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Border arrests set to break record as division widens over states’ handling of migrants

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has tested the state’s powers to enforce federal immigration laws, citing a surge of migrants at the Texas-Mexico border. In one example, rather than waiting for federal authorities, Texas police will drop off migrants on bridges. (Juan Figueroa/Dallas Morning News/TNS)

DALLAS (Tribune News Service) – The Biden administration’s immigration complications escalated as migrants were ferried by Republican governors to cities ruled by Democrats and as increased migration along the southern border continues to exceed a record 2 million.

Venezuelan migrants airlifted to Martha’s Vineyard were again transferred to a military base near Cape Cod on the Massachusetts mainland on Friday as immigration advocates slammed what they said were statements fraudulent information about destinations and which federal agency migrants should report to in the future. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Antonio, Gustavo García-Siller, tweeted that the migrants were being used as “pawns”.

New Border Patrol arrest figures, through August, are expected to show a record number of arrivals at the southwest border exceeding 2 million for the fiscal year ending in September, with strong demographic shifts. This change, with more Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans, creates new challenges for federal, state, and local authorities, as migrants from these countries are widely permitted to enter the United States.

The tangled diplomatic relations between several nations means that migrants from these three countries are not easily returned to their countries of origin under a health order linked to the pandemic. Additionally, migration from communist or authoritarian countries shines a light on Republicans who have traditionally stood up for those fleeing those governments.

On Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, both Republicans, of misleading asylum seekers “fleeing communism”.

Abbott sent more than 11,000 migrants on state-funded buses this year, accusing the Biden administration of doing little to “secure the border” against rising migration that was “endangering” communities. Abbott, who is up for reelection, said the state of Texas will continue to send migrants north until President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “step in and do their job to secure the border”.

DeSantis, following Abbott’s lead, sent about 50 Venezuelans on a plane to Martha’s Vineyard this week. The planes came from San Antonio, Texas, to Florida.

Jean-Pierre said DeSantis had “abandoned” migrants at the side of a busy road in Martha’s Vineyard. Florida’s governor had time “to hire a videographer to capture footage of this flight,” but not to alert state officials that migrants were on the way, she said.

On Thursday, Biden said, “Republicans are playing politics with human beings, using them as props. What they’re doing is just plain wrong. It’s not American.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and most other Republicans strongly support the governor, saying his actions are justified and that the impact on the state of the influx of migrants is far more severe than the communities where buses and flights were sent.

Immigrant advocates have protested the treatment of migrants and called for an investigation by the US Department of Justice. Some said they were misled into flying to Massachusetts, or that the migrants were told to report to the wrong federal agency. This latest ruling could mean that migrants will not receive crucial notices of upcoming federal immigration court hearings, triggering their deportation from the United States in absentia, or without appearing in court to defend themselves.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

“You can treat these people like political pawns, but what we’re trying to do is make sure they’re treated like human beings, who, by the way, all have the legal permission to be in the country,” said Naomi Steinberg, vice president of U.S. policy and advocacy at HIAS, a global Jewish-based nonprofit that provides assistance to immigrants at the border and in the United States.

Steinberg said migrants are allowed by federal immigration authorities to enter the United States and many will initiate asylum claims, which they have the right to do under US and international law. The transfer of migrants, by bus or by plane, “is certainly not the answer to a real challenge at the border”.

In Del Rio, the area most heavily traveled by Border Patrol in recent months, state buses continue to arrive six times a week to ferry migrants north, said Tiffany Burrow, who leads the faith-based coalition Val Verde Humanitarian Border. The coalition runs a day shelter in South Del Rio, helping migrants prepare for trips with directions, free meals and new clothes.

Migrants volunteer to take free bus rides north, offered by the Abbott administration, Burrow said. All of the migrants had been processed by federal immigration authorities with pending date instructions from federal immigration court before boarding the bus. Burrow took one of the free bus trips north with migrants to Washington, D.C.

“I don’t mean to be simplistic, but I mean, there’s a lot of people going through and they’re going to their final destination wherever that is,” Burrow said. If a free bus trip brings the migrant closer to their final destination, they take it, Burrow said.

The U.S. Border Patrol continues to drop off migrants at the daytime shelter, including new arrivals who have crossed at Eagle Pass, a busier port of entry about an hour up the Rio Grande from Del Rio. For the past two weeks, Border Patrol has released migrants in downtown El Paso, with its processing center and area shelter at full capacity.

Border arrests of Venezuelans rose rapidly at the border to nearly 130,000, through July. This is almost triple their number the previous year. Since 2015, more than 6 million Venezuelans have left that country for places scattered around the globe, according to R4V, a digital site for refugees and migrants connected to the United Nations refugee agency.

“It makes it clear that when this happens, you’re going to have to put all of your diplomatic might to the highest level to really work towards finding a solution to the crisis in Venezuela,” said Adam Isacson, security and migration analyst at the Washington Office for Latin America.

More and more border arrests look like a de facto immigration policy by country. In that fiscal year, nearly 180,000 Cubans were arrested on the southwestern border, a figure that topped 125,000 during Mariel’s 1980 exodus from the island nation.

Nearly 134,000 Nicaraguans have been arrested by the Border Patrol through July of this exercise.

Very few have faced a speedy exit under Title 42. Instead, they are being processed by federal immigration authorities for later hearings in backlogged U.S. immigration courts.

Immigration officials note that at least a fifth of arrests, or encounters, are by migrants who make repeated attempts under Title 42, which carries no legal consequences. Therefore, each arrest does not equate to an individual migrant.

About 60% of immigrants captured by the U.S. Border Patrol are from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to July data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In July, this figure for these four countries fell to around 50%.

Reuters reported earlier this week – and The Dallas Morning News confirmed – that the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been pressured to accept more migrants from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua under policies of Title 42. It came even as the Biden administration defended in federal court its attempt to end the pandemic measure last May.

“If you’re from a country where there’s a high likelihood of a strong asylum case, like one of those dictatorships, and it’s a hard country to deport, it’s kind of like Ellis Island now,” Isaacson said.

© 2022 The Dallas Morning News.

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