After Republicans escalate migrant busing scheme, White House condemns 'chaos'

GOP Govs. DeSantis, Abbott say they're calling on Biden to secure the border.

September 15, 2022, 5:20 PM

The Biden White House on Thursday condemned Republican governors who this week escalated their strategy of busing -- and now flying -- migrants to Democratic cities in protest of the administration's border policies.

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis sent two planes of migrants to Martha's Vineyard late Wednesday evening, surprising state and local officials. Roughly 100 migrants aboard two buses sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott were dropped off in front of Vice President Kamala Harris' Naval Observatory residence early Thursday morning.

DeSantis said the confrontational moves were a message to President Joe Biden and Harris to do their "damn job" and secure the border.

The White House and Democrats are calling the moves cruel, accusing the GOP leaders of creating "chaos."

"There's a legal way of doing this -- for managing migrants," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during Thursday's briefing with reporters. "Republican governors interfering in that process and using migrants as political pawns is shameful, is reckless, and just plain wrong."

Venezuelan migrants stand outside St. Andrew's Church after arriving in Martha's Vineyard from Florida in Edgartown, Mass., Sept. 14, 2022.
Ray Ewing/vineyard Gazette via Reuters

Jean-Pierre criticized the governors for appearing to give no notice to leaders on the ground.

"The fact that Fox News and not the Department of Homeland Security, the city or local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) were alerted about a plan to leave migrants, including children, on the side of a busy D.C. street makes clear that this is just a cruel premeditated political stunt," Jean-Pierre said.

The migrants were dropped off in Washington early Thursday were met by immigration advocates from the SAMU First Response, a humanitarian nonprofit foundation in Washington, which said they are receiving food, clothing and hygiene care.

Tatiana Laborde, the managing director of SAMU, told ABC News the migrants were "extremely confused and disoriented " when they landed on the sidewalk of the residential drop-off location.

Geoff Freeman, the director of Martha's Vineyard airport, told ABC News in a phone call "nobody on the island was informed" of the planes' arrivals.

"No local officials knew of this event until after it happened," Freeman said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd of supporters during the Keep Florida Free Tour in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 24, 2022.
Luis Santana/AP

DeSantis said sending migrants to Democrat-led states was a response to their previous "virtue signaling" by declaring themselves sanctuary jurisdictions during former President Donald Trump's years in office.

"We're not a sanctuary state," he said at Florida at a news conference.

Border state Republicans praised the migrant vans, arguing the crisis at the border is a problem that should be shouldered by the entire country.

"This is a national responsibility, it should be a national burden," said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Border crossings reached a peak in May as U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered 239,416 migrants along the southern border -- the largest number of migrants ever.

Encounters dropped slightly in June and July, but experts estimate the agency will cross 2 million apprehensions by the end of the fiscal year ending this month.

Harris was tapped by President Joe Biden last year to lead the administration's effort to tackle challenges at the border and work with Central American countries to address the root causes of the problem. Republicans have long criticized Harris's absence at the southern border since taking on the role.

Rep. August Pfluger, R-Texas, tweeted: "If our "Border Czar" won't visit the border, the border will visit her." Several GOP members of Congress on Thursday posted similar sentiments on social media Thursday.

Harris declined to comment when asked by ABC News' Justin Gomez if she had any reaction to the migrants that were dropped off in front of her residence.

A migrant looks out of the window of a school bus being used to transport a group who arrived from Florida in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Sept. 14, 2022.
Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via Reuters

The White House defended its immigration policies on Thursday while also acknowledging there's more work to be done.

Jean-Pierre pointed to steps to advance border technology, add more immigration judges and provide record funding to the Department of Homeland Security as proof the administration is committed to fixing what she described as a "decimated" immigration system left behind by the Trump administration.

"We are fixing a broken system," she told ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce when asked about the influx of migrants at the border. "It is not like turning the light switch on. It is going to take some time."

Jean-Pierre said Republicans in Congress should instead focus on passing a long-term, comprehensive legislation to reform the immigration system.

"They deserve better than being left on the streets of D.C. or being left in Martha's Vineyard," the press secretary said of the migrants who've been transported. "They deserve a lot better than that."

- ABC News' Allison Pecorin, Briana Stewart, Miles Cohen and Luke Barr contributed to this report.

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