Washington — Texas’ Republican-controlled state government on Tuesday expanded its highly-publicized effort to transport migrants released from federal border custody to Democratic-led cities, announcing it was sending a bus with migrants to Philadelphia.
The announcement marks the latest escalation of a campaign by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to repudiate the Biden administration and its Democratic allies for the federal government’s handling of an unprecedented migration wave along the U.S.-Mexico border over the past two years.
Before Tuesday’s announcement, Texas officials had already bused more than 13,000 migrants to Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago, three Democratic-led cities with “sanctuary” policies that limit local law enforcement cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation agents, according to state statistics.
Under a separate effort authorized by outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, Arizona has also bused several thousand migrants to Washington, D.C. In Sept., Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, took credit for flying several dozen Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, but has not announced additional operations ever since the incident triggered public outcry, a criminal probe and a civil lawsuit.
Texas officials said the bus announced on Tuesday is scheduled to arrive at Philadelphia’s William H. Gray III 30th Street Station on Wednesday morning. “Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has long-celebrated and fought for sanctuary city status, making the city an ideal addition to Texas’ list of drop-off locations,” Texas officials said in a statement.
In a statement late Tuesday, Kenney called Texas’ busing efforts a “disturbing policy,” but he said officials in Philadelphia and local humanitarian groups were prepared to welcome migrants “with dignity and respect.”
“Philadelphians know that diversity is our strength, and we want to acknowledge the generosity and compassion we have already seen from residents and community partners since we were alerted to a possible bus arriving in Philadelphia,” Kenney said.
For months, Abbott, who comfortably won reelection earlier this month, has said the migrant transportation campaign has been successful in diverting national attention to the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, where federal officials recorded nearly 2.4 million migrant encounters in fiscal year 2022, a 12-month period that ended on Sept. 30.
Abbott and other Republicans have argued the record border arrivals stem from the Biden administration being too lenient on migrants who enter the country illegally and reversing harsher Trump-era policies, such as a program that requires migrants to wait in Mexico for their U.S. asylum hearings.
“Until the Biden Administration does its job and provides Texans and the American people with sustainable border security, Texas will continue doing more than any other state in the nation’s history to defend against an invasion along the border, including adding more sanctuary cities like Philadelphia as drop-off locations for our busing strategy,” Abbott said in a statement.
While the Biden administration rolled back some Trump-era asylum policies, it has kept in place the most sweeping border restriction in modern U.S. history to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants on public health grounds.
On Tuesday, the policy, known as Title 42, was blocked by a federal judge who argued it had not been properly enacted. The ruling could be paused by an appeals court.
The Biden administration and Democratic mayors, meanwhile, have portrayed the Republican-led effort to transport migrants to Democratic-led jurisdictions as a political stunt. Similarly, advocates have accused state officials of dehumanizing desperate asylum-seekers and using them as pawns in a policy dispute with the federal government.
“It is truly disgusting to hear today that Governor Abbott and his Administration continue to implement their purposefully cruel policy using immigrant families — including women and children — as pawns to shamelessly push his warped political agenda,” Kenney, the Philadelphia mayor, said in a statement.