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LA's mayor calls Texas governor's busing of migrants a despicable stunt

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

On a cloudy Wednesday afternoon last week, a bus of 42 people pulled into downtown LA's Union Station. All of those on board were migrants, including young children from countries far and wide like Venezuela, Guatemala, China. These migrants had spent 23 hours on a journey from South Texas to Los Angeles. This is all part of a series of moves by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and other GOP leaders to send migrants to cities run by Democrats. Abbott has said that Texas is, quote, "overwhelmed and overrun" by thousands of people crossing from Mexico into Texas. Well, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has condemned the move, and she is here with us now to speak more about this. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

KAREN BASS: Thank you. Always happy to be on.

SUMMERS: Well, what is the latest you've heard about how these people who were on that bus last week? How are they doing right now?

BASS: Well, I believe they're doing OK. I don't have a recent report, but here's the good news. When they arrived - because our team and our emergency management department was put on notice in January that at any point the governors of Florida and Texas might send groups of migrants. The idea that 60,000 people have been sent to New York - we were very concerned. So we were prepared, even though there was no attempt to contact us. The migrants were put on a bus basically without food or water, but our community organizations and our city officials and our faith community rallied and made sure that each of the individuals that arrived were connected with family members or friends in the geographic area. So we were lucky. But it was pure luck because there was no attempt to coordinate, which meant, in my opinion, it was a political stunt that was despicable and reminiscent of the Trump administration. And I'm very concerned that this behavior might continue from these two governors.

SUMMERS: Well, LA has for some time now been, at least symbolically, considered a sanctuary city. But it wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that the city council here approved a motion to officially make Los Angeles a sanctuary city for immigrants. Explain for everyone listening, practically speaking, what does that ordinance do?

BASS: And you know what? That was a surprise to me because from my point of view, LA had been a sanctuary city from years ago. I did not realize it hadn't been codified into law. The primary reason for that is to protect immigrants, because we don't want the Los Angeles Police Department essentially doing the work of ICE, of immigration. Undocumented immigrants are vulnerable. And if they feel like they can't report a crime, they can't call public officials or they might be deported, then that compromises the safety of all Angelenos.

SUMMERS: Well, the way I understand it, and I'm just reading from a news release here, this city ordinance ensures that no city resources, property or personnel are to be used for federal immigration enforcement. So does this mean, then, that being a sanctuary city essentially translates into Los Angeles is prepared to spend city resources, property and personnel to help migrants find shelter and services? Is that something that you would stand by as the mayor of the city?

BASS: Well, of course. This is a city of immigrants. We have people here from over a hundred countries. And obviously, we want to make sure that anybody in our city is protected. We are also a city that has 40,000 unhoused people. And so we are in the middle of a crisis where we are not able to provide housing for Angelenos. But that should never be an excuse for there to be an anti-immigrant sentiment. And what the governors are doing in these other cities is just a reflection of their xenophobia, of their anti-immigrant ideology. And it's really political. This is in preparation for the 2024 election. The Republicans plan to run on an anti-immigrant platform just like they have been doing pretty consistently over the last few years.

SUMMERS: But is this city, is Los Angeles in a position to absorb more busloads of migrants should Governor Abbott or any other Republican leaders send more busloads this way?

BASS: No. Well, that's why I said if what happened to New York happened in Los Angeles, it would send a city that is already in a crisis and it would exacerbate that crisis.

SUMMERS: Well, Greg Abbott and other Republican leaders say that they're also just trying to send a message to the Biden administration. They say the federal government should be doing more to secure the border. Do you agree with that point, that the federal government should do more?

BASS: The last I checked, President Biden resides in the White House in Washington, D.C., not in Los Angeles. I absolutely believe that Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I supported it and worked on it every year I was in Congress.

SUMMERS: And what about the Biden administration? Is there any specific assistance you would like to see from the president as you navigate helping migrants like the ones who just arrived last week?

BASS: Well, I will tell you that I've been very excited to work with the Biden administration. We just finished signing a memorandum of understanding to tackle the problem of homelessness in Los Angeles. And so far, the Biden administration has been very supportive.

SUMMERS: Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass. Thank you so much for your time.

BASS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Tinbete Ermyas
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.