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CNN One Thing

You’ve been overwhelmed with headlines all week – what's worth a closer look? One Thing takes you into the story and helps you make sense of the news everyone's been talking about. Each Sunday, host David Rind interviews one of CNN’s world-class reporters to tell us what they've found – and why it matters. From the team behind CNN 5 Things.

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Why Republican Governors are Putting Migrants on the Move
CNN One Thing
Sep 25, 2022

For months, Republican governors have been accused of using migrants as political pawns by sending them north in protest of President Joe Biden’s border policies. In recent weeks, Florida governor Ron DeSantis has escalated the situation by sending two planeloads of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard without warning. We examine why a Texas sheriff is investigating those flights, what’s next for the asylum seekers caught in the middle, and what’s fueling the rise in migrant encounters along the US-Mexico border. 

Guest: Priscilla Alvarez, CNN Immigration Reporter

Episode Transcript
David Rind
00:00:01
I want you to think about the last time you visited a new city. Navigating the streets or public transit was probably a little disorienting at first. Right. Now, imagine you had just made a dangerous journey across the U.S. Mexico border, followed by a long bus or plane ride and then set foot in that new city. How confusing would that be?
Miguel Marquez
00:00:23
More busses, more migrants shipped from Texas to New York City this morning.
Kate Bolduan
00:00:27
Two busses filled with migrants arrived unannounced outside Vice President Kamala Harris's residence.
Ed Lavendera
00:00:33
Dozens of mostly Venezuelan migrants were transported from Texas to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Miguel Marquez
00:00:39
All part of a campaign by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to send migrants to so-called sanctuary cities by surprise.
David Rind
00:00:48
For the past few months, this has been the reality for thousands of migrants pouring into liberal communities sent along by three Republican governors. Now, those governors willingly admit they've been doing this. But just how willing some of the migrants have been to make these trips, that's been a little trickier to pin down. Lucky for us, we have CNN's Priscilla Alvarez. She covers all things immigration out of D.C. And this week she's going to unravel why this is happening and how it squares with the reality on the ground at the U.S. southern border. From CNN, this is One Thing. I'm David Rind.
David Rind
00:01:31
Priscilla, I still want to take a really big step back here. How did this all start?
Priscilla Alvarez
00:01:36
So we have to go back to April.
Gov. Greg Abbott
00:01:38
With the Biden administration ending Title 42, expulsions in May, Texas will be taking its own unprecedented actions this month.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:01:50
At that time, Texas Governor Greg Abbott began sending busses with migrants who had crossed the US-Mexico border, been processed by authorities and then released to Washington, DC.
Gov. Greg Abbott
00:02:02
We are sending them to the United States Capitol, where the Biden administration will be able to more immediately address the needs of the people that they are allowing to come across our border.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:02:10
And remember, Abbott is a fierce critic of the Biden administration, particularly over its border policies. And so he did this sort of as an affront to the administration and to make a point at the really the doorstep of the White House. So that sort of kicked into gear in April. Thereafter, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey jumped in and did the same thing. Since then, this has really broadened.
Pamela Brown
00:02:39
The mayors of Chicago and New York say Texas Governor Greg Abbott is using the migrants as political pawns.
Mayor Eric Adams
00:02:45
It's just a mean and cruel thing that he's doing.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot
00:02:48
This is not a governor who once said collaborate and cooperate with us.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:02:53
Texas is now sending migrants to New York City and Chicago as well.
Gov. Greg Abbott
00:02:57
To relieve our communities. We have to continue these bussing operations.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:03:01
It has been a huge operation and a very costly one. So we know from Texas that they've already spent more than $12 million transporting migrants via busses and that they're sending thousands. So just to break it down, particularly for Texas, they've sent over 8000 to DC, over 2600 to New York City and over 675 to Chicago. And these busses keep coming.
David Rind
00:03:26
Wow. So these people that come over there just being rounded up and plopped on busses, like how does this actually work on the ground?
Priscilla Alvarez
00:03:33
