The Department of Homeland Security plans to transport migrants awaiting immigration proceedings from U.S. cities along the southern border farther into the interior of the country, beginning with Los Angeles in the coming weeks, according to internal documents obtained by NBC News.
The plan would alleviate overcrowding along the border, where record numbers of border crossers have overwhelmed the capacity of shelters in some cities, at times leading Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, to release migrants on the street to fend for themselves.
Typically, migrants who are allowed to stay in the country and make asylum claims are released to shelters run by religious and nongovernmental organizations after they are released from CBP custody. From there, the migrants pay for flights and bus transportation to cities where they go before immigration judges who will rule on their asylum claims.
The new model would use federal funds to send migrants to shelters in cities farther inside the country before they go to their final destinations. Besides Los Angeles, they will be sent to Albuquerque, New Mexico; Houston; Dallas; and other cities. DHS is working with shelters in each of the cities in advance of moving migrants. The agency’s Southwest Border Coordination Center, which combines officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CBP and other agencies, is coordinating the effort.
The 'Abbott plan'
Internally, DHS officials have jokingly referred to the model as the “Abbott plan,” an official said, referring to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to bus migrants from Texas to Washington, D.C., to bring the migrant surge to the feet of the nation’s political leaders.
Many migrants have accepted the free 30-hour ride to Washington to get closer to final destinations on the East Coast. Now, the official said, DHS is taking a page from Abbott’s book and paying for buses and flights itself to alleviate overcrowding.
In a statement, a DHS spokesperson said “no decision has been made” about moving migrants to interior cities. “Should a decision be made,” the spokesperson said, “DHS will continue to closely coordinate with and support cities and NGOs to facilitate the movement of any individual encountered at the Southwest border who is placed into removal proceedings pending the next steps in their immigration proceedings.”
A Covid-19 public health order known as Title 42, which has barred many asylum-seekers since 2020, is still in place, but fewer than 50 percent of migrants were expelled under the order in April, the last month for which data is available. CBP encountered migrants 234,088 times that month, a record; some migrants tried to cross more than once.