Migrants to US turned into 'political pawns'

Ana Fernandez, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 12 2022 11:09 AM

Migrants leave their saved precious items in a box before boarding a bus to a processing center as hundreds cross the border between Mexico and the US in Yuma, Arizona, USA, June 21, 2022. Coming from all over the world, most of the migrants who cross the border where the wall ends at the limit of the Cocopah Indian Reservation, willingly turn themselves to US Border Patrol officers who will process them as they ask for asylum. Etienne Laurent, EPA-EFE/File
Migrants leave their saved precious items in a box before boarding a bus to a processing center as hundreds cross the border between Mexico and the US in Yuma, Arizona, USA, June 21, 2022. Coming from all over the world, most of the migrants who cross the border where the wall ends at the limit of the Cocopah Indian Reservation, willingly turn themselves to US Border Patrol officers who will process them as they ask for asylum. Etienne Laurent, EPA-EFE/File

NEW YORK — After leaving Venezuela and traveling 41 days north, Gustavo Mendez is now among the migrants arriving in New York on buses chartered by Republican leaders who are vying to make a political point on US immigration policy.

The 40-year-old Mendez, a chef and programming technician, was one of hundreds of asylum seekers that the ultra-conservative Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, bused north in a bid to pressure President Joe Biden's administration to crack down on border crossings.

Abbott who is seeking reelection in November's midterm vote -- has been sending migrants to Washington for months and recently began pushing them to New York, 2 cities that lean heavily Democratic, a move dismissed by critics as a political tactic to rally conservative voters.

On Wednesday, Manuel Castro, the commissioner of the New York mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, repeated that notion as the latest buses arrived in the city, criticizing Abbott for "using human beings as political pawns" in an effort "to incite anti-immigrant sentiment."

"This is a historic and unprecedented situation. Again, this is a political stunt by Governor Abbott," he said.

Castro condemned the behavior and criticized a lack of communication from Texas officials, but insisted that "New York City is here to support the asylum-seekers that are arriving."

"Our priority is the wellbeing of these individuals and families. Many have arrived, thirsty, hungry and in need of medical attention."

Ambulances and dozens of volunteers awaited the arrival of buses Wednesday.

Some of the asylum seekers are women and children, but many are single men, the majority Venezuelans, who arrive with all of their belongings in a plastic bag or small backpack following a grueling trip that can last some four months.

Since May, some 4,000 asylum seekers and refugees have arrived in New York City, according to local officials, who have voiced plans to open new intake centers to accommodate the influx of people.

They will all receive appointments in the coming months with immigration authorities, who will decide their futures.

LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES

Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Haitians may benefit from the Temporary Protected Status program, which the US Congress established to allow migrants whose home countries are considered unsafe to remain stateside and work for a temporary period.

But for migrants whose cases don't fit into that program, it's a struggle to find footing in a country that won't allow them to work legally, and where they must wait ages for their immigration appointments.

That's the case for Richard Castillo, a 28-year-old Peruvian who arrived in New York with two small children and his wife on May 7 -- and doesn't have an appointment until next March.

They have the bare minimum of food and a place to sleep in a homeless shelter, but do not have the right to work.

They must wear electronic ankle bracelets to prevent attempts to work, under the penalty of being deported.

"They gave me the opportunity to be in the United States, but I don't have the opportunity to work, to grow," he said, tears in his eyes.

© Agence France-Presse

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