Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
WASHINGTON — Sitting in the plaza in front of Union Station in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Capitol behind her, Ordalis Heras, a 26-year-old Venezuelan asylum-seeker, tried to control her two young children while she waited to get transportation to New York.
Two months ago, Heras said she fled Venezuela with her husband and children to escape President Nicolás Maduro’s regime. She crossed the border on Sunday through Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and surrendered to U.S. immigration authorities in Del Rio.
On Tuesday, she took an offer from the state of Texas to be taken about 1,700 miles to Washington, D.C., for free. Now, a day later, she was about 200 miles away from her final destination.
“We are very thankful for all the help that has been given to us,” Heras said in Spanish outside Union Station. “Frankly, we did not have the money to get here otherwise, so we are very thankful for the help.”
Heras was one of about 30 people on the first bus transporting migrants from the Texas border to Washington, D.C., under a new plan unveiled by Gov. Greg Abbott last week. The governor said the order is in response to the Biden administration’s decision to end Title 42, a pandemic-era emergency health order that allowed immigration authorities at the border to deny entry to migrants, even those seeking asylum.
When the health order goes away at the end of May, federal authorities expect as many as 18,000 migrants a day at the southern border. Abbott said last week that Texas would bus migrants to the nation’s capital where the Biden administration could better deal with them.
The program is voluntary for migrants and must be requested by cities and counties, but the state pays for the buses.
"By busing migrants to Washington, D.C., the Biden Administration will be able to more immediately meet the needs of the people they are allowing to cross our border,” Abbott said in a Wednesday morning statement. “Texas should not have to bear the burden of the Biden Administration’s failure to secure our border."
Abbott’s office has said transportation to the nation’s capital would happen only after migrants detained at the border had been processed and released by the Department of Homeland Security. In addition to buses, Abbott also said the state could charter flights to transport migrants to the nation’s capital. The migrants would have to show documentation that they had already been processed by DHS.
People from Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua made the journey from Texas’ border to Capitol Hill on that first bus, the governor’s office said, adding that another bus is already en route. Abbott’s office has released few details of the cost and extent of the bus operations and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
The bus appeared to be operated by a North Carolina-based company called Elder Charters, according to a Fox News video of the bus’ arrival to Washington. The company declined to comment Wednesday and directed questions to Texas state officials.
Heras’ bus arrived Wednesday morning a few blocks away from the Capitol and Union Station, where the migrants, flanked by several volunteers with the Catholic Church, awaited transport to the next leg of their respective journeys. According to John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities and a volunteer with the migrants, most of the bus’ passengers had family in the area and left immediately after arriving.
Through her journey, Heras said she and her family had been robbed, left penniless and left to sleep on the streets. But she said immigration officials in the U.S. treated them well, fed them and gave them documentation for future court hearings before transferring them to a church where they were offered a bus ride to Washington.
Enzler said he and other volunteers with his organization went to Union Station to assist the migrants after they heard of the bus arriving. A pamphlet from the charity that some of the migrants held said the organization could assist them with applying for food stamps, finding employment, online vocational programs and English classes. (Asylum seekers and migrants working to receive legal immigration status are generally ineligible for food stamps.)
Heras said the bus trip took 30 hours, adding that they were also fed and well cared for by officials on the bus. From Washington, she said, the charity group will help her family get to New York, where she and her family plan to continue the asylum-seeking process. She does not have family there but she said she will stay with groups that help immigrants.
“From here on in, I think things will be better,” she said. “I have hope that things will be better and that my children will have a better quality of life.”
We can’t wait to welcome you in person and online to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol from Sept. 22-24. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.