Since April, thousands of migrants have arrived by bus in New York City and Washington, D.C., sent north by Republican governors in Texas and Arizona as a political gambit to blame Democrats for the migrants’ presence in the country.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey have spent millions of dollars transporting the migrants to the liberal cities to protest President Joe Biden’s intention to roll back some pandemic-era border restrictions and Democratic immigration policies more generally.
But increasingly the migrants are hopping off the buses before reaching Washington and New York, which are too expensive to settle in for many migrants who don’t have friends or family in those cities. Instead, they are disembarking in red states along the route, where the cost of living is much lower — but where their presence has generated opposition from some state and local officials.
“If Texas is going to put people on buses, they need to make sure that these individuals are going to their destinations,” said Georgia state Rep. Mike Cameron, a Republican who protested bus stops in Dade County, Georgia. “I understand Texas’ problem, but don’t just put people on a bus and let them get off anywhere. That’s not a solution.”
Both Arizona and Texas offer asylum seekers voluntary bus rides as they are released with permission to travel and pursue their asylum claims after screenings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, who determine they’re not a security threat and don’t qualify for programs that force some asylum seekers to wait south of the border. In Texas, a humanitarian group offers the seats on state-funded buses to those who need transportation.
Texas can’t stop people from getting off at intermediate stops, but the buses no longer stop in Dade County or nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee, after protests from Cameron and other Republican officials.
Migrants have disembarked in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee in recent weeks, and some of the buses arriving in New York and Washington have been nearly empty, according to media reports, though local charities say they’re still helping dozens of arriving migrants almost daily. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, warned migrants back in April not to use the buses to get to his state, saying “Florida is not a sanctuary state.”
Nevertheless, about 20% of migrants bused by Arizona have final destinations in Florida, according to a state report. Texas has not released a breakdown of destinations for its migrants.
Those who do stay on the buses and arrive in Washington, D.C., often just need a little advice and help to join friends and family ready to help them, said Abel Nuñez, director of the nonprofit CARECEN DC, or Central American Resource Center, which has been meeting eight to 10 buses a week in the District of Columbia. One man drove from New Jersey to meet his long-lost Cuban son as he arrived on a bus recently, he said.
But those with no money or connections, maybe 15% of those arriving, have a tough road with no permission to work legally and no way to pay for soaring housing costs, he said.
“Sometimes they get the idea that it’s paved with gold, if they can just get here. We have to tell them ‘No, basically if you stay here, you’re going to be homeless, working with shelters.’ That’s the reality,” Nuñez said.
This story has been edited for length and originally appeared at Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.