Migrants arriving in DC by bus declared a public emergency by Mayor Bowser

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DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) declared a public emergency on Thursday over the influx of asylum seekers being bused in from Texas and Arizona, a formality that allows him to release 10 million dollars from municipal funds to help migrants while acknowledging that the Biden administration is unlikely to take a more active role.

After the Pentagon twice denied Bowser’s request for National Guard troops to help with buses full of migrants arriving several times a week from the two border states, Bowser plans to create an office of migrant services that would will coordinate a range of services, including temporary shelter, meals and medical support.

The arrival of about 9,400 migrants in the nation’s capital since Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) launched their spring bus programs has taken the city by storm party unprepared, even though many of those people have since left for other parts of the United States, the mayor said.

“We’re not a border town,” Bowser said at a press conference to announce the plan. “Basically what we’re doing today is a new normal for us. We need to have an infrastructure in place that allows us to deal with the border crisis here now that has visited us in Washington, DC”

The public emergency declaration allows the city to use $10 million in emergency funds for a more coordinated team of aid workers to meet buses at Union Station and, then, offer arriving migrants other types “triage” assistance such as medical attention and help getting to their next destination, city officials said.

Bowser said the city will seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for as much assistance as possible.

Through the Office of Migrant Services – to be set up within the city’s Department of Social Services – the city will also establish a temporary accommodation framework for migrants that will be separate from the homeless services system. district’s existing shelter, the mayor said, adding that his office has yet to decide who will lead the new office.

Legislation to be sent by Bowser to the DC Council would extend those services beyond the 15-day period covered by the declaration of emergency, Bowser said.

The city has so far left the bulk of the aid to local groups whose volunteers have stood outside Union Station – often early in the morning – to greet arriving buses and lead migrants to temporary shelter. in Montgomery County which detains 50 people at a time.

Other migrants were housed in area hotels and churches, and some were forced to sleep rough or in hotel parking lots.

As of Thursday, 348 migrants were staying at two hotels in the city, Bowser’s office said.

With a growing number of those families choosing to stay in the city, about 70 migrant children have been enrolled in DC public schools, his office said.

Despite the city’s new services, some longer-term questions about assistance remain.

Alejandra Pinto and her family are among thousands of Central American migrants who arrived in DC via buses from Texas and Arizona over the summer. (Video: Hope Davison/The Washington Post)

SAMU First Response, the nonprofit agency that operates the Montgomery County shelter with a nearly $2 million FEMA grant, sought a larger space closer to Union Station that could serve as a center for support exchange.

Bowser said the city is helping with this research, both inside and outside the city. But “we don’t have likely space in the district” owned by the city that would be available for such a purpose, she said.

Tatiana Laborde, director general of SAMU First Response, said the creation of a migrant services office is a welcome boost for an operation that has at times been hit or miss.

“It’s going to make our response more robust,” Laborde said at the press conference, where employees from his agency had just arrived after helping migrants who arrived that morning from Texas.

Bowser said through the new services, his office wants to ensure “we have a humane and efficient onboarding process that will get people on their way to their final destination,” in line with the city’s commitment. to help people in need.

The question of who should do more to help migrants continued his office for months. Local aid groups have repeatedly criticized Bowser for not stepping in with help sooner – attacks that escalated after DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) awarded 150 $000 in grants to six non-profit organizations helping migrants.

The mayor said she was not reacting to any of these developments. But she accused Abbott and Ducey of politicizing a humanitarian crisis on the border – repeating claims that some migrants were ‘tricked’ to come to DC

Bowser also said she was “disappointed” with the Biden administration’s reluctance to deploy National Guard troops and provide a larger space, like the DC Armory, to serve as a temporary shelter.

The Department of Defense told Bowser that National Guard troops are not trained to provide services in overnight shelter and the Armory is not equipped for this type of use.

“Mayors do a lot of things, but we’re not responsible for a broken immigration system,” Bowser said.

With Abbott and Ducey promising to keep sending buses, “what we’re dealing with is a big unknown,” she said. “It’s an unknown that’s been thrust upon us and it’s an unknown that we’re going to do our best to prepare for.”

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