(CNN) — Frustrated by “rogue buses” from Texas dropping off migrants by the thousands, the mayors of New York, Chicago and Denver are trying to slow the surge by requiring the bus operators to coordinate arrivals under the threat of impound, fines and even jail time.
Last week, 14 busloads of migrants from Texas made their way to New York City – the highest total recorded since spring 2022, Mayor Eric Adams said, citing the city’s Asylum Seeker Arrival Center.
At the direction of Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the Lone Star state has bused over 90,000 migrants to “sanctuary cities” run by Democrats like Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles since April 2022, according to numbers released by the governor’s office Friday.
In justifying the busing of migrants who cross the southern border, Abbott in a statement last year said “it was just Texas and Arizona that bore the brunt of all the chaos and problems that come with it.”
“Now, the rest of America can understand exactly what is going on,” he said.
Leaders of those cities experiencing an influx of migrants have been grappling with how to accommodate them upon their arrival.
On Wednesday, Adams signed an executive order requiring all charter buses carrying asylum seekers into the city to comply with guidelines that regulate when and where migrants can be dropped off, and requires advance written notice of their arrival.
“It’s about collaboration and turning this disorder into order,” Adams said on “CNN This Morning” Friday. “We have to orderly run our cities.”
The mayor’s order comes on the heels of a surge in southern border crossings that has stretched thin a number of already overwhelmed agencies in the US. Border authorities encountered more than 225,000 migrants along the US-Mexico border in December, marking the highest monthly total recorded since 2000, according to preliminary Homeland Security statistics shared with CNN.
Violating New York City’s busing rules will result in a class B misdemeanor, the order says, which is punishable by up to 3 months in jail and fines of up to $500 for individuals and up to $2,000 for corporations. In addition, bus companies could have their buses impounded by the New York City Police Department.
Cities like Chicago – and even its suburbs – have already implemented and enforced a similar ordinance. Earlier this month, a bus carrying asylum seekers was impounded and towed because the bus operators didn’t have the necessary paperwork and a permit.
Many of those migrants being bused up north “are arriving with just a single T-shirt and without much protection to regions in the United States where it’s really cold,” Pedro Rios, San Diego program director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S./Mexico Border Program, told CNN Friday. AFSC is an organization working toward peace and bringing social justice to those in the US and around the world.
“Border Patrol will tell people that they can only wear one piece of clothing, so they strip themselves of their jackets and their warm clothing,” he said. “And that’s how from the point of contact with Border Patrol, to the point of being released in Chicago, or New York, or wherever it might be, that’s how they are traveling, oftentimes without shoelaces, because they’re told that they have to remove them.”
With their belongings stuffed into one bag – because they’ve been told to reduce their life to a single container – they are in a “very vulnerable state of mind” already, Rios said.
“Physically vulnerable, emotionally distraught, and then for politicians to be playing with their lives, it’s just unconscionable,” Rios said.
Coalition of mayors seeks assistance
For Adams and his big city counterparts, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston, there’s much more to the issue than coordinating bus drop-offs.
The three mayors are collectively calling for additional federal support to manage the influx of migrants, calling it a national humanitarian crisis that demands a national solution.
“Our cities are working shoulder-to-shoulder to support newcomers, but it’s time for the federal government to increase work authorization, create a coordinated entry strategy, and provide more federal dollars to ensure cities can manage this crisis and help newcomers thrive,” Johnston said in a joint online statement this week.
The mayors are “going to extreme lengths to avoid fulfilling their self-declared sanctuary city promises,” Renae Eze, a spokesperson for Abbott, told CNN. “Instead of attacking Texas’ efforts to provide relief to our overwhelmed border communities, these Democrat mayors should call on their party leader to finally do his job and secure the border – something he continues refusing to do.”
This year, the Biden-Harris administration, in collaboration with states and cities, launched work authorization and Temporary Protected Status clinics to help non-citizens obtain work permits and decompress shelter systems, a White House spokesperson told CNN Friday.
“To date, these clinics have served approximately 10,000 individuals and thanks to USCIS’ efforts, the median processing time for work permit applications is 30 days,” the spokesperson said.
“President Biden is committed to addressing this problem, that’s why he submitted a supplemental funding request to Congress which includes additional resources to secure the border with more law enforcement, more grant funding for jurisdictions hosting migrants, and funding to accelerate the processing of work permits for eligible noncitizens.”
