports of people sleeping on the streets. In your opinion, how are things going so far?
Speaker 2: Day by day. It’s getting better for the most part. Just to contextualize this, right, like it’s hard to coordinate something that you don’t know is happening, right? So if you don’t know a bus is coming, it’s hard to coordinate for that. So I just want to point that out. But I do think that, you know, with that emergency procurement declaration that went out to secure additional emergency shelters was the right step. I think that we need to increase support for community based organizations and groups who are doing this work and going to continue to do this work. Right. It’s not like folks just get here off the bus, get some food, get a care package and then, you know, are on their way to shelter or to connect with a family member or a friend. You know, we have to think about what happens in the next three months, the next six months and next 12 months to support these individuals so that they have the opportunity to thrive here.
Mary Curtis: Has New York ever seen anything like this before, do you think? A similar emergency influx of refugees?
Speaker 2: We’ve seen it happen back in 2014 and 2015 when unaccompanied minors were coming to New York State as a whole. A great deal came to New York City. A great deal went to Long Island, and they were welcomed in their host communities. They were provided with care, legal services and the support that they needed. But they also were coming here to reconnect with family and different iterations of migration patterns that we’ve seen. This is a unique one where most folks who are coming do not have a connection to New York or New York City, which makes it a bit different in the sense that you have to actually make sure that there is capacity and beds for people.
Mary Curtis: Without these community connections. I wonder what you think the long term outlook is for these migrants? Well well, some of them stay in the city they were bussed to. Without connections. Will they be deported? Is there work for them? What do you see?
Speaker 2: You know, my my outlook on the situation is that I hope that everyone who’s making it to New York City, who wants to be in New York City is able to stay here for the long run and is able to, you know, have the New York dream right, meet their goals, have the ability to thrive here. Like my family came to the U.S. so that my siblings and I would be able to, you know, live in a safe and thriving environment and fleeing violence. Right.
Mary Curtis: Where was that from your family?
Speaker 2: My family’s from Palestine.
Mary Curtis: So that surely spurred you in your work?
Speaker 2: Yeah. So for. For all of us, this is really just making sure that, you know, asylum seekers are given the supports that they need so that they can thrive here. And if you’re able to make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Right.
Mary Curtis: Now, what would be your message for Governor Abbott, Governor, to see and others who are precipitated from the border some of the current emergencies that you’re dealing with now?
Speaker 2: You know, I would want them both to put themselves in the shoes of these asylum seekers, to put themselves in the shoes of the family that had a really dangerous truck from their home country to the United States southern border and give them an ounce. Of welcoming. Right. Like this is the piece that I think is incredibly disheartening in this moment, is that we continuously as a country have elected leaders who do not see the humanity in people. And for them both to look for the humanity in themselves. Because I’m not sure there’s any left.
Mary Curtis: And would you have any message for the people who are coming up? So many of them crossing the borders from Venezuela, Mexico, elsewhere.
Speaker 2: The message to everyone, right, is that this is a moment that we will all be looking back to and. Asking ourselves and being critical of ourselves, what did we actually do to support people in need and to support people who were literally fleeing for their lives? So the message here is more so for other folks across New York. Other folks across this country is how are we showing up and how are we supporting folks in need in this moment?
Mary Curtis: I want to thank you, Murad Wilder, for appearing on what next and bringing us up to date on this really important story.
Speaker 2: Thank you so much for having me.
Mary Curtis: Murad Wilder is executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. And that’s the show. What next is produced by Alena Schwartz, Mary Wilson, Carmel Delshad and Madeline Ducharme. We’re getting a ton of help from Jared Downing, Anna Rubanova and Anna Phillips. We are led by Alicia montgomery and Joanne Levine and filling in for Mary Harris. I’m Mary Curtis, Roll Call columnist and host of its Equal Time podcast. Thanks for listening. Talk to you tomorrow.