Ten D.C. Council members have urged Mayor Muriel Bowser to tap into contingency funds, provide more staffing, prioritize health and safety, identify space near Union Station, and provide access to coronavirus testing and isolation hotels for the thousands of migrants arriving on buses from Texas and Arizona.
In a letter to the mayor, council members said city organizations that rely on donations and a federal grant had exhausted their resources.
“Since April 13, our constituents have been showing up daily to greet and support migrants,” the council members wrote. “We have heard from our mutual aid networks that volunteers have spent over $220,000 of their own money in support of these efforts. But after three months with no direct support from the District government, they are burned out and overwhelmed.
“With the number of buses arriving every day increasing rapidly, we encourage you to mobilize your administration to coordinate with other jurisdictions in the region to step in and assist with the response,” the lawmakers wrote to Bowser. “If the District truly is a sanctuary city, we must stand up against the hateful rhetoric of [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott and provide a dignified welcome to the arriving migrants.”
Roughly three months ago, Abbott began sending migrants caught crossing the Mexican border to D.C. on buses. A month later, fellow Republican Gov. Doug Ducey began doing the same in Arizona.
The number of buses arriving in the District has steadily increased, with as many as five coming to Washington.
Bowser said the federal government should bear the costs of assisting the migrants.
“We are dealing with a federal issue that the District of Columbia won’t be able to bear,” the mayor said. “We have to be very focused on working with D.C. residents who are homeless and have a right to shelter in our city, especially as we prepare for the winter months.”
“We know we have a federal issue that demands a federal response.”
SAMU First Response, an international humanitarian nonprofit, recently received FEMA funding to secure some of the buses, provide services, and shelter migrants temporarily.
In the letter, the 10 council members, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, Brianne Nadeau of Ward 1 and Vincent Gray of Ward 7, said Montgomery County has stepped up and provided a physical space for SAMU to use as a temporary respite space and processing center.
However, the space is in Rockville, which makes it an inconvenient location, considering the bus arrivals happen at Union Station, and many of those arriving will depart for their destination from Union Station.
The FEMA grants only fund SAMU to respond to a small fraction of the buses arriving. Additionally, council members said they’ve observed that SAMU has not received meaningful support from the District government to help.
“As a result, many vulnerable asylum seekers have been left stranded throughout our city – at hospitals, at churches, and at Union Station,” the council members wrote.
“The current FEMA grants are not nearly enough, and it is critical that we take advantage of any additional federal resources that are available. We must call on the federal government to work with the District in being fully responsive to the existing need and would be glad to join you in doing so.”
According to the council members, other local nonprofits, CARECEN and Catholic Charities, initially helped purchase tickets for most arrivals, whose final destinations were not the District.
However, since the beginning, much of the work has fallen on the migrant solidarity mutual aid network, the group of community organizations and volunteers who have been supporting asylum seekers bused here.
Council members said that for three months, the migrant solidarity mutual aid network had welcomed buses daily in a way that should make the District proud.
That included purchasing travel tickets, arranging transportation and accompaniment to bus terminals and airports, responding to medical, socioemotional, and other basic needs, and providing short- and long-term shelter for migrants.
“However, relying on District residents volunteering their time and donating their money, and on a partially funded federal response, cannot be our government’s long-term solution to this issue,” the council members concluded.
“The District must take a stand against Governors Abbott and Ducey and be leaders in welcoming the migrants with dignity. Standing idly by while volunteers take on the bulk of the work is neither acceptable nor sustainable.
“We are already hearing that absent any other direction or plan from the D.C. government, migrants are being directed to existing District systems and resources intended for District residents. Without action, there is a risk of these systems being overwhelmed.”