According to immigrant aid groups, busloads of migrants and refugees were sent from Texas to the US capital and dropped off near Vice President Kamala Harris’ home over the Christmas weekend.
The move is part of an ongoing Republican campaign led by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to blame Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration for the increased number of asylum seekers arriving at the United States’ southern border with Mexico.
Between 110 and 130 people seeking asylum in the U.S. — many of them families with children — were put on buses by Texas officials and dropped off in freezing temperatures over the weekend in Washington, DC, said Tatiana Laborde, executive director of SAMU First Response, a relief organization.
Laborde said aid groups had been briefed on the trip and were waiting for the group to arrive late Saturday. They distributed blankets and then transported people to a church in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of the city.
Some of the migrants and refugees wore T-shirts even though temperatures were around -9 degrees Celsius (15 degrees Fahrenheit).
Abbott employees were not available to comment on whether the state was coordinating their transportation. His office said last week that Texas has offered bus trips to Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia to more than 15,000 people since April.
Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a fellow Republican, are strong critics of Biden’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, where thousands of people try to cross it every day, many to seek asylum.
Republicans argue that Biden and Harris, who were named as government contacts on the root causes of migration, have relaxed restrictions that have prompted many people to leave their countries of origin.
While Biden has ended some of his predecessor Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies, he has retained others — including a pandemic-era restriction known as Title 42, which allows U.S. immigration authorities to turn away most people without giving them the option to apply for asylum.
Plans to end this controversial policy — which has been criticized by human rights groups as dangerous and as a violation of international law — have led to thousands of refugees and migrants congregating in the border area recently in the hope of being allowed to enter the US.
However, the US Supreme Court ruled last week that Title 42 could remain in effect temporarily, and officials on both sides of the border have sought emergency aid to set up emergency shelters and provide services to people, some of whom sleep on the street.
Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan described Monday’s bus departures as a “cruel, dangerous and shameful stunt.”
“Governor Abbott left children on the side of the road in freezing temperatures on Christmas Eve without coordination with federal or local authorities,” Hasan said in a statement.
“The political games are of no use and only endanger lives.”
Laborde from SAMU First Response in Washington, DC, said nine busloads of migrants and refugees were dropped off in the city in the past week.
“Recently, we’ve seen an increase in people from Ecuador and Colombia,” said Laborde, explaining that many Venezuelans had traveled by bus before.
Many of the new arrivals, she added, are now trying to go to New York or New Jersey, where they have relatives or other community support.
The mayor of New York City declared a state of emergency in October for buses carried by migrants and refugees who arrived in the city and opened emergency shelters to provide people with temporary shelter and other assistance.