WASHINGTON — D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a state of emergency and created a new governmental task force on Thursday in response to the busloads of migrants coming to the District from Texas and Arizona.
At a press conference, Bowser said that she was allocating $10 million to build the new Office of Migrant Support, which she added will be partially reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The time-limited emergency will also give Bowser more power and flexibility to direct the mobilization of people and resources to help migrants who choose to stay in D.C.
“We’re putting in place a framework that would allow us to have a coordinated response with our partners,” Bowser said. “This will include a program to meet all buses, and given that most people will move on, our primary focus is to make sure we have a humane, efficient, welcome process that will allow people to move on to their final destination.”
The Office of Migrant Services will be a subdivision of the Department of Health and Human Services and will be responsible for the reception, respite, meals temporary accommodations and other basic needs of migrants arriving after crossing the southern border.
The mayor’s office estimates more than 9,400 people have voluntarily bused from Arizona and Texas to D.C.
The emergency declaration gives Bowser and her administration temporary powers for 15 days, but she said that she will be sending a request to the D.C. Council to extend the emergency. Bowser added she plans to send the council emergency legislation to codify the new office.
The mayor emphasized that while D.C. would step up to the cause, the nationwide migrant crisis goes beyond her political powers, and she called on the federal government to fix a broken immigration system.
"What we need in this country is for Congress to do its job and fix this immigration system," she said. "We have millions of people in this country who don't have the means to take care of themselves and take care of themselves."
D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau also attended the mayor’s press conference that announced the District’s newest office.
In July, she and nine other members of the D.C. Council wrote Bowser a letter urging her to act on the issue.
On Thursday, Nadeau said she was pleased to see the mayor finally set up an assistance effort for migrants.
“I'm so thrilled to see the mayor's emergency today and look forward to working with her on getting the emergency legislation passed to the Council, as well,” she said.
However, journalists questioned Bowser as to why she decided to formally assist the effort to help migrants now and not five months prior. The Department of Defense had previously denied two requests by the mayor to have the DC National Guard provide migrant assistance instead.
Bowser answered she felt the District was responding at the right time while adding the federal government is to blame for providing help earlier.
“The President, the White House and anybody else who was involved in the National Guard not being granted for the District's humanitarian response? Yes,” she said.
Mutual aid groups, like Sanctuary DMV, have been welcoming and helping asylum seekers who arrive on buses at Union Station since April.
Madhvi Bahl, an organizer with Sanctuary DMV and the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, said she was encouraged by a few things the mayor said Thursday.
“We’re happy to see that the mayor is taking a step towards supporting migrants and actually acknowledging that [asylum seekers] are staying in the city, which up until now, she has barely done,” she said.
However, Bahl added she was concerned the mayor did not provide exact details as to when and how the District assistance effort would be introduced.
“There were not that many details or timelines on this plan,” she said. “So, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know when it’s going to happen, so for all intents and purposes, for us, nothing’s changing.”
The non-profit group Beloved Community Incubator said in a statement that the District's previous inaction on the issue actually made the migrant crisis worse.
“The mayor's response is the result of months of organizing and activism by the D.C. community. While we are happy to see Bowser take an interest in supporting migrants being bused to D.C., she is five months too late,” said Bianca Vazquez, of Beloved Community Incubator. “By abdicating their responsibility for so long, the DC government helped create this humanitarian crisis.”
Another organization, SAMU First Response, which has also helped migrants in the DC area, said it was happy to hear the mayor’s announcement.
“This is going to really make our response more robust and make sure that the long service, the long term services that need to be given to this population will happen,” said SAMU First Response Managing Director Tatiana Laborde.