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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Abbott sends migrants from Texas to Los Angeles for the first time

Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, spoke at a news conference outside of St. Anthony’s Croatian Catholic Church, where migrants were brought on Wednesday.

By Jill Cowan and Shawn Hubler

For the third time in less than two weeks, a group of Latin American asylum-seekers was sent abruptly to California on Wednesday, the latest episode in a monthslong political protest by the Republican governors of Florida and Texas against Democratic immigration policies.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said in a statement that his administration had orchestrated the relocation, in which at least 42 migrants, including children and toddlers, were bused from Texas to Los Angeles. It was the first time one of the two Republican governors had sent migrants to the city.

California and Los Angeles authorities confirmed that the bus arrived around 4 p.m. at Union Station from McAllen, Texas, and that the migrants, who had traveled for two days, were offered shelter and legal assistance.

Abbott said his state had sent them across state lines because “small Texas border towns remain overrun” and President Joe Biden “refuses to secure the border.” In a swipe at a California law and a new Los Angeles ordinance that limit the use of local resources in federal immigration enforcement, Abbott added that Los Angeles “is a major city that migrants seek to go to, particularly now that its city leaders approved its self-declared sanctuary city status.”

State officials said Los Angeles nonprofits had been informed in advance of the relocation, unlike what happened before two planeloads of migrants arrived in Sacramento this month with the backing of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

On Wednesday, city, county and state aid was coordinated by the Los Angeles emergency operations center, and a welcome center was established in Chinatown, near Union Station. The city also offered short-term shelter, and children were given Play-Doh, Monopoly, Barbie dolls and other toys.

“This did not catch us off guard,” the mayor of Los Angeles, Karen Bass, said on Twitter. “Los Angeles is not a city motivated by hate or fear, and we absolutely will not be swayed or moved by petty politicians playing with human lives.”

It was not immediately clear on Wednesday whether the migrants had agreed to travel to California or what they had been told about the journey west. After a migrant trip funded by Florida this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California suggested that DeSantis could be charged with kidnapping, alleging that Florida contractors had coerced people onto planes under false pretenses. Newsom’s office issued a statement accusing Texas of “demonizing asylum-seekers,” but the Democratic governor did not blast Abbott the way he did DeSantis.

Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesperson for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, an immigrant rights organization, said the migrants were largely Central American. He said that eight children, who appeared to be between the ages of 2 and 9, were part of the group, all of them accompanied by adults.

Some of the migrants had been separated from other family members at the border, said Lindsay Toczylowski of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. Angelica Salas, the executive director of CHIRLA, said at least one asylum-seeker had an impending immigration court date far from California in another state.

She said that her group’s members had heard that a bus might be arriving Wednesday, but that they were wary because they have had multiple false alarms in the past. DeSantis and Abbott have for months been sending migrants by bus and plane to Democratic-led places such as New York, Chicago and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts with little or no notice in an effort to underscore Republican calls for tighter immigration enforcement.

It is not unusual for asylum-seekers to be voluntarily transferred between states for court dates or because of proximity to sponsors, but those sorts of relocations are typically done with official notice and are highly coordinated by state governments and nonprofits.

In heavily Democratic Los Angeles, the relocation was widely denounced. Kevin de León, a city councilman who, as a legislative leader, wrote the 2017 sanctuary state law that both the Florida and Texas governors cited, called the move on Wednesday “repugnant” and charged that Abbott was “callously trafficking vulnerable human beings around for cheap political points.”

Another City Council member, Eunisses Hernandez, whose district includes the Chinatown church where the migrants were welcomed, said that Abbott was “not strong enough to meet the moment in his state.”

“But that’s OK,” she added, “because all these people here in Los Angeles and in California are more than capable of welcoming these folks.”

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