A nonprofit and a network of mutual aid groups were overwhelmed last week while assisting the processed migrants being bused to Washington D.C. from Texas and Arizona. After COVID-19 quarantines sidelined many volunteers and area shelters filled up, many migrants spent the night of July 12 inside Union Station.
The buses have been arriving from Texas and Arizona for months after the governors of the states began offering voluntary bus trips to the nation’s capital to migrants who arrived at the border from Mexico and were processed and released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced his state’s busing program on May 11 saying, “With Arizona community resources under all-time demand, and little action or assistance from the federal government, individuals who entered Arizona seeking asylum have the opportunity to voluntarily be transported to Washington, D.C.”
“We are sending them to the United States Capitol where the Biden administration will be able to more immediately address the needs of the people that they are allowing to come across our border,” said Gov. Greg Abbott when announcing Texas’ busing program.
Migrants who arrived in D.C. on July 12 found little help as core organizers and volunteers with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network were in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 while helping migrants over the weekend.
“We were told we were going to be helped here, that somebody was waiting for us,” Andres David Blanco, who left Venezuela a month and a half ago, told the Washington Post after he arrived at Union Station on Tuesday night.
Shelters for families were also not available, but shelters receiving only male individuals did have space for a few of the migrants.
SAMU First Response, an international aid organization that received a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to help the migrants arriving by bus, typically only operates Wednesday through Saturday.
SAMU’s managing director, Tatiana Laborde, said the nonprofit attempted to put together a team at the last minute after it became clear that there were not enough volunteers to help the incoming migrants on July 12.
Laborde added that SAMU does not have the resources to coordinate all the buses. The organization is equipped to handle only half of the approximately 15 buses of migrants that arrive every week.
“We are increasing our capacity, but all the agencies involved know that this is going to take time,” she said.
SAMU’s FEMA grant is enough to provide emergency aid for around 2,000 migrants monthly, but the amount of migrants arriving has doubled in the last weeks.
FEMA provided SAMU with the grant under the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), which “supplements and expands ongoing work of local nonprofit and governmental social service organizations to provide shelter, food, and supportive services to individuals and families who are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, hunger and/or homelessness.”
The DHS Appropriations Act of 2022 provided $280 million in taxpayer dollars to EFSP. That included $130 million for local social service organizations aiding those experiencing hunger and homelessness and $150 million for organizations providing humanitarian assistance to migrant families and other individuals encountered by DHS at the Southwest border.
It is unclear how much EFSP funding was included in the grant given to SAMU. FEMA did not respond to The Dallas Express’ requests for comment regarding such grants.
D.C. City Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau said it appeared that SAMU was still working out its operations, which highlighted the need for a response from local officials.
“As stretched thin as our government is right now, we probably need more boots on the ground with SAMU until they have things up and running,” Nadeau added.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network said members took a two-day break following exposure to COVID-19, adding that the group needed help.
“DMV area community organizations and volunteers have shown up every day for over three months to support migrants but we are exhausted, burned out, and do not have the resources that the government does,” said Madhvi Bahl from Sanctuary DMV and Free Them All VA.