With some of these people sleeping outside or at Union Station as volunteers scramble to find them food, clothing and temporary shelter, neither the city nor the federal government has wanted to play a direct role in solving what immigrant advocates say is a growing humanitarian crisis.
City officials have encouraged nonprofit groups to seek additional federal assistance, rather than DC government funding, after the Department of Defense last week rejected Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s request for the National Guard to take command of a more centralized form of migrant assistance.
Bowser (D), who did not spend local government resources to question, said last week that she planned to renew her request for help from the National Guard. Custody officials “seem to say that a more specific request would help them understand our needs,” Bowser said at a Friday news conference. The Department of Defense declined to comment Tuesday on Bowser’s plan to renew his request.
Asked about the situation on Tuesday, Bowser’s office released a statement that was a transcript of the mayor’s comments at Friday’s press conference.
“When we have a growing humanitarian crisis that we believe — and which the federal government expects — will only get worse, I have to deploy the resources I need to deal with it,” Bowser said. “And we need our National Guard. If we were a state, I would have done it already — I would have deployed the National Guard. We also need a federal site. If there are going to be buses full of people stopping here en route to their destination, which is not here, we need a site that NGOs can use to ensure that… the stop be as humane as possible for people fleeing horrific circumstances. In many cases, these people board buses after being lied to about what’s going to happen on the other end, and they’re still not where they want to be. So we really need federal coordination.
Immigrant advocates, who were against the deployment of the National Guard for fear of militarizing the problem, argue that the problem requires a coordinated response from local government.
“The mayor is sitting on millions of dollars in DC’s budget,” said Ashley Tjhung, an organizer with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a collection of mostly volunteer groups that greet migrants upon arrival and guide them. driven nearby. hotels or churches that served as temporary accommodation.
So far, more than 7,000 migrants have arrived, according to estimates provided by the volunteers. Although many have left for other parts of the country, a growing number have chosen to settle in the region, making their presence a longer-term challenge, Tjhung said.
“Services need to be extended to help people find housing, to help people enroll their children in school, to provide legal services so they can successfully claim asylum here,” he said. she said, arguing that the district could more easily get help from the federal government. Emergency Management Agency.
The assistance available to migrants is increasingly reduced.
A 50-person “respite center” in Montgomery County, intended to provide temporary shelter and other assistance to migrants, is often full, leaving aid groups to seek alternative accommodation. Scott Peterson, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D), said the county was “committed to supporting the regional effort to help these newcomers” but lacked resources.
“Montgomery County has been helping migrants since they arrived, but we’re approaching capacity with the resources we’re currently providing to these people,” Peterson said. “It is unfortunate that these migrants are being used as political pawns by the governors of Texas and Arizona. In addition, immigration and interstate matters are the responsibility of the federal government. We hope the federal government will step in, help us, and work with us to manage this unprecedented situation. »
FEMA awarded $1 million grant to SAMU First Response, a group based in Spain, for helping migrants. Tatiana Laborde, the organization’s director of operations, said she was unable to find a suitable building closer to Union Station that would facilitate helping migrants.
The area surrounding the station is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the city and is home to federal government buildings that were already in use, Laborde said.
Available buildings that are affordable lack the amenities required by the FEMA grant to temporarily house migrants, such as bathrooms or a kitchen, she said.
“We just keep trying to be creative about where this space should be,” Laborde said. “We have specific conditions that we have to meet to accommodate these migrants and unfortunately near Union Station it is very, very difficult.”
Bowser’s office has not allocated local resources to the relief effort, although he can seek reimbursement from FEMA. In the past, the district has struggled to get the reimbursement it seeks from federal agencies after other major expenses, such as the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
In the meantime, several of the migrants have been housed in a hotel in northeastern Washington along a stretch of industrial buildings, hotels and fast food outlets near the Maryland border.
On Tuesday, a few chairs and blankets in a parking lot outside one of the hotel buildings revealed where some of the migrants had slept for the night.
Families on the buses have been given a higher priority for help – including housing – which sometimes means single men who came next they must fend for themselves, immigrant advocates said.
In other cases, buses have arrived with no one available to meet them, forcing these passengers to also sleep outside, some knowing how to go to the hotels where the migrants are staying and where they feel safe in numbers, have said the defenders.
Cristián José Jimenez and Yranyelín Landaeta Aguirre were among those who had a hotel room.
The Venezuelan couple arrived in DC via Texas about a week ago, with Aguirre three months pregnant.
They described a four-month journey from Venezuela on foot, walking with others through the jungles of Central America and dodging kidnappers and other predators near the Mexico-Texas border.
Their plan is to settle in the district and try to find stability for their child while they wait to hear from Immigration and Customs Enforcement about their asylum claims, Jimenez said.
“There is nothing for us in Venezuela,” he said in Spanish. “Society as we knew it no longer exists. I want to find work and start a new life here.