District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine has launched an investigation into whether governors of southern border states tricked immigrants in what he called a “political stunt” to ferry them to Washington.
Racine told ProPublica and the Texas Tribune that his office is investigating whether immigrants were deceived by tour operators before boarding buses to Washington, including several hundred who were bussed from Texas under the governor’s instructions. Greg Abbott and dropped off near the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. . Racine’s office has the power to initiate criminal misdemeanor charges or file civil fraud cases.
Racine said that in interviews with his investigators, arriving immigrants “spoke persuasively of being misled, speaking of promised services.” He did not provide any details about the investigation, including whether it is being handled by his office’s criminal or civil divisions. The attorney general’s office declined to answer further questions.
Various state and federal laws may apply to the transportation of immigrants across state lines. Racine’s office could check to see if anyone committed fraud by falsely promising jobs or services, if there were civil rights violations, or if officials misused taxpayers’ money.
Racine’s investigation comes after weeks of escalating tensions between some Republican governors and the Biden administration over immigration policy. In April, Abbott began busing immigrants to Washington who had been processed and released by federal immigration officials, and he later expanded the initiative to New York and Chicago. To date, more than 12,000 immigrants have been moved from border towns.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey followed Abbott’s lead and ferried 2,170 immigrants to Washington in 60 buses, according to Ducey spokesman CJ Karamargin. Most of them, he said, had said they hoped to move to New York, New Jersey or Florida.
Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is seeking re-election, accelerated the issue and moved it to the forefront of a national debate over Biden’s immigration policies. He sent two charter flights to Martha’s Vineyard carrying Venezuelan immigrants who arrived in Texas. Local Texas officials said they were not consulted.
Immigrants and their advocates said passengers on charter flights were told they would be jobs and support given. A Texas sheriff has opened a criminal investigation to find out whether Florida officials violated the law by recruiting the migrants to a Texas shelter.
Racine’s involvement increases the pressure on the governors about their actions.
Elected as a Democrat, Racine criticized Republican governors for using “people as props.” That’s what they did with the immigrants.
Racine’s office can prosecute certain misdemeanors, and crimes are handled by the US Attorney’s office. But his most high-profile work has been filing civil fraud suits against nonprofits and corporations. In May, it reached a $750,000 settlement in a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump’s Inaugural Committee, alleging he misused donor funds by paying too much for rentals at the Trump International Hotel.
Governors said they had done nothing wrong by transporting immigrants to “sanctuary cities” that might be better equipped to care for them. They say they want the rest of the nation to share the burden of what they call the Biden administration’s open border policies.
Abbott, who is also campaigning for re-election, said that he had immigrants flown from Texas to the Harris residence in DC to draw attention to border security, saying on Twitter: “We are sending migrants to his backyard to ask the Biden administration to do its job and secure the border.”
In a statement to ProPublica and the Tribune, Abbott’s publicist Renae Eze denied any deception in Texas’ migrant transport program, which has now sent 8,200 people to Washington on more than 195 buses, 3,200 in New York on over 60 buses and 920 in Chicago on over 15 buses.
“These Democratic elites in our nation’s capital know nothing about the Texas bus operations. These migrants voluntarily chose to travel to Washington, DC, after signing a voluntary consent waiver available in multiple languages upon boarding that they agreed to the destination. And they were processed and released by the feds, which dumped them in small border towns in Texas,” she wrote.
DeSantis’ office did not respond, but the governor said he intends to transport more immigrants out of Florida. Ducey’s spokesperson said Arizona is working with a regional health center to ensure immigrants are well-treated and get to their desired final destinations. Ducey said he would continue to transport migrants by bus in Washington until he leaves office in January.
Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, an advocacy group, said some immigrants sent from Texas to Harris’ residence in Washington told his team they had been misled about their destination final. Immigrants believed they were bound for Union Station, the city’s transportation hub, where many hoped to connect with family or trains and buses to other locations. Instead, he said, they were dropped off around 6 a.m. at an undisclosed location, where a church group quickly organized to pick them up.
“I think they’re tricked and used,” Garcia said.
Since the spring, buses have been arriving almost daily at Union Station, where immigrants can now seek help from a new city office for migrant services. So far, Texas taxpayers have spent about $14 million transporting migrants, according to state records. Buses to Washington have continued in recent days, with several additional arrivals at the vice president’s residence.
Meanwhile, Florida procurement records to suggest that the state’s transportation agency intends to continue using chartered air services to transport out-of-state immigrants through June 30. seller chosen for charter flights is run by a Republican donor state.
The Inspector General of the US Treasury Department examines Florida’s use of cash COVID-19 funds to fund its migrant transport program, Politico reported. DeSantis’ office says he used the money properly.
Kirsten Berg contributed to the research.