Todd Bensman, Center for Immigration Studies, March 31, 2021
On a recent evening with the night ahead looking long, an idling charter bus parked on a lot prepared to disperse a new kind of import throughout the American landscape.
The bus and a small van nearby were packed with 60 or so mostly Haitian families fresh out of the Rio Grande from their illegal crossings.
After testing negative for Covid and other processing, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had given them legal documents and released them to a local nongovernmental organization, the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, just blocks from the river in this south Texas border town.
For another day or so, coalition volunteers helped them arrange to wire in money for bus tickets and lodging in the cities to which the buses will take them. Like at least 20 other buses that had each carried 50 people in just the first three weeks of March, this one soon rumbled onto the long road from this Texas border town carrying happy, chattering passengers to new American lives in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach in Florida, as well as Newark, N.J.
The buses rolling in a steady daily succession out of Del Rio — one charter a day, seven days a week, and before that weeks of filling Greyhound buses — represent a microcosm of a much broader aspect of the unfolding mass-migration crisis at the southern border that has attracted limited media coverage and occurs largely outside public view. Tens of thousands of immigrants caught illegally crossing the border and then released under the new leniency policy of President Joe Biden are now dispersing to four corners of the United States on buses, with some of the more moneyed ones taking passenger jets.
As best as the Center for Immigration Studies can determine from interviews and scattered media reporting, the buses are leaving regularly from Del Rio, the Texas Rio Grande Valley communities, and Laredo, but the busing also appears to be going on in Arizona, as well as in California.
Where are the buses going? They often drop their Haitian, Venezuelan, and Cuban passengers in Florida and New Jersey. Those from Nicaragua and other Central American nations have been delivered to Tennessee, Massachusetts, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and to large cities in Texas such as Dallas and Houston.
The population importation by Greyhound and charter buses began in earnest here in Del Rio and from all major crossing points along the southern border shortly after President Biden took office. That is no coincidence, given that the new president’s first moves were to undo his predecessor Donald Trump’s Mexico Covid-protection push-back-to-Mexico policies for minors and family units and to end a deterring deportation machine that had been flying thousands home to Central America.
In their place came a policy that, for the sake of descriptive simplicity, might be termed “catch-and-bus”. It appears for now to mainly be limited to families, though not always exclusively.
Catch-and-bus developed when a flood of migrants began crashing over the border in Texas and Arizona in the expectation that the new Biden administration would follow through on campaign promises to let almost all illegal entrants into the country, end most deportations, and provide a path to full citizenship.
Immediately overwhelmed and unwilling to return children with their parents, Biden’s DHS began handing out legal permission slips to pursue more permanent legal status later and put them on outward-bound buses. This practice, in turn, only propelled the crisis because, naturally, its satisfied beneficiaries passed on word of the new catch-and-bus practice on social media networks and calls home. A kind of gold rush began over the frontier that has only gathered volume and intensity by the day.
Some with resources take special American Airlines flights out of this town’s small “international” airport, according to Ortiz of El Buen Samaritano Migrante. But buses like the ones in Del Rio carry the vast majority in a non-stop conveyor belt that is transporting a seemingly endless foreign population from their border town spigots throughout the nation’s interior.
The number of apprehended family unit aliens leapt from 4,464 in pre-election October 2020 to 18,945 in February 2021, for a total of 39,061 for that early-crisis time period.
Limited reporting suggests that some 87 percent of all immigrants caught in family units during that time were not returned to Mexico, according to an Axios report based on leaked CBP data showing that only 13 percent were returned during one week in March.
If, say, 87 percent are not returned, then the number of illegal entrants bused around the United States during these months would come to about 34,000.
That’s probably just a start. There are strong indications, from data leaked to CIS and from anecdotal interviews on the border, that CBP’s March figures will show a dramatic escalation on a skyward trendline that shows little sign of leveling off so long as word that catch-and-bus is still happening spreads across the globe and inspires many more to exploit it.