WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon has rejected a request from the District of Columbia calling for the National Guard’s help in what the mayor called a “growing humanitarian crisis” caused by thousands of migrants being bussed into the city from two southern states.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has refused to provide Guard personnel and the use of D.C. armaments to help welcome immigrants to the city, according to U.S. defense officials. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the district may send an amended, “more specific” request, adding that she believes this is the first time a D.C. National Guard request has been denied.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision that has not yet been made public, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s food and shelter program has provided funding for the problem and said those funds are sufficient to the point.
Bowser, the area’s Democratic mayor, the White House officially asked last month for an open deployment of 150 National Guard members per day as well as an “appropriate federal site” for a mass housing and processing center, citing the DC Armory as a logical candidate.
During the spring, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, announced plans to send busloads of immigrants to Washington in response to President Joe Biden’s decision to lift a pandemic-era emergency health order which limited the numbers of immigrants entering by denying them the opportunity to seek asylum. The rule remains in effect by court order.
On Friday, Abbott said the first group of migrants from his state had now been bused to New York as well.
As of mid-July, about 5,200 immigrants had been bussed from Texas to D.C. since April. As of Aug. 3, more than 1,300 had been sent from Arizona since May. Governors call the practice a voluntary free ride — paid for by state taxpayers — that brings immigrants closer to family or support networks.
But Bowser last month rejected that characterization, saying asylum seekers are being “cheated” because many don’t get close enough to their final destinations and some have been abandoned at Union Station near the U.S. Capitol and the White House. They often arrive with no resources and no idea what to do next.
On Friday, Bowser told reporters that the Pentagon seemed concerned “about the open-ended nature of our request” and that being more specific would help.
“We want to continue to work with the Department of Defense to understand our operational needs and make sure that political considerations are not part of their decision,” Bowser said, adding that she believes the crisis will worsen. “We need the National Guard. If we were a state, I would have done it already.”
A coalition of local philanthropic groups is working to feed and house the migrants, with the help of a $1 million grant from FEMA. But organizers have warned that both their resources and staff have been exhausted.
“This reliance on NGOs is not working and is unsustainable – they are overpaid and underfunded,” Bowser said in her letter. She has repeatedly said the influx stresses her government’s ability to care for its own homeless residents and is now demanding a federal response.
Bowser slammed Abbott and Ducey, accusing them of “cruel political behavior” and saying the pair “decided to use desperate people to score political points.”
Explaining his decision to add New York as a destination, Abbott said Biden’s “refusal to acknowledge the crisis caused by his open border policies” forced Texas to “take unprecedented action to preserve our communities safe”.
He said the migrants are disembarked at the Port Authority bus terminal.
“In addition to Washington, DC, New York City is the ideal destination for these immigrants, who can receive the abundance of city services and housing that Mayor Eric Adams has touted in the sanctuary city,” Abbott said.
In response, Fabien Levy, a spokesman for Adams, tweeted that Abbott’s “continued use of human beings as political pawns is disgusting. New York will continue to welcome asylum seekers with open arms, as we always have, but we still need support from DC.”
As D.C. mayor, Bowser does not have the authority to personally order a National Guard deployment, an issue that has become emotionally charged in recent years as a symbol of the region’s entrenched status as less than a state.
Her limited power played a role in the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump. When it became clear that the Capitol Police were overwhelmed by the crowds, Bowser was unable to immediately deploy the area’s garrison. Instead, crucial time was lost while the request was considered inside the Pentagon, and protesters stormed the building.
Associated Press writer Ashraf Khalil in Washington, Karen Matthews in New York and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.