Texas begins flying migrants from U.S.-Mexico border to Chicago; first plane carries more than 120 people

The first flight was arranged a week after Chicago's city council took new action over the busloads of migrants that have drawn sharp criticism from Mayor Brandon Johnson.

December 21, 2023 10:47 am | Updated 11:02 am IST - AUSTIN (Texas)

Migrants spend the night in an outdoor processing centre in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S.

Migrants spend the night in an outdoor processing centre in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Texas sent a plane with more than 120 migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Chicago in an escalation of Republican Governor Greg Abbott's bus operation that has given more than 80,000 migrants free rides to Democratic-led cities across the country since last year.

The first flight, which Mr. Abbott's office said left from El Paso and arrived on Tuesday, was arranged a week after Chicago's city council took new action over the busloads of migrants that have drawn sharp criticism from Mayor Brandon Johnson. The city has said bus operators began trying to drop off people in neighbouring cities to avoid penalties that include fines, towing or impoundment.

Bus operators could now face tougher penalties in Chicago for not unloading new arrivals at a designated location or failing to fill out city paperwork. Mr. Abbott spokesman Andrew Mahaleris said on December 20 that the flights were the result of Johnson “targeting migrant buses” from Texas.

The flight took off a day after Mr. Abbott signed a new law this week that would allow police in Texas to arrest migrants who illegally cross the border, ratcheting up a series of aggressive measures the state has taken in protest of President Joe Biden's immigration policies.

“Until President Biden steps up and does his job to secure the border, Texas will continue taking historic action to help our local partners respond to this Biden-made crisis,” Mr. Mahaleris said. The White House criticised the flight and accused Mr. Abbott of using migrants for politics.

“Yet again, Governor Abbott is showing how little regard or respect he has for human beings,” White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said in a statement. “This latest political stunt just adds to his tally of extreme policies which seek to demonise and dehumanise people.”

More than 23,000 migrants have been sent to Chicago on buses as part of Mr. Abbott's border mission known as Operation Lone Star, according to the Governor's office.

The multibillion-dollar operation has also included stringing razor wire along the frontier, installing buoy barriers in the Rio Grande and deploying more officers. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court ordered the Biden administration to temporarily halt cutting the concertina wire on the border while a legal challenge plays out.

Mr. Johnson's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the flights to his city.

Concerns have arisen about the living conditions and medical care provided for asylum-seekers arriving in Chicago, spotlighted by the death last weekend of a 5-year-old boy living at a temporary shelter for migrants.

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