Border chief: Governors’ migrant transports draw more to U.S.

A few days after Daniel got off a plane in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where he was flown with other migrants from San Antonio by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his phone buzzed.

It was a WhatsApp message from a friend back home: I heard you can get a lot of help out there, the friend said. Is it true?

Daniel, who asked The Times to identify him by his first name only to protect his immigration case, said it comes back to other Venezuelans that officials in the US are offering them free rides from the border to major cities like Washington, Chicago and New Zealand be York.

If those like his friend who are already considering a trip to the US believe they can be picked up near the border and taken to wherever they want to go, Daniel said, “every person would be encouraged.”

DeSantis and his fellow Republican governors in Texas and Arizona have used millions of taxpayer dollars to transport thousands of migrants, often without warning, from the southern border to liberal northern cities, sparking criticism of political maneuvering and human rights abuses. The governors say they are trying to make clear the need for tighter border restrictions.

At a press conference last monthDeSantis said he had people positioned at the U.S.-Mexico border to gather “intelligence” to identify migrants seeking to settle in Florida and redirect them “to places of refuge.”

“Every community in America should share the burden,” he said a day after sending two planes to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “It shouldn’t all fall on a handful of red states.”

However, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus, the practice can help convince others to make the trek to the U.S.-Mexico border. In an interview with The Times, Magnus said that politicians who complain about factors that attract migration to the US create it.

“It’s safe to say that what’s going on is a pull factor, which, given criticism from some of these governors involved in various pull factors that they claim already exist, is a bit ironic,” he said.

Magnus said social media is a powerful influence, noting that it’s tempting “when migrants hear there are buses that take them to places where they’re told they’ll get benefits and jobs.” People smugglers use the same information “to further manipulate and mislead migrants,” he said.

Renae Eze, press secretary for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, told The Times the governor started the “busmission” to support Texas border communities, which she said had “been asking for help.”

“In lieu of their hypocritical complaints about Texas providing much-needed assistance to our overrun and overwhelmed border communities, the Biden administration needs to step up and do its job to secure the border — something they continue to fail to do,” Eze said in a statement .

Daniel, who is in his twenties, said a woman named Perla – the the New York Times identified as Perla Huerta, a former combat medic and counterintelligence agent – recruited his group in San Antonio with a promise to fly them to Washington State or Oregon. He said he had no intention of going to Florida and she didn’t ask. When he looked out the window and saw that the plane landed on an island, he felt betrayed.

Now Daniel is one of the plaintiffs in the class a lawsuit filed by advocacy group Alianza Americas and civil rights attorneys in federal court in Massachusetts last month. The complaint alleges that migrants like him have been scammed in a politically motivated system.

Amy Fischer, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA and a volunteer with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, said the vast majority of migrants who arrive in Washington, D.C. have no friends or family in the US and have found transportation helpful. She said that while the effort is being made “with extremely bad intentions,” the reality is that it is a service.

“People don’t flee and try to exercise their human right to safety because of a free bus ride,” she said. “This kind of political posturing is exactly why we are in this situation where our politicians are playing political football on both sides of the aisle, instead of focusing on the needs of the communities and the needs of the people who are in our Seek coastal safety.”

Migrants have been stopped along the border more than 2 million times this fiscal year, an all-time high partly due to an increase in Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans fleeing authoritarian governments and economic hardship, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This number does not represent individual migrants, as many attempt to cross the border multiple times.

More than 155,000 Venezuelans were encountered along the border in the first 11 months of the most recent fiscal year that ended last week, almost four times the number for the same period last year. Adam Isacson, director of defense oversight at the research and advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America, said the increase could be just the beginning. People may also be aware that the Venezuelan government doesn’t accept deportees, the overwhelming majority say Venezuelans are allowed to enter the US as their immigration cases progress.

Nearly 7 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014, the second largest global displacement after those who have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion. Many Venezuelans have decided to make their way north by crossing the Darien Gap, a dangerous jungle between Colombia and Panama at least 123 bodies were recovered this year, according to Panama’s Border Service.

Word of mouth spreads quickly, Isacson said. For example, he said, afterwards Eight migrants drowned Last month, more Venezuelans attempted to cross the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas, crossing the border in El Paso, where the river is narrower.

“If the message from the US government is ‘Don’t come,'” he said, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris. Embassy to the Guatemalans last year, “and then everyone gets WhatsApps back and they’re like, ‘Not only did I turn myself in, but the government paid for my bus fare’ … that’s just one of many messages that’s probably quite enticing.”

Daniel said crossing the Darien Gap was riskier than he ever imagined. He would not do it again and he would not recommend others to follow him.

Castillo reported from Washington and Aleaziz from Healdsburg, California.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-10-06/border-chief-says-political-maneuvers-to-transport-migrants-are-attracting-more-to-the-u-s Border chief: Governors’ migrant transports draw more to U.S.

Alley Einstein

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