Sep 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden officials to discuss "litigation options" over migrant buses

Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Cabinet heads and White House officials will meet Friday morning to discuss a range of pressing immigration issues — including "litigation options" to respond to GOP governors transporting unauthorized immigrants from the border to other parts of the country, according to planning documents viewed by Axios.

Why it matters: News that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis chartered two planes to fly roughly 50 migrants — mostly Venezuelan — to Martha's Vineyard has triggered a wave of backlash from Democrats and immigration advocates, with many condemning the move as political and inhumane.

Driving the news: One asylum-seeker, Katiuska from Caracas, Venezuela, told Axios Boston co-author Steph Solis — who spent today on the ground in Martha's Vineyard — that she was told the group was going to New York City. Others said they believed they were heading to Boston.

  • GOP Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Ducey of Arizona have for months been busing thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers from their border states to Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago, which are all run by Democratic mayors.
  • Abbott also claimed responsibility today for sending two busloads of migrants and asylum-seekers to Vice President Kamala Harris' home in D.C.

The big picture: Immigration has proven to be a major logistical and political headache for the Biden administration, providing fodder for Republicans who have seized on the border crisis to hammer Democrats ahead of the midterms.

  • The actions by DeSantis and other Republican governors are viewed as publicity stunts intended to draw attention to Biden's handling of the border crisis, rather than provide solutions that would address the realities of the strained immigration system.
  • Border officials are now encountering an average of 8,500 migrants and asylum-seekers a day — a strikingly high number, according to government data provided to Axios.

Behind the scenes: While details of what might be proposed in the meeting — which was scheduled before the DeSantis move — are unclear, it is expected to bring together high-level officials at the White House and the departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice and Defense, including secretaries.

  • Intra-agency immigration meetings are held regularly, a senior administration official noted to Axios, regardless of whether the issue is dominating the political conversation.
  • "This should not be about political stunts. It should be about how the whole of government gets the 8,500 encounters a day down," another administration official told Axios, expressing frustration about the focus on DeSantis’ actions.

The intrigue: The Trump White House proposed transporting detained immigrants to "sanctuary cities" in 2018 and 2019, but was rebuffed by the legal department at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

What they're saying: "We continue to urge states to coordinate closely with nonprofit organizations and local governments on efforts to facilitate voluntary migrant transportation. Failure to coordinate is irresponsible and creates unsafe conditions for vulnerable migrants as well as the receiving jurisdictions," a DHS spokesperson told Axios.

Zoom out: Migrant shelters and border patrol in El Paso, in particular, have been overwhelmed by large numbers of migrants and asylum-seekers crossing the border.

  • Many are arriving from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba — countries plagued by political and economic instability. Chilly diplomatic relations make it difficult for the U.S. to return migrants from these countries if they do not qualify for asylum or other statuses in the United States.
  • The situation in El Paso — as well as the overall surge in Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans at the border — is expected to be discussed in the high-level Friday meeting, according to officials familiar with the agenda.

What to watch: The Biden administration has long considered plans to use its own federal resources to more quickly move migrants away from overcrowded border areas to be processed closer to their final destinations.

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