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“Political Pawns”: Immigrant Activists Decry Texas Gov. Abbott for Busing Asylum Seekers to NYC, D.C.

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Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott is sending busloads of asylum seekers to New York City and other “liberal” cities to oppose what he calls the Biden administration’s “open borders policies.” About 100 asylum seekers arrived Wednesday at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in a bus chartered by Texas, adding to the thousands of asylum seekers the city claims has strained its shelter system in the past few months. Some say they were misled into boarding the buses and signing consent waivers. Immigration activists are calling for the city, state and federal governments to provide better care for those arriving in New York. “What we’re seeing happening right now is Governor Abbott using asylum seekers as political pawns to merely help increase his polling numbers down in Texas,” says Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the ​​New York Immigration Coalition, which is part of an effort to welcome people with dignity, mutual aid and legal services.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Here in New York City, more than a hundred asylum seekers arrived on buses from Texas early Wednesday morning at Port Authority, the bus terminal near Times Square. Another bus arrived Sunday with no advance notice from Texas officials. This is a Venezuelan-born migrant named Edwin Enrique Jimenez Guaido.

EDWIN ENRIQUE JIMENEZ GUAIDO: [translated] It’s been six years already, six years since I left my country, first to Colombia, next to Ecuador. And in February, I decided to come here, through the Darién Reserve, Panama, Costa Rica.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced he’s sending asylum seekers to so-called liberal cities. On Friday, he said he chose New York City to be a designated, quote, “drop-off location,” along with Washington, D.C., as part of his opposition to what he calls President Biden’s so-called open border policies.

People on the buses said they were told to sign a consent waiver. CNN reports the waiver includes a line that absolves Texas officials from liability, quote, “arising out of or in any way relating to any injuries and damages that may occur during the agreed transport to locations outside of Texas,” unquote. At least eight people who got off the buses needed emergency medical attention, according to the New York Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

On Tuesday, New York City’s Immigration Commissioner Manuel Castro and Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins addressed a City Council hearing on the influx of asylum seekers into at least 11 shelters.

MANUEL CASTRO: What is new now is the systematic diversion of asylum seekers and immigrants to New York City by external forces, including by the disgusting, cruel and cowardly actions of Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

GARY JENKINS: We will be tapping into our nonprofit providers to ensure asylum seekers have access to wraparound services, including legal support, healthcare and education.

AMY GOODMAN: There are now reports from legal service advocates that some families who could not provide proof of their relationships were separated or had to leave the shelters.

Asylum seekers are also being met by a welcoming effort that includes members of the South Bronx Mutual Aid collective, legal services and the New York Immigration Coalition, whose executive director, Murad Awawdeh, joins us now for more.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Murad. Explain exactly what’s happening and what’s happened at Port Authority.

MURAD AWAWDEH: Thank you so much for having me, Amy, on your show today. I’ve been a huge fan. And, you know, I wish we were meeting on better terms.

But what we’re seeing happening right now is Governor Abbott using asylum seekers as political pawns to merely help increase his polling numbers down in Texas.

Folks who are seeking asylum at the southern border have a legal right to do so. We have seen people who are traveling upwards of 3,000 miles on foot to get to the southern border, then present themselves and seek asylum at the southern border, be treated so horribly by the state of Texas, and then busing them over 2,000 miles away to New York City. Yesterday morning, most folks who showed up, many of them were asking why they were sent to New York City. One man was trying to — you know, urgently wanting to speak to his wife and children, who were actually in San Antonio, Texas. So he wanted to go to San Antonio, Texas, after Texas had just dropped him off here in New York City. Folks are arriving on the bus sick. They’re arriving extremely hungry and thirsty. They’re not being given food, and at most times without their identity documents.

So, there’s a huge effort that’s happening right now to welcome them with dignity here in New York City and make sure that we are showing not just Governor Abbott how it should be done, but really seeing each other as humans in this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how — do you understand how it’s happening? New York City officials are saying some 4,000 asylum seekers and migrants have traveled to New York in recent months, either by choice or because they were sent here by Texas state officials. So, how do they decide who — do they just shove them on a bus?

MURAD AWAWDEH: That’s what it seems like, Amy. I think that there is — the governor of Texas is definitely misleading, and Texas officials are definitely misleading the asylum seekers. You know, many of the folks who came here yesterday morning, who got off the three buses that showed up, were asking, “Well, how do I get to North Carolina now?” or “How do I get to Wisconsin?” or Oregon or Louisiana? Folks are being coerced into signing this waiver, to then be sent up to New York City without any support, without any care.

