A new DC office will work with migrants transported by bus from Texas to Arizona

The DC Council voted on Tuesday to create a government office that lawmakers say will provide immediate support for the thousands of asylum seekers bused to the district under the direction of GOP governors from southern border states, despite the concerns of advocates of some of the bill’s provisions.

The bill to create an office of migrant services was drafted by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who this month declared a public emergency over the situation. In a letter to council members on Tuesday encouraging them to approve the action, Bowser estimated that at least 9,400 people have arrived in DC since April through bus programs created by Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) – which she called a “humanitarian crisis”.

Bowser’s declaration of public emergency allows him to use $10 million from the city’s provident fund to establish the office; she plans to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Bowser’s Emergency Bill enables the Office of Migrant Services to provide asylum seekers who are temporarily in the city with short-term support including food, clothing, legal services and shelter, helping to ease the burden on local non-profit organizations that have handled most of the response so far.

The council voted 12-0 to approve the bill. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) voted “present,” citing her desire to ensure the measure strikes the right balance.

In a statement applauding the council’s vote, Bowser called on President Biden and Congress to do more to support migrants and the cities that host them.

“As I’ve said before, what our country needs is Congress to fix the immigration system,” Bowser wrote. “We also encourage [Biden] Administration to respond to requests from cities and states that receive buses and planes without coordination or notification of those sending them.

Photos: What’s Behind Governors Ferrying Border Migrants to Other States

In in recent days, homeless advocates in DC have warned that the wording of the bill is too big and places migrants in a lower tier of city services – depriving them of certain protections that are guaranteed to homeless people in DC through the city’s Homeless Services Reform Act.

This law requires that families be placed in private rooms with their own bathrooms rather than in communal places – a safeguard against potential predatory behavior, especially against children. Bowser’s bill allows contractors to house people in communal places, including single adults.

“Some of these revisions would not be necessary if [the bill] really only targeted transient temporary migrants,” said Rachel Rintelmann, acting co-executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, who was among dozens of local groups to call for changes to the measure.

Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) attempted to address defenders’ concerns by amendments this would require the Migrant Services Office to prioritize non-collective shelters for families with children and would require that anyone who is denied services from the new office be given written and oral notice, as well as the opportunity to appeal.

She also wanted to remove a clause from Bowser’s version of the bill that denies HSRA eligibility to immigrants awaiting hearings outside the district — noting that DC does not have an immigration court. This means that migrants who live in DC and are awaiting an immigration interview or hearing would become ineligible for HSRA protections, which include deportation prevention services.

While several lawmakers said Pinto’s proposed changes had merit, they voted 9 to 4 against his amendment.

Emergency bills require nine votes to pass and remain in effect for 90 days. Council Member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who introduced the bill Tuesday, said her committee would hold a hearing on a permanent version of the bill next month, a process she said and other members, will allow the board to better address some of the advocates’ concerns.

“For the moment, the idea is to lift the office, to support people when they arrive,” Nadeau said.

The council vote comes as the scene in DC is changing. In recent days, buses full of migrants from Texas have arrived at the Naval Observatory – near Vice President Harris’ official residence – rather than the original drop-off site near Union Station in northeastern Washington. , heightening national attention to the situation. Buses from Arizona still stop near Union Station, say immigrant advocates.

Ashley Tjhung, an organizer with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a coalition of groups helping migrants, said increased publicity surrounding the drop-off site near Harris’ residence coincided with an increase in social media threats.

“We don’t think anything is a very present concern,” she said. “Nevertheless, the rise in anonymous threats is very concerning.”

Bowser, who was twice rejected by the Pentagon when she requested National Guard support to help with the arrival of migrants, said in her letter that she expects the bus to continue. She opposed any changes to the emergency bill, which she said could “divert valuable staff and operational resources from people in need of services.”

DC may end at red for cars, let cyclists yield to stop signs

At its first legislative meeting after the summer recess, the council discussed dozens of other measures, including key proposals related to cars and public transit.

A bill, introduced by DC Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), and other lawmakers, allows people on bikes and scooters to treat a stop sign as a yield sign, also known as the Idaho Stop, and also prohibits right-to-red turns at all traffic lights starting January 2025, except at intersections where the District Department of Transportation determines it would “improve security” to authorize them.

The council voted 13-0 to approve Cheh’s bill, which will require a second vote to pass before it heads to Bowser’s desk.

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