“The border is secure.” That was the mindboggling verdict Vice President Kamala Harris rendered over the weekend. The vice president clearly hadn’t heard from the mayors of some of America’s darkest-blue urban centers. Some Republican governors of border states, fed up with a crisis they’ve been managing for months, have begun shuttling illegal migrants north. Although these migrants are only a fraction of those coming to America’s border communities, this new burden has sent Democratic officials into apoplectic fits.
“This is such an important moment for Chicago as our city has been a sanctuary for thousands of newcomers,” said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot one week ago following the arrival of the first busloads of illegal immigrants who received free transport to the Windy City from Texas. Her positive attitude soon turned sour. The mayor lashed out at Texas’s “racist” abuses and its having “no interest whatsoever in providing any kind of support to” illegal migrants. She further castigated Austin for failing to provide Chicago with forewarning about the influx of migrants (a gesture that border communities are similarly denied). “This is not a new challenge at the border,” Lightfoot conceded. “But this is a new challenge for us.”
Chicago’s warm welcome didn’t last long. Illinois has “been unnecessarily scrambling” to provide the migrants with support. Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker called out the national guard, and Lightfoot shoved 147 of her city’s new arrivals onto another bus bound for the Republican-dominated Chicago suburb of Burr Ridge. So much for this “sanctuary.”
The awe-inspiring display of hypocrisy was not limited to Chicago. One Washington D.C. Councilmember complained that the border states will have “turned us into a border town.” Mayor Muriel Bowser, too, requested federal assistance to address the “growing humanitarian crisis” Republicans have unleashed. Though she initially underplayed the strain these new arrivals place on the system, the mayor subsequently declared a state of emergency, established “triage” facilities for migrants in public transportation hubs, and requested assistance from the Pentagon and FEMA. A federal response, “which I think has been lacking in some respects,” Bowser complained, has so far failed to materialize.
“The city’s system is nearing its breaking point,” said New York City’s exasperated Mayor Eric Adams. New York City is statutorily obliged to provide shelter as a basic human right, but the city cannot comply with that obligation anymore. “The city’s prior practices, which never contemplated the busing of thousands of people into New York City,” the mayor continued, “must be reassessed.” The city’s shelters are, in fact, overwhelmed. That is due not to anything Republicans in the hinterland have done but “a monthslong flood of migrant asylum seekers,” most of whom are responding rationally to pro-migration incentives.
Not to be outdone, Florida’s Ron DeSantis joined in the campaign this week, sending two planeloads of Venezuelan refugees to Martha’s Vineyard. There, local officials and the general public alike have mobilized a robust response, providing food and shelter to migrants. But not without a heavy dose of resentment. Massachusetts State Sen. Julian Cyr savaged the Republicans whose “cruel ruse” plays politics with human lives, and only for “the purposes of a political ‘gotcha’ moment.”
Many of the objections to this coordinated stunt—and it is a stunt—rest their objections on the inhumanity of it all. “Ron DeSantis’s repulsive Martha’s Vineyard stunt is made for Fox News,” read one Washington Post headline. It is “deeply sick and dehumanizing to fling human beings somewhere vindictively,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes insisted. “This idea of dumping these helpless people on buses and trucking them off to New York and Washington and Chicago is cruel, and it’s inhumane,” mourned Sen. Dick Durbin.
There is something distasteful about using desperate migrants and asylum seekers to advance a political strategy. But the migrants themselves don’t seem especially put out by the offer of free transportation to and accommodation within America’s major urban centers.
“We came here because of the situation in our country, for the economy, for work, for lots of things,” one Venezuelan migrant told the Vineyard Gazette upon arrival in the picturesque seaside setting. “There a refugee association put us in a plane and told us there would be work and housing here. I feel good, despite everything. We spent four days in Texas, so it’s good to be here.” The activist left insists this is misleading, but these migrants did, indeed, receive shelter, and there is work to be done on the island—albeit not the legitimate sort.
Much the same could be said of the migrants who voluntarily boarded northbound buses in Texas and Arizona. “I’m happy, just really happy,” Juliana Isaza told Chicago-based reporters while awaiting the arrival of two family members who migrated from Colombia. ‘If I can find a job, I will stay there,” said one Nicaraguan migrant of his new home. “Thank you for welcoming us.” The migrants TIME Magazine reporters spoke with only expressed a hint of betrayal when they were told Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hadn’t paid their freight for entirely altruistic reasons. “It’s great that he helped us,” one migrant said of Abbott. Another called the busing campaign a “blessing.”
The allegation leveled by incensed progressives that Republicans are misleading and abusing migrants isn’t well supported. With regard to Martha’s Vineyard, there is some reporting that indicates those migrants believed they were headed to Boston, but no one has yet alleged that they were willfully deceived. They have not been coerced into traveling to these destinations, all of which had previously made a performance of their willingness to welcome illegal residents. Nor were they lied to about the fact that they would receive shelter and likely find work in these locales. If there is a “humanitarian” disaster afoot, it has not been detailed in the extensive reporting on these migrants’ experiences.
The introduction of a small number of migrants into these cities–at least, relative to the throngs that border states must absorb–does represent a burden on taxpayers and local law enforcement. That is the point of this whole campaign. Republican lawmakers in border states can talk about the crisis at America’s frontiers until they are blue in the face. Their anguish has become routine, and their frequent appeals for relief long ago faded into the indistinguishable din of American political discourse.
Now, in dealing with some small measure of what these border states have been going through, Democratic officials are making all the GOP’s arguments for them. The flood of illegal migrants has overwhelmed emergency and social services. It has destabilized communities, displaced local labor, and undermined public safety. And quite unlike their Republican counterparts, the Democrats’ seething reaction is generating a level of national media attention that the GOP’s immigration hawks could never achieve.
In the Founders’ vision, the states were the laboratories of democracy. They are supposed to experiment with different models of social organization. But experimentation involves risk and, sometimes, failure. If the sanctuary city model fails in response to the modest pressure Republicans have applied to it, the sanctuary city model was never sustainable in the first place.
Republican governors have managed to draft their opponents into their effort to popularize the burdens illegal migration imposes on border states. And they’ve done so evidently without inflicting any hardship on the migrants themselves, beyond those that already accompany illegal residency. Liberals’ discomfort over this is a consequence of their own policy preferences. There are many players in this drama who deserve our sympathy, but the sanctuary cities that now must live up to their rhetoric are not among them.