A bus carrying approximately 30 migrants who were sent from Texas to Philadelphia after crossing the southern U.S. border arrived early Wednesday morning at 30th Street Station.
They were greeted by volunteers with hot chocolate, winter jackets and blankets as they prepare to continue their long journey, which has become a focal point in the nation’s contentious battle over immigration policy and border security.
The asylum seekers are the latest to be sent on a series of charter bus trips organized by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the governors of other southern states, who began redirecting migrants to sanctuary cities earlier this year. Abbott, who was re-elected for a third term as Texas governor last week, has described the policy as a countermeasure to “an invasion along the border.”
More than 13,000 people have been bused out Texas, Arizona and Florida since April, ramping up late this summer. The busing program from Texas alone has cost the state roughly $26 million, according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
The migrants who arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning came from Del Rio, Texas, a border town outside San Antonio. They are the first group Philadelphia has welcomed since the program began. Most of the migrants are expected to continue on to other destinations in the region, but city officials and aid organizations will provide support and raise funds to help get them situated.
“As a proud welcoming city, we will greet our newly arrived neighbors with dignity and respect,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in anticipation of the migrants’ arrival.
The city has set up a welcoming facility at 600 E. Luzerne St. in North Philadelphia, where officials planned to take the migrants after their arrival.
Officials in Texas did not coordinate the migrants’ itinerary with their counterparts in Philadelphia, city officials said. The city learned about the bus traveling from Del Rio last week, with the help of local partner organization New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia and another nonprofit in Texas.
The practice of busing migrants to sanctuary cities, which are largely led by Democrats, has drawn sharp rebuke from critics who have called the strategy a reckless, inhumane and costly political tactic.
“Since this disturbing policy of busing immigrants in an uncoordinated way began occurring without warning in other cities, various City agencies have been arduously working with our community partners to ready the city to receive these individuals,” Kenney said.
Abbott, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis previously have transported migrants from communities along the southern border to sanctuary cities including Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York.
Since August, when Philadelphia began preparing for the possible arrival of migrants, the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Office of Emergency Management have coordinated with 15 community organizations to provide shelter, emergency health screenings, food, and water to those who arrive.
City officials estimated that roughly half of the migrants who arrived Wednesday are part of family units, while the other half consists of individuals traveling solo. Approximately seven children are believed to be on board.
Only three individuals had reported Pennsylvania as their final destinations, according to information received by the city on Tuesday. Others are reported to be headed to New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland. Some aboard the bus are believed to have gotten off during stops in other states during the trip.
The Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia have created the Philadelphia Welcoming Fund to give Philadelphia residents a secure way to contribute to local effortsto welcome immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers arriving in the city. Donated supplies cannot be accepted.
Nonprofit organizations offering immigration legal services to the new arrivals include the Nationalities Services Center and HIAS Pennsylvania. Other organizations providing assistance include Casa De Venezuela, Gente De Venezuela, Juntos, New Sanctuary Movement, Aquinas Community Center, PA Immigrant Family Unity Project (PAIFUP), PA Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, Alianza Latina, the Wyss Wellness Center, and Maria de los Santos.
The migrants who have been bused to sanctuary cities in recent months are legally permitted to reside in the United States and have undergone interviews to receive security clearances. Their approval to enter the country is based on “credible fear” screenings referred by the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The migrants must demonstrate that they face legitimate danger of being harmed in their home countries, whether because of race, religion or politics.
Philadelphia’s status as a sanctuary city protects undocumented migrants from detainment by federal ICE agents without a judge’s order.
The bus that arrived Wednesday in Philadelphia is one of more than 300 that have been sent to sanctuary cities from Texas since late summer. Abbott indicated earlier this week that Philadelphia could see additional buses of migrants diverted from Texas in the months ahead.
“Until the Biden Administration does its job and provides Texans and the American people with sustainable border security, Texas will continue doing more than any other state in the nation’s history to defend against an invasion along the border, including adding more sanctuary cities like Philadelphia as drop-off locations for our busing strategy,” Abbott said.