Nov 25, 2023 - Politics & Policy

States are spending millions to send migrants somewhere else

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

States spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to ship migrants elsewhere this year.

Why it matters: What started as a GOP political stunt ahead of the midterms has led states and cities of both parties to spend significant resources to help migrants and asylum seekers reach other parts of the country.

Threat level: The U.S. has a resettlement process for refugees that ensures they are placed in communities prepared to support them, but there is no such national coordination for migrants and asylum seekers.

  • This "means that states are trying to ad hoc come up with solutions," Migration Policy Institute's Kathleen Bush-Joseph told Axios.

By the numbers: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has taken the most aggressive approach — sending state law enforcement and National Guard troops to patrol the border and, as of mid-November, busing more than 66,000 migrants and asylum seekers across the country.

  • The state spent $86.1 million between April 2022 and October 2023 on these efforts — roughly $1,650 per person, according to data obtained by Axios through the Texas Public Information Act.
  • Florida passed legislation earlier this year that provided a $12 million budget for migrant transportation.
  • This came after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) drew nationwide attention — and legal challenges — for flying newly arrived migrants and asylum seekers to Martha's Vineyard. He repeated the move, sending dozens more to Sacramento this year.

Between the lines: It's no longer just red-state governors making a loud political point. Democratic state and city leaders are investing in their own forms of migrant transportation programs, though they are quick to differentiate their motivations from those of Abbott and DeSantis.

  • New York City has spent millions on what they call a "re-ticketing program," which launched last year when the city first began facing an influx of new arrivals. The program provides free bus and plane tickets to migrants and asylum seekers' final destination.
  • It's become so popular, the city opened up a central site last month dedicated to the program.
  • Arizona's Democratic governor has spent about $5.7 million transporting nearly 27,000 asylum seekers both within and out of the state, Axios Phoenix reports.
  • The city of Denver has spent nearly $4.3 million on migrant transportation costs. New York, Chicago and Salt Lake City are three of their most frequent requests, according to the mayor's office.
  • Catholic Charities in Chicago tells Axios it has used city money to buy tickets for 2,500 migrants to travel to other towns.

What they're saying: "We think the humanitarian thing to do is to get you to the place where you have the best chance of succeeding," Denver Mayor Mike Johnston told Axios Denver earlier this month.

  • He said officials ask migrants if they'd like to travel to a different city. "If their final destination is Denver, we keep them here and we support them."
  • "If you have a whole network in Chicago, but you landed in Denver, it does not make sense for us to strand you in Denver with no network."

What to watch: Not only are transportation programs themselves costing millions, but a slew of lawsuits targeting all sides of the practice could cost taxpayers even more.

  • Florida is facing legal challenges for efforts to ship migrants out of the state, as well as over a new law making it a felony to transport migrants into Florida who illegally crossed the border.
  • Texas has been the subject of investigation for its treatment of migrants who are moved out of state on buses, and could face legal action from Los Angeles for sending them there.
  • Two New York counties were sued for barring migrants and asylum-seekers from relocating there from New York City.

Zoom out: Responding to historic levels of migration throughout the Americas has come with high costs across the board in the U.S.

Axios Tampa Bay's Yacob Reyes and Axios Chicago's Monica Eng contributed reporting.

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