WASHINGTON — Members of the DC Council are calling on Mayor Muriel Bowser to act as Arizona and Texas officials continue to bus hundreds of migrants to Union Station.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other Texas officials started busing people seeking asylum to D.C. in April after the state voiced opposition to President Joe Biden lifting Title 42, a public health policy that allowed the government to quickly expel migrants and asylum seekers who come to the US from countries where an infectious disease is present.
Union Station has become just one more stop for asylum seekers like Barbara Diaz who spent 44 days traveling from Venezuela to the United States with her two-year-old son.
The mother of three says a Texas official in San Antonio told her that if she boarded the bus to the nation's capital, people here would be able to provide her a bus ride or flight to Chicago.
"It was all a lie," said Diaz in Spanish.
She said she arrived in Washington Thursday morning, but she grew upset when she realized there was no transportation available for her. Diaz claims that she was told she would have to consider sleeping on the street until a bus ticket was provided.
"We went through so much to get here,” she said. “If the majority of Americans knew just a little of what we went through to touch American soil, they would not be doing this to us.”
Ana Karina Arce Polanco, another asylum seeker from Venezuela with two children, shared a similar story.
She said her family accepted the bus ride to D.C. under the impression her entire family would be provided with a flight to Colorado. She broke down in tears when she realized no transportation would be available and that they were even further from their destination.
"We arrived here with faith to give them a better life," said Arce Polanco about her two children. "It turns out that we do not even have a place to sleep and no way to get where we want to go.”
Inside the station, nonprofit groups like Sanctuary DMV, East of the River Mutual Aid, SAMU First Response, and Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network continued to help dozens of families and single migrants.
Madhvi Bahl, of the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, called on the D.C. government to support non-profits that are not receiving federal funds to assist arrivals.
She said her group has already spent more than $260,000 on the effort, so far, and their funds are dwindling.
"We have never received any money from the D.C. government, or any government,” she said. “All our money has been grassroots raised. We got a few small grants. Ninety to ninety-five percent of our money has been from people Venmoing and Paypal."
Most days, the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network purchases the majority of migrants a ticket to their final destination. On Tuesday night through Thursday, the network participated in a work stoppage to protest the D.C. government's lack of action.
Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Robert White, Elissa Silverman, Charles Allen, Janeese Lewis George, Mary Cheh, Brooke Pinto, Christina Henderson, Vincent Gray, and Chairman Phil Mendelson sent Mayor Bowser a letter Thursday about the situation at Union Station.
The letter calls on District government to provide contingency funding toward the purchase of travel tickets, food, petty cash, cell phones, and emergent medical needs of arrivals until it receives money from federal or philanthropic entities to address the issue.
The ten DC Councilmembers also want the arrivals from Texas to be provided access to COVID testing, isolation hotels, and a space of respite somewhere near Union Station that will provide food and hygiene necessities, among other things.
“We condemn these actions by Governors Abbott and Ducey, who have demonstrated no regard for people who are exercising their human right to seek asylum,” the letter reads. “The District, on the other hand, has a history of serving all residents who settle here, regardless of immigration status.”
Nadeau says the mayor has the power to direct contingency funding toward the issue, not the Council. She said she is hopeful the mayor will act soon as their practical and altruistic reasons for the District to assist.
“First of all, we are receiving migrants from Texas and Arizona, whether we want to or not,” Nadeau said. “That is what the Republican governors of those states have decided to do in a political game they're playing with President Biden that is taking people's lives in their hands. And, so as the receiving jurisdiction, we are tasked with greeting them and making sure that they can get on their way.”
She said if D.C. does not act, there could be chaos.
“If we do not do something, there will be chaos,” Nadeau said. “We have already seen some of the arrivals coming into our homeless services system, which was built for our residents. And that cannot be the long-term solution.”
Mayor Bowser’s office has not responded to multiple requests from WUSA9 about efforts to assist asylum seekers.
The exact number of people who have been bused to D.C. from Texas is unclear. According to the DC Council, the District has received more than 100 buses carrying around 3,400 people.
In late June, Nim Kidd, Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, revealed that Texas had already spent more than $5.3 million dollars to send people to D.C.
At the time, roughly 3,000 people had been sent to the District at a cost of $1,795 to the Texas government.
The Texas government is now crowdfunding online to continue contracting charter buses.
“Everybody that gets on one of the state-supported buses has been cleared by border patrol to roam the country,” Kidd said.
Texas officials say all the passengers on the buses have voluntarily agreed to travel north. Kidd added the offer has proven popular.
“The good news, bad news is more [people] are coming across, more are getting on the buses, more are taking advantage of that trip,” he said.