PHILADELPHIA – A bus carrying 28 migrants from Texas arrived in Philadelphia on Wednesday, including a 10-year-old girl suffering from dehydration and a high fever who was whisked to a hospital for treatment.
Advocates who welcomed them with coats and blankets as they arrived before dawn on a cold, drizzly morning said the families and individuals came from Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. The city and several nonprofit groups were ready to provide food, temporary housing and other services.
“In general, people feel relieved. We want them to know that they have a home here,” said Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym, who accompanied several of the migrants onto a second bus taking them to an intake center.
“There's a 10-year-old who's completely dehydrated. It's one of the more inhumane aspects that they would put a child who was dehydrated with a fever now, a very high fever (on the bus),” Gym said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that Philadelphia would be the next destination for migrants the state has been transporting by the thousands from the U.S.-Mexico border to Democrat-led cities, news that came a week after the Republican easily won reelection.
Texas has put more than 300 busloads of migrants on the road since April, sometimes five in a day, on unannounced journeys to cities including New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The trips have cost Texas about $26 million, according to Nim Kidd, chief of Texas Department of Emergency Management.
New York Mayor Eric Adams has accused Abbott’s office of being unwilling to coordinate to help them plan for the arrivals. Kidd, whose agency is overseeing the departures, said nongovernmental organizations on the ground are in touch with colleagues elsewhere.
“We have full confidence that the NGOs that we are working with are communicating with the NGOs in the places these buses are being delivered to,” Kidd told lawmakers Tuesday.
U.S. officials stopped more than 2 million illegal border crossings in the last fiscal year, a record high that reflects the deteriorating economic and political conditions in some countries. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, migrants at the U.S. border were stopped 2.38 million times, up 37% from 1.73 million times the year before.
Advocates in Philadelphia who greeted the latest group of 23 adults and five children said it was not clear how long they had been traveling. One said the trip would typically take about 40 hours.
“The kids are frightened, they’re exhausted, they’re tired,” said Emilio Buitrago of the nonprofit Casa de Venezuela. “They’re going to go to a place … where they’re going to have comfy, warm beds with a blanket, and warm food. From there, we’re going to work on relocation.”
A few people were met by relatives almost immediately, while others planned to reunite with family or friends in nearby states. Only one adult and an infant were expected to stay in the city, officials said. Three others exited the bus before it reached Philadelphia.
Abbott has sent the buses to Democratic-led cities to point out what he calls the inaction of the Biden administration to address the migrant surge. In all, he’s sent more than 13,000 migrants out of state since April.
Critics condemn the practice as a political stunt, but voters rewarded Abbott last week with a record-tying third term as Texas governor in his race against Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Abbott made a series of hardline immigration measures the centerpiece of his campaign.
Nearly 6 in 10 Texas voters favored Abbott’s decision to send migrants to northern cities, according to AP VoteCast, an expansive survey of almost 3,400 voters in the state.
In a statement Tuesday, Abbott’s office said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney “has long-celebrated and fought for sanctuary city status, making the city an ideal addition to Texas’ list of drop-off locations.”
Kenney, a Democrat, was typically blunt in response.
“It is sad and outrageous that Gov. Abbott and his administration continue to implement their cruel and racist policies, using immigrant families, including children, as pawns to shamelessly push their warped political agenda,” he said at a Wednesday morning news conference.
Since the spring, Arizona has sent 70 buses carrying more than 2,500 migrants to the nation’s capital, the office of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said, citing statistics through mid-November. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Republican, has flown migrants to Martha's Vineyard, a resort island in Massachusetts.
Philadelphia had been planning for such a day for several months, working with more than a dozen local organizations to provide migrants with shelter space, emergency health screening, food, water, language interpretation and more. The city has also welcomed waves of Ukrainians, Afghans and others in recent years.
The people arriving from Texas are all in the country legally while they seek asylum, Kenney said.
“It is our duty to welcome and support these folks as they face some of the most trying times of their lives,” Kenney said. “At its core, this is a humanitarian crisis, that started with instability and violence in South and Central America and is being accelerated by political dynamics in our own country.”
Associated Press reporters Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, and Anita Snow in Phoenix contributed to this story.