In Chicago and New York City, meanwhile, one problem with accommodating this surge of asylum seekers is that they are being dropped off at random locations, at random times, city leaders say.
In New York City, these unplanned drop-offs are “interfering with the city’s ability to manage this humanitarian crisis and provide emergency services,” New York City Corporation Counsel Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix said in an online statement.
Wednesday’s executive order aims to put a stop to that.
“We’re saying that between a certain period of time you are allowed to drop off migrants in the city, but you’re going to do it at the location that we specified, so we don’t overtax our resources, our manpower, and create this orderly environment,” Adams said on CNN.
New York City’s order mandates:
• Charter buses carrying 10 or more migrants will be required to provide 32 hours notice to city officials prior to arrival.
• A manifest of its passengers, including the number of single adults and family members traveling, provided to the city commissioner.
• Drop-offs be done at designated locations in Manhattan, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
• Dropping off asylum seekers in NYC during official city-observed holidays is prohibited.
And while the ordinance ensures that asylum seekers are set up for some level of success upon arrival in New York City, it doesn’t go far enough, unless Adams eliminates the 30- and 60-day shelter stay rules, Suvasini Patel, vice president of communications and strategy at New York Immigration Coalition, an advocacy organization that represents immigrant and refugee rights groups throughout New York, told CNN Friday.
“Building a safe and stable home environment is the first step for any family to get on the road to self-sufficiency,” Patel said. “Without that, the mayor is doing a disservice to these new arrivals and, in fact, hurting their prospects to really build their lives here.”
In Chicago, where 28,000 asylum seekers have arrived since August 2022, a similar busing ordinance is already being enforced to streamline drop-offs and stop buses from leaving migrants “in the middle of traffic, on random street corners and at O’Hare International Airport,” according to the Chicago city officials.
“As temperatures continue to fall, the City is enacting stricter penalties to discourage bus companies from flouting these protocols,” the city said. “The inhumane treatment further endangers the safety and security of asylum seekers, and adds additional strain to city departments, volunteers and mutual aid partners tasked with easing what is already a harsh transition.”
The migrant drop-offs are not just happening by bus: On December 20, Abbott sent a plane of 120 migrants from El Paso to Chicago, the governor’s press secretary Andrew Mahaleris told CNN and shared on X.
Surrounding Chicago communities are also trying to control the influx, requiring buses to obtain a permit before dropping off migrants, like in the village of Elburn, an hour outside the city. Earlier this month, 38 migrants arrived at the Elburn stop on the commuter rail system in the Chicago metropolitan area, and were accompanied by a security guard, liaison and bus driver, according to the minutes from the village board meeting December 27.
Elburn Village Administrator John Nevenhoven told CNN the single bus drop-off was orderly, as migrants waited on the bus until the train arrived, but said officials are highly concerned buses may drop off migrants when trains aren’t running, leaving them stranded in an unfamiliar place.
“He (Abbott) is now sending buses outside of the City of Chicago, in some instances, a hundred miles away where people are being dropped off … they’re being told they are in the City of Chicago, literally dropped off in the middle of nowhere,” Johnson said on “CNN This Morning” Friday. “I find that to be inhumane and unconscionable.”
Elburn’s ordinance, passed on December 27, requires buses to submit a permit application at least five business days prior to dropping off migrants and requires operators to conduct background checks on passengers over the age of 18, providing copies to the required authorities.
Violations can amount to a $750 fine per passenger, according to Elburn’s ordinance.
Denver’s mayor, Johnston, said on “CNN This Morning” Friday that Congress needs to address the crisis.
His city received more than 5,000 migrants in December so far, which includes 115 buses from Texas, Jordan Fuja, Johnston’s press secretary, told CNN Thursday. The city is averaging more than 250 newcomers arriving per day and currently sheltering 4,100, she said.
Denver is working to put emergency rules into place that limit drop-offs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Fuja said, to ensure city staff is available to support migrants as they arrive and help them get to shelter.
“The frustrating thing for us is we know this problem is solvable … It’s actually clear for us there is a path to solve it,” Johnston said. “And that’s why we need Congress to take action. I think the White House sees the same path to solve it.”
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