Posted on February 10, 2023

Busing Migrants Was a Partisan Lightning Rod. Here’s Why Democrats Have Embraced It

Laura Benshoff, NPR, February 6, 2023

When Texas and Arizona’s Republican governors began busing immigrants out of their states last year, they said it was in protest of the Democrats’ “reckless” federal immigration policies.

Democrats criticized the tactic as dehumanizing, especially when migrants were misled about where they were going. But some cities and states led by Democrats later warmed to the practice, most recently Arizona’s new governor, Katie Hobbs.

“If we’re spending money to bus people, why just not get them to their final destination?” Hobbs told reporters at a recent press conference.

Here’s how the politics of transporting migrants has evolved.


People have always traveled within the U.S. once they claim asylum at the border.

In the border town of Del Rio, Texas, for instance, the non-profit Val Verde Humanitarian Border Coalition receives immigrants directly from the U.S. Border Patrol station.


“You have to understand the locale here. The nearest major city is in San Antonio. That’s a three-hour drive,” says VVHBC operations director Tiffany Burrow.


Buses operated by the state are “incredibly useful,” says Burrow.


Some bus passengers also appreciate the free ride.

“I didn’t know that the ticket to get here cost $500 dollars,” says Selina, a migrant traveling from Chile who caught a state-run bus from Texas to Philadelphia. {snip}


That reality has helped shift the politics of transporting immigrants. “Something that looked like a punitive thing towards immigrants done for political gains suddenly turned itself on the head because migrants are rational people,” says Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

Not only could they get a free ticket to a family or a shelter, but “they found these cities were actually quite hospitable to immigrants,” says Chishti.

Government agencies and nonprofits in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York have welcomed tens of thousands of immigrants bussed from the border. In many cases, they provide food, shelter, legal services and help with transportation.

Some arrivals move on quickly. In Philadelphia and D.C., between 5-10% of the arrivals remained in shelters or subsidized housing as of mid-January, according to data provided by city officials. {snip}


Cities and states led by Democrats started busing immigrants last year – with some tweaks.

In El Paso, the Democratic administration bused more than 13,000 people as of the fall, outstripping buses from the state of Texas in some cases.


Colorado’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, announced in early January that the state would also charter buses from Denver to other cities. But just a few days later, he halted that program, after the mayors of Chicago and New York asked him to stop.