All the governors that are involved in this, particularly because of the length of the operation so far with Texas and Arizona, have said it's voluntary. And from what I have gathered in reporting and talking to migrants is that it is. So again, when migrants are processed and released by authorities, they often go to a shelter. And it is at those shelters where it seems that there is that opportunity to jump on a bus to either D.C., New York or Chicago if you're in Texas or in Arizona, just to D.C. So they get on those busses on a voluntary basis. But if you've ever driven cross-country, that is a really long journey. And they are given provisions throughout that journey and, you know, allowed to use the restroom and the rest. But it is long. And when they get here, they're exhausted. And what I have found in talking to them is that some of them do know where they're going. They wanted to come to D.C., they wanted to go to New York. Others are a little more confused and may not understand how big the U.S. is. I mean, there are some cases of people who come to D.C. and maybe they wanted to be in Texas, but they didn't realize they were already there or they didn't realize how far do you see us from the city they wanted to get to? So it's really a mixed bag, depending on who you talk to. But what sort of the irony sometimes that bubbles up in this is that some are just happy for the ride. They don't have money. So this is in some respects a free ride to the city where they wanted to go to or use to connect to another place.
David Rind
00:04:57
Like they see this as this can be the start of the next part of my journey, wherever that may be.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:05:02
Exactly.
Jim Scuitto
00:05:06
Overnight, a Texas sheriff has opened an investigation into how 48 Venezuelan migrants - legal - were flown from his state to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:05:15
So we've been seeing this since the spring when Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided to start sending migrants. But it really escalated when we suddenly saw two planes arrive in Martha's Vineyard with nearly 50 migrants on them.
David Rind
00:05:39
So, Priscilla, you mentioned two planes full of migrants landing on Martha's Vineyard, which we should remind folks is very much an island off of Massachusetts. Who sent them and how did they get there?
Priscilla Alvarez
00:05:51
There was an element of surprise here.
Kate Bolduan
00:05:53
An estimated 50 migrants arrived on the island Wednesday afternoon. Local officials were not notified ahead of time.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:06:01
It was not known that these flights were going to arrive in Martha's Vineyard. And when they did, there was a mad scramble to try to accommodate the minors that did arrive.
Aide worker
00:06:09
My heart breaks for them because they were not the first priority. They're in my heart forever. I don't know what to say.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
00:06:18
They were hungry, homeless. They had no no opportunity at all. The state of Florida - it was volunteer - offered transport to sanctuary jurisdictions.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:06:28
And over the course of those hours, we learned that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed credit for that. These were flights that originated from Texas, and he said that he had sent these flights to Martha's Vineyard.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
00:06:41
There were more Acela corporate journalists in Martha's Vineyard today than have ever gone down to the southern border to look what's going on. Why don't you go down there and look what some of those communities have to deal with every day?
Priscilla Alvarez
00:06:57
So just another Republican governor jumping into the mix and sending migrants out of state, but this time sending them from Texas, not migrants who had even been in Florida.
David Rind
00:07:09
Oh, so the migrants were originally in Texas, not Florida.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:07:13
That's our understanding. This was a curious situation, of course, because we were talking about a flight from Texas and while a Florida governor was claiming credit for it. But these, from our understanding, were not migrants that were in Florida. Rather, they had crossed had been in Texas. And it was the governor who was sending them over to Martha's Vineyard. The governor from Florida, of course.
David Rind
00:07:32
And what do we know about the circumstances of this trip? Like what were they promised in Texas then would be on the other side of this flight?
Priscilla Alvarez
00:07:43
We're learning more and more about some of what migrants had been told who had gotten on this flight. And it has caused a lot of concern among attorneys and groups who have worked with them, because they say some migrants had brochures that promised certain services, medical services, jobs, you name it.
Miguel Marquez
00:08:03
Juan Paolo Mora and other immigrants we spoke to here say they were promised all sorts of things, including jobs and housing, things that never materialized.
Miguel Marquez
00:08:13
(translating) We were told it was humanitarian aid by a foundation that in this case remains unknown, he says.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:08:19
But those services are for refugees, not for asylum seekers, which is what these people are. And just to step back -
David Rind
00:08:26
Yeah what's the difference?
Priscilla Alvarez
00:08:27
Yeah. Refugees apply for protection abroad, whereas asylum seekers apply within the United States. Refugees, well, first of all, come through the U.S. refugee admissions program and are afforded a certain number of benefits when they are here in the U.S.. Asylum seekers generally don't get those benefits until they are granted asylum, a process that can take a very long time. So attorneys say that these brochures for those that had them were misleading because it made them believe they were going to be eligible for services that they, in fact, may not be eligible for. We also learned in lawsuits that some were offered gift cards to McDonald's to sort of get their trust and then eventually go on these flights.
00:09:08
