The Union Democrat
2 more buses carrying immigrants from Texas arrive in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA — Two more buses carrying immigrants from Texas rolled into Philadelphia on Friday morning, the dayafter-thanksgiving arrivals offering a test of how fast and effectively the city could mount yet another welcome.
The answer? Pretty fast. The first bus arrived at 30th Street Station shortly after 6 a.m., with about 45 people aboard including two children, and the second landed two hours later. Roughly 81 passengers in total were expected.
City officials and immigrant leaders worked to smoothly transfer the arrivals to a SEPTA bus, then drive them to a city-run welcome center in North Philadelphia.
In the last 10 days, four buses carrying about 150 people have arrived outside 30th Street Station, sent here, local officials and leaders said, by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The governor describes the unscheduled, unannounced buses as an effort to ease pressure on Texas’ border towns, while Mayor Jim Kenney and other advocates say it’s a cheap political stunt against migrant families.
Abbott issued no statement Friday morning. In citing the Philadelphia buses earlier this week, he tweeted, “Texas is doing whatever it takes to provide relief to our overwhelmed border communities.”
So far the rush of arrivals has not overly strained immigrant-assistance organizations, who have coordinated with the city to offer what is becoming a series of warm, safe welcomes.
Blanca Pacheco, co-director with Peter Pedemonti of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, said groups remain confident in their ability to help immigrants coming from Texas, even as they evaluate the needs and demands of a longer-term operation.
“I think at some point we will talk to the state government to see how can they support us, if the numbers become bigger and [more] people are staying here,” Pacheco said Friday morning.
Community leaders were careful to toe a line between seeking public support through the city’s welcome fund and doubling down on their commitment to help new arrivals.
Roughly 25 people from the first bus were headed to the city welcome center.
“The busing tactic Gov. Abbott is using, I think it’s intentionally meant to be divisive,” said Erika Guadalupe Núñez, executive director of the Juntos advocacy group. “He is expecting cities to fail, and I think there’s like the myth of scarcity that we don’t have enough resources to go around... and that’s actually just not true.”
All those sent to Philadelphia have permission to be in the United States, as they pursue claims in federal Immigration Court. All or almost all are seeking asylum, a legal means to stay in the country for those facing persecution in their homelands.
Abbott boasts that since spring he has sent more than 13,000 immigrants to New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and starting this month, to Philadelphia.
In the cool, Friday morning darkness, city workers, immigrant advocates and volunteers quickly triaged the arrivals. Immigrants were checked for medical emergencies, offered blankets and coats, and then moved onto a warm SEPTA bus. Those who were not being picked up by family members outside the station could go to the welcome center.
It’s unclear how long buses may continue to be sent to Philadelphia. Núñez said Friday that the city welcome center was expected to remain open until April.
Most of those who have arrived since Nov. 16 have left Philadelphia to connect with family in other states. They originally came to the United States from countries including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Cuba.
Immigrants interviewed by The Inquirer have said their two-day journey started with an offer of a free trip to Chicago, New York or Philadelphia, made over a loudspeaker at a border facility in Del Rio, Texas.
Philadelphia’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Office of Emergency Management have been preparing for the arrivals since summer, coordinating with community organizations including Juntos, HIAS Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and Nationalities Service Center.
From the first bus dropoff, the advocates and city have offered immediate logistical support, helping immigrants get in touch with relatives, and connecting those who are staying in Philadelphia to legal services and housing.