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Brownsville to LA Is the No. 1 Route Through American Politics for Migrants
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By CalMatters
Published 5 months ago on
November 21, 2023

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The first indication usually comes from a worker in Brownsville, Texas.

Jim Newton

CalMatters

Opinion

That person informs Los Angeles officials that Texas authorities have just completed their latest roundup of immigrants from shelters and meeting sites. The state has loaded up a bus full of men, women, and children and pointed it toward Los Angeles.

As far as Texas is concerned, that’s all state officials need to do: Load the bus, ship them out. But in Brownsville, locals take it upon themselves to provide at least some of the help that Texas withholds, so they jump on the bus before it departs and create a quick manifest of those on board. They get names, phone numbers and other contact information for friends or loved ones they might have in California.

Then the bus pulls out. Brownsville workers call their counterparts in Los Angeles and relay the manifest. The clock starts ticking.

“We have 24 hours to start calling people,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights, known as CHIRLA. “Everybody has to scramble.”

Their goal in those 24 hours – the time it takes for the bus to reach L.A. – is to contact anyone who can help care for the arriving migrants, to shelter them, feed them, help them find jobs and introduce them to life in this country.

Calls also go out to L.A. representatives and county agencies who can meet the buses and offer services that the migrants may need.

Following the Law

The buses began arriving in California in June. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his administration have dispatched at least 28 buses to Los Angeles. A total of 955 migrants – from pregnant women and women with newborns to unaccompanied minors and seniors – have reached Southern California courtesy of Abbott’s directive.

Nothing about Texas’ approach suggests that officials there are trying to manage this issue responsibly. The state representatives who recruit immigrants to the buses don’t collect information or attempt to settle them into homes or jobs. They don’t call ahead to let Los Angeles officials prepare.

Abbott’s work is not an immigration strategy. It is, as Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has noted, a “political strategy to make Democratic cities look like they’re helpless.”

As Bass’ observation suggests, these migrants are being used, and not because they have done anything wrong. To the contrary, they are in the United States legally. They have not snuck into the country or waded across the Rio Grande. At great risk to themselves, they have uprooted lives and families to flee violence in their home countries and, after a long and often perilous journey, they have legally presented themselves to American border authorities, following the letter of this nation’s asylum process.

They are exactly as entitled to live in the United States – and to enjoy the protection of its laws – as any other person in this country, whether born here or elsewhere.

Sense of Welcome

When a bus pulls into Los Angeles, it usually heads to Union Station, the city’s main train and bus depot, though drivers sometimes have instructions to drop the migrants a few blocks away, just to add to their confusion and hardship. And the same Texas officials who decline to warn their Los Angeles counterparts that a bus is on its way sometimes make the effort to alert Fox News, Salas said, hoping to capture scenes of confusion that will reinforce the political strategy behind this effort.

At Union Station, the migrants disembark and are given water and a snack. They receive no food or water during the 24-hour trek from Brownsville, though some carry their own. Metro buses then take them from Union Station to a pop-up welcome center often located at a church or community gathering space.

There, they are seen by doctors who test them for COVID and other possible ailments, and offer treatment they might need. Lawyers review any paperwork they might have, such as dates for asylum hearings. School representatives talk with parents about getting their children enrolled.

“The idea,” Salas said, “is for folks to quickly settle.”

For most of the new arrivals, the key is connecting with family or others who are prepared to sponsor them. According to Salas, about 80% of those who arrive in Los Angeles are quickly united with friends or family. In some cases, those connections are elsewhere in the state, prompting transportation to San Francisco, San Diego or other communities in California.

These areas become the center of their new lives.

The migrants without any family or contacts in the country usually need emergency shelter, which the city provides, even though Los Angeles already is confronting a homeless crisis that is at the center of Bass’ agenda.

With homelessness grindingly affecting so many aspects of life in Los Angeles – not to mention last week’s fire that knocked out a linchpin of the region’s transportation network – the last thing the city needs is 1,000 more people with critical needs. But advocates here reject Texas’ approach, emphatically refusing to treat these people as something less than human.

They are instead viewed as people driven from their homes and desperate for an opportunity to live and work in peace – to avail themselves of the promise of America just as Germans and Irish and Italians did in their periods of migration, just as Syrians and Vietnamese and countless others did in theirs.

Salas herself came to this country at 4 years old, in the company of teenage relatives. She weathered the uncertainties and dangers of making her way to the United States, and she sees in these new immigrants a version of herself.

Today Salas hopes that CHIRLA and others at this end present immigrants with a sense of welcome rather than subjecting them to the “harm and disregard” that greeted their arrival in Texas.

“They are seeking a better life,” Salas said of those who arrive, month after month, bus after bus. “Striving for that is no crime.”

About the Author

Jim Newton is a veteran journalist, best-selling author, and teacher. He worked at the Los Angeles Times for 25 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, and columnist, covering government and politics. He teaches at UCLA and founded Blueprint magazine. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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