Venezeulan asylum-seekers in long pants and light jackets hold clear plastic bags of their belongings while they wait on the sidewalk
Migrants from Venezuela, who boarded a bus in Texas, wait to be transported to a local church by volunteers after being dropped off outside the residence of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15, 2022. (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the past month, thousands of asylum-seekers who crossed the Texas-Mexico border have been transported by bus to New York City. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott approved the move and has already sent over 6,000 asylum-seekers by bus to Washington, D.C., since April. Immigration advocates say Abbott’s decision is a cruel, politically motivated stunt intended to overwhelm the shelter systems while sending a message to President Joe Biden to close the border. Gov. Abbott’s policy has even inspired Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is now planning to send Cuban asylum-seekers on buses to Delaware, Biden’s home state. 

Abbott’s ongoing forced migration has separated thousands of asylum-seekers from their families, complicated an already precarious immigration legal process, and further inundated New York City’s shelter centers without providing any actual humanitarian aid. While asylum-seekers who cross the border have already survived a dangerous voyage, advocates say it is only the beginning of another leg of trauma and displacement.

“At this point, the governor of Texas is a coyote,” said Frankie Miranda, the president and CEO of the Hispanic Federation. “He is transporting people—human beings—for his own benefit and exploiting them for his own benefit.” 

The Hispanic Federation and the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) have welcomed asylum-seekers in the city by helping them access resources such as shelter, relocation services, and legal aid to assist them in asylum applications. The Hispanic Federation has been on site at Port Authority Bus Terminal providing supplies and important information about the market exchange, applying for health insurance, and more.

“It has been a little bit improvised because again, we don’t know when people are coming in, and we’re trying as much as possible to assess all the different needs that people arriving have,” Miranda said.

NYIC first started welcoming asylum-seekers who were sent to Washington, D.C., in their offices in late spring. The asylum-seekers told organizers that they were told to go to New York City for shelter services. In July, New York City Mayor Eric Adams criticized Abbott’s decision to move thousands to Washington, D.C., leading Abbott to retaliate and start sending them unannounced to New York City instead. NYIC Executive Director Murad Awawdeh estimates 7,000-10,000 people have arrived in New York City from Texas since April. 

Awawdeh said NYIC has been collaborating with volunteers, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and groups like TLC New York City to make sure they are welcoming asylum-seekers with dignity and respect. Upon arrival at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Awawdeh said they provide dignity care packages to everyone. They recently launched a Welcoming New York campaign, which demands a federal, state, and local response in a coordinated fashion to support asylum-seekers coming to the city.   

At the federal level, the campaign calls on the White House to develop a structure between state and local governments to ensure coordination among agencies regardless of the city to which they’re sent and to incorporate them into refugee support systems. They are also asking the Department of Homeland Security to provide funding for immediate shelter, as well as transportation to where asylum-seekers want to be relocated. In addition, they are asking to facilitate expedited work permits for asylum-seekers and asking that migrants are dropped off in a manner that’s coordinated with providers. Lastly, they are calling on the Department of Justice to investigate allegations that state authorities violated federal civil rights laws by forcibly busing asylum-seekers against their will. 

“The most egregious example is there was a man who came up here without his two children, his pregnant wife, or his mother,” Awawdeh said. “Trying to figure out how to navigate a situation like that is burdensome on the individual who didn’t actually want to come up here.”

According to anecdotal evidence received from the Office of Immigrant Affairs, where asylum-seekers are evaluated and triaged into the shelter system, hospital, or being reticketed, about 30-40% of the asylum-seekers arriving in New York City say they were sent against their will. Many of the asylum-seekers report being escorted onto the buses by armed guards, and they were not allowed to get off the buses, even if they have family or support systems in cities along the way. Many even have court dates scheduled back in Texas, which, if they miss, they lose the opportunity to complete the asylum process.

“They have expressed that they have some support systems somewhere else, and they want to be reunited with their family,” Miranda said. “It’s a family reunification issue because they are being sent completely off in a different direction than what they want, and they’re not allowed to get off the buses. This has been done in an evil way; it has been done in an exploitive way. Our outrage is with the governor of Texas.”

The NYIC Campaign is also calling on the state of New York to invest an additional $10 million in emergency support addressing needs that have fallen on providers that are already at capacity and struggling to exist. They are also asking for more holistic legal services. In New York City, where the shelter system is already overwhelmed, Awawdeh is calling on the city to move unhoused people into permanent housing and place asylum-seekers in the emergency shelter system instead. Once shelter beds are at capacity, they open up hotels that they use as separate shelter centers. According to a spokesperson from the Department of Homeless Services, they have opened 16 emergency sites for houseless people and continue to look for other sites to serve recently arrived asylum-seekers with appropriate shelter services and resources.

“This is being done in such an inhumane way, where Gov. Abbott of Texas is using asylum-seekers as political pawns in his game and increasing his poll numbers as well as giving himself national attention,” said Awawdeh. “It’s incredibly disingenuous to see him do this in a way where he has no repercussions. So we’d like for the federal government, the state, and the city to start working together, coordinate better together, to make sure that people are received with dignity and given the services they need to thrive here.”

Over the holiday Labor Day weekend, Miranda said buses arrived unscheduled in the middle of the night. People slept on the bus terminal floor waiting for the triage center to open the next morning at 5:30. 

“Some of them actually come out of the bus with a big smile because they think that is the end of the journey,” Miranda said. “Maybe it is the end of the dangerous journey, but now it is when the complicated one starts.”

Alexandra Martinez

Alexandra Martinez is the Senior News Reporter at Prism. She is a Cuban-American writer based in Miami, Florida, with an interest in immigration, the economy, gender justice, and the environment. Her work...