They did get a packet that had the map of Martha's Vineyard. And they're also treated, you know, very well with all this. I mean.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:09:15
DeSantis responded to the lawsuit that's been filed and in a statement to DeSantis fired back and said that these flights were voluntary and that ultimately these were individuals taking advantage of flights to Martha's Vineyard.
David Rind
00:09:28
Okay. So if they were lured, though, under any kind of false pretenses, could DeSanits get in trouble? Like what are the possible criminal ramifications here?
Priscilla Alvarez
00:09:38
We don't know yet, but Bexar County sheriff has said that they are investigating. A source familiar with discussions tells me that the Department of Justice lawyers and Department of Homeland Security lawyers have been discussing litigation options against the movement of migrants out of state by Republican governors. So as far as what is going to happen in the legal space here, that is all still playing out while in the meantime, these governors are seizing more busses or in the case of DeSantis, potentially more flights.
David Rind
00:10:10
Wow. So this all seems extremely disorienting and confusing for any migrants, you know, caught in the middle of this, just trying to figure out where they're going to, you know, get their next meal or sleep. But do governors like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott have a point like you've been to some of these border towns? Are they really overwhelmed like the Republicans claim.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:10:30
They are. As you mentioned, I have spent the last several months going and bouncing around to a lot of different border towns and they are overwhelmed.
Border official
00:10:40
(Spanish)
Priscilla Alvarez
00:10:43
Past midnight here in Yuma, there's already been more than 800 migrants who have come here to turn themselves....
00:10:50
I recently went to Yuma, Arizona. That's it's right along the Arizona Mexico border. And my team and I stayed there from midnight to five in the morning just because of the heat of the summer. Most people cross during those overnight hours. What we saw was dozens and dozens of people from Venezuela, from Cuba, from Peru, from Colombia, just coming in droves as they waited and then surrendering to Border Patrol agents. So what they would do is they would cross the border. They would cross, in some cases, a river, and they would line up along the border wall in the dead of night. Waiting under bright lights as Border Patrol agents process them one by one and took them into custody.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:11:38
(Spanish)
Priscilla Alvarez
00:11:40
And during that time I talked to them.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:11:42
(Spanish)
Translator
00:11:44
And why are you here?
Priscilla Alvarez
00:11:45
And in many cases, they describe some of the deteriorating conditions in their country in trouble.
Translator
00:11:51
The treatment the government has with the Cuban people, they oppress us so much, and I want to change that for myself.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:11:58
Hoping that here in the United States they would get that claim of asylum, which will take time and a judge will decide, but hoping in large part for a better future.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:12:10
(Spanish)
Translator
00:12:11
And what do you expect from living here in the U.S.?
Translator
00:12:14
Well, I want to change my life and better politics and all of that..
Priscilla Alvarez
00:12:21
There are shelters that are already in place in many of these cities to accommodate and help migrants as they are released from custody. But over the last year, that has become more difficult and they're under strain because there's more people. The other important thing to note here is who it is that is crossing. So we have seen over the last year an increase in three nationalities, in particular Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Since last August, there has been 175% increase in the number of people crossing from those countries at the US-Mexico border. Now, these are very tricky populations for any administration to deal with because the United States has frosty relations with, for example, Venezuela and Cuba. So we can't necessarily remove them. There's also limitations to that pandemic restrictions that we talked about before that allows authorities to turn people away at the border. Mexico is not accepting all populations. So there are some limitations there as well. So what happens is as we see more people from these countries arrive at the border, they're often processed and released as they go through their immigration proceedings. So it's not unusual for migrants who, again, are in many cases are seeking asylum to move about the country. What has happened here is that we're seeing more people. The border shelters are being overwhelmed and these Republican governors are sort of seizing on this to move them out of their state and take them to these Democratic led cities.
David Rind
00:14:00
Priscilla, thanks very much for stopping by, appreciate it.
Priscilla Alvarez
00:14:03
Thank you.
David Rind
00:14:20
One Thing is a production of CNN Audio. This episode was produced by Paola Ortiz and me, David Rind. Matt Dempsey is our production manager. Greg Peppers is our supervising producer. Faiz Jamil is our senior producer and the executive producer of CNN Audio is Megan Marcus. Special thanks this week to Xavier Lopez and thank you for listening. If you like the show, leave a rating and review, tell a friend. It all helps. We'll be back next Sunday. Talk to you then.