Busing migrants to sanctuary cities looks a lot like human trafficking

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) sent asylum seekers, including women and children, from Florida to Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday. Taking advantage of a state-funded program, DeSantis chartered two planes to transport the migrants.

“States like Massachusetts,” his communications director declared, “will better facilitate the care of these individuals who they have invited into our country by incentivizing illegal immigration through their designation as ‘sanctuary states’ and support for the Biden administration’s open border policies.” 

Unfortunately, DeSantis did not have enough asylum seekers to stage this publicity stunt, so he asked Gov. Gregg Abbott (R-Texas) to lend him some. Abbott eagerly obliged, putting around 50 migrants, many of whom are fleeing violence in Latin America, onto planes in San Antonio. They stopped in Florida before heading north, allowing DeSantis to take credit for deporting the immigrants from Florida.  

“Our office has had conversations with Governor DeSantis and his team about supporting our bussing strategy to provide much-needed relief to our overwhelmed and overrun border communities,” a spokesman for Abbott stated. He was referring to the Texas governor’s practice of busing migrants to blue states to embarrass their Democratic leaders and the Biden administration. Abbott has bussed asylum seekers to New York City, Chicago and, most recently, Washington, D.C., where he dropped them outside the home of Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Not to be outdone by his fellow GOP governors, Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.,) began busing migrants to sanctuary cities in May. Despite receiving millions of federal dollars to deal with the migrant crisis, Ducey insisted that Arizona has received “little action or assistance from the federal government.” 

Ironically, the Republican governors are behaving in a manner similar to the human traffickers they excoriate. The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.”  

Abbott, DeSantis and Ducey insist that asylum seekers are boarding buses and planes voluntarily. Given the migrants’ fear of imminent deportation, that assertion is implausible. Some of those who landed on Martha’s Vineyard said they were duped by promises of “expedited work papers.” Others had no idea where they were going.  

According to Larkin Stallings of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the migrants said they “were told in Texas that they were coming to a place that had jobs and homes and shelter waiting for them.” Instead, they were dropped on a resort island with no facilities equipped to accommodate the refugees. Far from being intimidated or embarrassed as DeSantis hoped, the island’s residents rose to the occasion, providing the migrants with food, shelter and other assistance. 

Asylum seekers caught up in the Texas and Arizona schemes face a grim choice: board a bus for a sanctuary city or remain in crowded facilities indefinitely. Desperate people with no legal standing can hardly make free and informed decisions. How could those with children refuse them the chance for a better life in a more welcoming place? 

The GOP governors are clearly exploiting these people “for profit,” although their payout is in political capital rather than cash. DeSantis and Abbott are running for reelection this fall. Ducey is term-limited but has his eye on the White HouseSo does DeSantis. Their anti-immigrant stance plays well with conservative voters in their home states and nationally. 

Thousands of innocent, traumatized human beings are being victimized in this political game. Texas has sent 10,000 asylum-seekers to cities in blue states. Fleeing violence and in some cases certain death, many of these people sold all that they had to make the perilous journey north, only to be shipped around the United States like cattle. 

The busing programs are not cheap. Texas has spent an estimated $12 million, approximately $1,300 for each asylum seeker bussed out of the state. Apparently, no one told Abbott that Greyhound offers fares from El Paso to Chicago for as little as $201. Arizona has spent more than $3 million busing migrants to Washington.  

The schemes have also created problems for several red states. Many migrants take advantage of rest stops to disembark enroute to sanctuary cities. Republican politicians in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina have complained about this problem.  

Despite the torrent of abuse that they heap on illegal immigrants, Republican governors realize their economies would suffer without them. The construction industry in Texas employs an estimated 305,000 undocumented workers who make up a quarter of the industry’s workforce. 

U.S. businesses employed nearly 7 million undocumented workers in 2019. Agriculture and hospitality employed the most, industries upon which the economies of Arizona and Florida depend. Abbott, DeSantis and Ducey could solve this problem by prosecuting employers for hiring illegals, but don’t expect Republican governors to go after business owners any time soon. 

The migration crisis at the southern border must be solved, but the reckless behavior of state governors should also be addressed.  If these migrants were illegal as Abbott and DeSantis often mistakenly claim, transporting them could also be illegal. The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act states that any person who “knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, transports, or moves or attempts to transport or move such alien within the United States” may be prosecuted. 

No one is going to arrest and charge a governor, but detaining bus drivers and pilots and impounding their vehicles and aircraft would make others think twice before participating in the relocation schemes. Federal funds given to Arizona, Florida and Texas to help them accommodate migrants should be reallocated to the sanctuary cities where these states send them. 

Forced migration is a global problem that will only get worse as crime, wars, poverty and climate change displace more people, who will naturally gravitate toward prosperous countries. Like any nation beset with this problem, the United States needs a comprehensive long-term strategy. That strategy must be bipartisan. 

Exploiting the suffering of asylum seekers for political gain as Abbott, DeSantis and Ducey are doing is profoundly unjust and inhumane. 

Tom Mockaitis is a professor of history at DePaul University and author of “Violent Extremists: Understanding the Domestic and International Terrorist Threat.” 

Editor’s note: This piece was updated on Sept. 19, 2022, at 8:34 a.m.

Tags Border crossings Doug Ducey Forced migration Greg Abbott Illegal immigration to the United States Politics of the United States Ron DeSantis sanctuary cities

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