Last Friday, we saw one young girl get off the bus who wasn’t feeling well. She received emergency care, and turned out she needed insulin because she’s diabetic. On Sunday morning, there was one young man who came off the bus and needed treatment because he was having chest pain. We’re seeing people being put into really inhumane conditions, not just on the bus but even before the bus. And then, when they get to New York City, we’re providing them with care.

So, I think that the bigger piece here is Governor Abbott’s lack of empathy, lack of compassion, lack of humanity, and really trying to rile up his base of folks who have historically been anti-immigrant.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you explain what’s happening with some immigrants’ families who come here? Maybe some don’t have proper papers, and they are threatened with being separated — I mean, we saw this, of course, under President Trump — but separated if they want to go into the shelters, and so they are living on the streets so that they don’t get separated?

MURAD AWAWDEH: So, what’s happening is, just to clarify, a few months ago, about two months ago, organizations like the New York Immigration Coalition, like Catholic Charities, started to receive these notices called “notice to appear.” They’re immigration hearing notices that were addressed to the organizations, with an additional name. And after receiving a few of them, we were like, “Why are we receiving so many of them? And we’re not representing these folks.” And then shortly thereafter, we started receiving people to our doors asking for shelter and care, as well as services. We provided them with the services as they showed up to the New York Immigration Coalition, but we don’t provide housing. So we worked with — you know, we have a services arm that really did connect folks to emergency shelter.

But what we are seeing, to answer your question directly, is that when people are released from ICE or from detention or from Border Patrol, rarely are they ever given back their identity documents. Some folks are lucky enough to get copies of their identity documents given back to them, but they are not given their identity documents. And in New York City, the city shelter system needs to — wants folks to prove that they are a family unit. So, what we have witnessed, because folks have come back to us once we’ve sent them to the intake facility, is that they say, “Because we don’t have our papers, they want my husband” — and, you know, it’s a husband, wife and children — “they want him to go stay in the men’s shelter, and me and my kids to stay in the women’s shelter, the family shelter.” So, we haven’t heard of folks getting kicked out of the shelter system.

I think that we have seen, for the past two decades at least, that we’ve had a housing and homelessness crisis in the city. And I think there were, you know, ill-mannered rationale given at times, saying that with the recent increase of asylum seekers in New York City, that that is what was putting the shelter system at capacity. And I don’t believe that that’s true. But the city has a mandate to shelter everyone. And I think that they had a number of missteps in the beginning, but are moving in the right direction to stand up — expanding emergency shelter and creating a welcoming center in this moment.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you saying now, finally — what is the New York Immigration Coalition saying to Mayor Adams here in New York, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and federally, to the federal government, about what needs to happen?

MURAD AWAWDEH: Yeah, absolutely. I think that under the Trump administration, we saw the asylum system completely gutted, and the Biden administration hasn’t done very much to restore it. They just announced the other day, without a plan, how they are going to rescind “Remain in Mexico,” which was one of Trump and Stephen Miller’s tactics to gut our asylum process. So, we’re excited that they announced that they’re going to rescind it, but that only came after the Supreme Court said that they can.

So, what we would like for the federal government to do in this moment is to ensure that there is proper care given to folks who are entering into the U.S., allowing folks into the U.S., as well as making sure that they have the supports that they need when they arrive.

At the state level, we’d love to — you know, we’ve been coordinating with Governor Hochul’s office and the Port Authority. We’d love to see the state step up and provide legal services funding, as well as services funding.

And at the city level, you know, we have to — bureaucracy is slow, and we need to really make sure we’re able to move quickly. And we were excited to hear that they announced that they were going to open up the welcome center last week, but we really need to work quicker to ensure that that center gets opened and that we’re providing coordinated services, and that community-based organizations who are doing this work and organizations who are doing this work without any support are getting the support that they need to welcome and allow folks who are coming and seeking asylum here in New York City to not only just survive, but to be able to thrive in our city and our state.

AMY GOODMAN: Murad Awawdeh, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

Coming up, we’re going to look at the growing housing crisis in the United States as rents soar and cities crack down on the unhoused. Stay with us.

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