EL PASO, Texas — The country’s top border official blamed Republican governors for drawing more migrants to the U.S. by promising them free bus rides north to places like New York, Washington, D.C., and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus said in an interview that in some cases, the governors of Texas, Arizona and Florida are “lying” to migrants about what opportunities might await them in those cities and that it is “luring” others to come to the U.S.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also criticized Republican governors for sending migrants to other cities in an interview with José Díaz-Balart on MSNBC.
“When a governor acts unilaterally and refuses to coordinate with other government officials, that is when problems arise. And that is when we deplore political stuntsmanship when we’re dealing with the lives of vulnerable individuals,” Mayorkas said.
Magnus and Mayorkas spoke from El Paso, where Border Patrol released nearly 1,300 migrants onto the streets from Sept. 7 to Sept. 15 because shelters were too full to take them in. Since Aug. 23, the city’s Democratic mayor has bused over 3,400 migrants to cities like Chicago and New York.
Magnus said that despite the releases and the busing of migrants to Northern cities, the Border Patrol is managing the influx.
“People across the country should know that it’s not chaos here,” Magnus said. “People that are coming into our custody here are then processed, and many of them are seeking asylum. So if some of them are released into the country, they’re doing so legally, they still have a date to appear for an asylum hearing.”
He said a large proportion of the population coming across the border now is from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, countries that refuse to take their citizens back if the U.S. tries to deport them.
Over the past year, the number of Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Cubans crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has risen by 175%, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
In El Paso, daily border encounters with undocumented migrants have averaged 1,500 a day since Sept. 1, with 618 on average coming from Venezuela, according to Customs and Border Protection data from the El Paso sector.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said the city’s shelters are full, which is why he, like Republican governors, has begun busing migrants out of the city.
Leeser said he needs the federal government to help “decompress” the migrant population in his city so his shelters are no longer full.
He said only about 50% of migrants arriving from Venezuela have family members who can sponsor them in the U.S., compared to 95% of Central Americans who know someone they could stay with while they await their immigration hearings.
Unlike Republican governors, Leeser is notifying cities that will be receiving migrants from El Paso.
“They had no money to go,” said Leeser, who sees providing free transportation to migrants as a humanitarian mission. “We want to make sure that we take people and treat people the way you would want to be treated.”
Jenny Espinoza recently arrived in El Paso from Venezuela and was taken by the city to a nearby motel where over 100 other migrants were spending the night. She said she had only the clothes she was wearing and did not know where her next meal would come from.
Later that night, one of Jenny’s roommates said via a WhatsApp message that they were going to bed hungry as there had not been enough food distributed among the migrants for them to eat.
“Some people in a car brought some food but when we passed by there wasn’t any left for us,” she wrote at 10:21 p.m.