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Sept. 26, 2022, 7:58 a.m. EDT

Sanctuary cities and immigrants forced to adapt as Republican governors fine-tune bus schemes

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Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — There are few places in the U.S. with a more deeply ingrained reputation as a refuge for immigrants than New York City, where the Statue of Liberty rises from the harbor as a symbol of welcome for the worn and weary.

But for Mayor Eric Adams, reconciling that image with an influx of migrants landing in the city, including thousands being bused there by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, is proving difficult. The city is struggling to accommodate what Adams says has totaled more than 13,000 asylum seekers, leading him to explore whether New York can ease its practices for sheltering the homeless or even temporarily house migrants on cruise ships. Both ideas have drawn blowback from liberal advocates who are influential in the city’s politics.

Adams is one of several leaders of Democratic-leaning jurisdictions facing a sudden test of their commitment to being “sanctuary” cities or states. The designation, in which local officials pledge to limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities, has long proved popular among progressives pressing to ensure the government treats migrants humanely.

But officials say the policy is being exploited by leaders hoping to make a political point.

“We are not telling anyone that New York can accommodate every migrant in the city. We’re not encouraging people to send eight, nine buses a day. That is not what we’re doing,” Adams said this week about his request for Abbott to coordinate with the city about the buses of migrants he’s sending. “We’re saying that as a sanctuary and a city with right to shelter, we’re going to fulfill our obligation.”

The GOP effort began in the spring when Abbott and Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona put migrants on buses to Washington and later New York. The move was intended to draw attention to what the GOP governors deemed failed border and immigration policies under Democrats and the Biden administration. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis intensified the tactic, chartering a flight last week to Martha’s Vineyard, an elite Massachusetts vacation spot.

See: Texas sheriff investigating DeSantis’s migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard

The unpredictability that Adams referenced is precisely what the governors say they’re trying to accomplish.

“If you believe in open borders, then it’s the sanctuary jurisdictions that should have to bear the brunt of the open borders,” DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday.

Abbott’s office has dismissed complaints and says Democratic officials should call for President Joe Biden to secure the border “instead of complaining about fulfilling their sanctuary city promises.”

Sanctuary cities or states are not legal terms but have come to symbolize a pledge to protect and support immigrant communities and decline to voluntarily supply information to immigration enforcement officials. Advocates say they are havens for immigrants to feel safe and be able to report crime without fear of deportation.

Adams isn’t the only leader struggling to navigate the challenge.

In Washington, D.C., where Abbott has sent about 8,000 migrants this year, Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a limited state of emergency. She sought help from the National Guard, which the Pentagon has denied. The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted to create an Office of Migrant Services to help asylum seekers.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois brought in the Illinois National Guard to assist more than 750 migrants who have arrived in Chicago since late August, but officials in some Chicago-area suburbs have complained that they got no notice when dozens of asylum-seekers were put up in local hotels for emergency housing.

Gary Grasso, the Republican mayor of Burr Ridge, Ill., said both Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot apologized for not providing him advance notice, echoing complaints by Democrats that the Republican governors had not provided a warning the migrants were coming. But Grasso’s town has not been asked to provide any resources to help with the migrants, and all the hotel rooms are being paid for by the state, county and city of Chicago, according to Pritzker’s office.

Laura Mendoza, an immigration organizer for advocacy organization the Resurrection Project, said putting migrants in suburban hotels has helped relieve some pressure but finding everyone a place to stay has been a challenge.

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