(CNN)Texas will send willing undocumented immigrants to Washington, DC, by bus and plane, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office announced Wednesday, saying local leaders in the state are fed up with the federal government for releasing migrants into their communities.
Abbott told reporters the plan is a response to the Biden administration’s recent announcement that it will be lifting a pandemic public health order next month, a decision that could significantly increase the number of migrants crossing the border. The order, known as Title 42, has effectively blocked most migrants from entering the US and seeking asylum for more than two years.
Former President Donald Trump implemented the order at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. His administration said the order was to help prevent the spread of the virus across the US’ borders with Mexico and Canada, but public health officials, at the time, suspected political motivations.
The Biden administration announced last week the order would end on May 23. That’s sparked praise from civil rights organizations and many Democrats, but also fierce pushback from Republicans and some moderate Democrats who argue the administration doesn’t have enough of a plan to handle the expected increase in migrants at the border.
Abbott’s announcement took widespread Republican criticism of the move a step further. And the governor said the plan to transport migrants out of Texas was one of a number of steps he intends to take.
Abbott has directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to charter buses and flights that would send to Washington willing migrants who’ve been processed and released from federal custody, his office said.
“To help local officials whose communities are being overwhelmed by hordes of illegal immigrants who are being dropped off by the administration, Texas is providing charter buses to send these illegal immigrants who have been dropped off by the Biden Administration to Washington, DC,” Abbott said during a news conference Wednesday along the US-Mexico border in Weslaco, Texas.
Critics lambasted the announcement as a political stunt and pointed out that the governor is up for reelection.
“He’s wasting taxpayer dollars on a campaign tactic to demonize immigrants,” the Texas Civil Rights Project said on Twitter.
Any migrant transported by Texas “must volunteer to be transported and show documentation from DHS” in order to board a bus or flight, the governor’s office said.
Abbott emphasized, in a Fox News interview Thursday morning, that only immigrants who volunteer to be transported to Washington would be sent there, or it “would be kidnapping, even though it would be by a law enforcement agency.”
“What better place for them to go to than the steps of the United States Capitol?” Abbott said to Fox News. “They get to see the wonderful Capitol, but also get closer to the people who are making these policies that are allowing people to come to the border illegally.”
Generally, migrants released from federal custody after crossing the border have been processed and given paperwork allowing them to remain in the country temporarily but ordering them to appear in immigration court to make their case. Many are seeking asylum.
They are often released in Texas and other border states, and then continue on journeys to other parts of the country.
Abbott has been a vocal critic of President Joe Biden’s White House, pinning an increase in migrants on its immigration policies, though there were spikes during Trump’s administration as well. This latest effort by the governor is part of a string of initiatives in the last year to limit undocumented migrants entering the US from Mexico and to police the border.
Buses are being gathered and inspected, state says
The state has assembled a pool of up to 900 buses for the operation, according to Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd on Wednesday.
The first buses are undergoing commercial vehicle inspections and have been loaded with ready-to-eat meals and water, TDEM told CNN Thursday, but did not confirm the number of vehicles that are being inspected or their location.
Mayors and county judges can request the buses to transport migrants to Washington, DC, according to the agency.
TDEM did not reveal, however, if any cities or municipalities have requested any buses as of Thursday evening.
The bus trips — if they do take place — will be courtesy of Texas taxpayers, through funds appropriated by the Texas Legislature for Border Security, TDEM said.
What’s next after Title 42
When Title 42 ends, the federal government is planning for up to 18,000 illegal immigrants crossing the border each day, as a worst-case scenario, Abbott noted.
“That’s more than a half a million illegal immigrants every single month from more than 150 different countries across the globe,” the governor said Wednesday. “That’s far beyond what Homeland Security Secretary Johnson said was a crisis. It is unprecedented and dangerous.”
The head of US Border Patrol told CNN last month that he’s getting ready for as many as 8,000 people to be apprehended daily this spring. Deteriorating conditions in Latin America, worsened by the pandemic, are among the reasons for the migrations.
Also on Wednesday, Abbott signed what he called a “zero-tolerance policy” for unsafe vehicles used to smuggle migrants across the border and said that it will be implemented immediately. The governor claims the policy is a byproduct of cartel crossings at the border and noted there may be more stopping of traffic from Mexico into Texas for vehicle inspections.
In March 2021, Abbott launched “Operation Lone Star,” citing a crisis at the US southern border. The operation leaned on resources from the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas National Guard to police the border. The operation at one point swelled to more than 10,000 service members.
As Abbott has deployed thousands of personnel to the US-Mexico border, the operation has been slammed as overtly political and a waste of resources by Democratic lawmakers and even some of the National Guard members participating in the mission.
Other Abbott initiatives have included plans to build a border wall.
The busing and unsafe vehicle policies will be added to Operation Lone Star, and Abbott said more directives will be announced next week.
CNN’s Mallika Kallingal, Rosa Flores, Rosalina Nieves, Catherine E. Shoichet, Rebekah Riess, Priscilla Alvarez and Jason Hanna contributed to this report