Sep 20, 2022 - News

D.C. Council to vote on migrant bill

Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The D.C. Council will vote Tuesday on an emergency bill to establish an Office of Migrant Services to handle the thousands of migrants being bused to the city.

  • However, lawmakers are fielding some criticism over how to provide services for those in need.

Why it matters: Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed the bill as Republican governors in Arizona and Texas continue to send busloads of asylum-seeking migrants from the southern border to D.C. Many arrive unannounced at night in front of Union Station, and recent dropoffs have been outside Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence.

  • The bill would invest $10 million to support nonprofits and groups straining to welcome and help the migrants. City officials hope to soon have a 24/7 presence at Union Station.

Council members are poised to pass the legislation, praising the creation of a new department dedicated to the crisis.

  • “We have a rich panoply of services available to D.C. residents who are suffering from homelessness. That system will be quickly overrun if we continue to see bused migrants,” council chair Phil Mendelson told reporters yesterday. “And we want absolutely for the migrants to be treated humanely.”

Yes, but: Some homeless advocates worry that the emergency bill — which is advancing without a public hearing — would exclude migrants from accessing some of the same services afforded to people in D.C. experiencing homelessness.

What they’re saying: The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless is concerned that the bill sets up a separate designation for people arriving in D.C. by bus, from those experiencing homelessness, meaning the migrants may be denied certain services.

  • For example, the bill would allow families to be housed in congregate settings — which is not allowed for families experiencing homelessness. City law requires families to be housed in private rooms, for safety and privacy reasons.
  • Mendelson defended allowing the city the flexibility to use congregate settings but said other aspects of the bill may see tweaks before the vote.

State of play: Ward 1 council member Brianne Nadeau, who is shepherding the bill, on Monday proposed an amendment to allow the D.C. Council to retain oversight over any contracts the mayor’s office grants, addressing one of the concerns of homeless advocates who oppose the bill.

  • Those contracts may include those for acquiring hotel rooms, renting buses, or purchasing food, Nadeau told Axios.

Nadeau also points out that the bill allows migrants to enroll in the DC Healthcare Alliance, a locally funded medical assistance program for low-income people who do not otherwise qualify for Medicare or Medicaid.

  • However, opponents say the bill doesn't allow migrants to use eligibility for that program to access other services.

What they’re saying: “Setting up this Office of Migrant Services … we'll make sure that we're giving them the services they need, hiring people, and contracting with entities that have experience helping people on their immigration journey,” Nadeau says.

  • 29-year-old Venezuelan Lever Alejos was bused to D.C. from Texas and told the New York Times he has found employment since arriving in D.C. and hopes to move from a shelter.

The bottom line: The council is likely to pass the emergency bill, and hearings will be held next month on a permanent version of the legislation.

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