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'Inhumane, cruel, and evil': Congressman Adriano Espaillat speaks out against GOP-led migrant transfers

Black Catholic politicians are among those bearing the brunt of their co-religionists' actions at the border, and they aren't going without a fight.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York during an event last week advocating for migrant protections. (Espaillat/Twitter)

Rep. Adriano Espaillat of New York, one of two Black Catholics in Congress, has released a statement on the country's migrant crisis—most recently involving Republican governors sending new arrivals to various Democrat-led areas, including NYC.

“Our city and this nation will and must welcome refugee families,” the three-term incumbent said in a statement on Saturday, September 17.

“The actions of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey are shameful.”

Espaillat called the new Republican strategy ahead of pivotal mid-term elections “inhumane, cruel, and evil,” just days after presidential hopeful DeSantis flew a group of mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Several of the migrants later said they were told they were being flown to Boston, leading critics to accuse the Republican governors and their allies of deception, and possibly even kidnapping or trafficking. Other migrant groups have been transported in recent days to various major cities, though much less covertly.

“Buses have been arriving to New York City for months, and more are expected [Sunday],” Espaillat said.

“I vow to continue my efforts and work in collaboration with officials and advocates at the federal, state and city levels to ensure a whole government approach to support municipalities with resources to assist asylum-seeking families who need our assistance today, more than ever."

Responses to the migrant transfers have been multifaceted, including sharp criticism from Democrat politicians and voters, as well as those sympathetic to the cause and concerns of those fleeing authoritarian regimes and other crises. Many conservative voices, however, say that those who advocate for more open borders should bear the cost of supporting those who enter through them.

As the crisis grows, Espaillat has joined with several of his Democratic colleagues to advocate for the expansion of Temporary Protected Status for at-risk migrants, co-hosting an event on the topic last Thursday (later endorsed by his fellow Black Catholic congressman in Rep. Anthony G. Brown of Maryland).

Like New York City’s, governments such as that of Washington DC have had to coordinate massive humanitarian responses as hundreds of migrants arrive from the South, with Mayor Muriel Bowser—also a Catholic—creating a new Office of Migrant Services earlier this month in response to the influx of new arrivals.

Comparisons have been drawn in recent days to the so-called “Reverse Freedom Rides” of 1962 during the Civil Rights Movement, in which racist Southern politicians sent busloads of African Americans to the North and West, making false promises of free housing and gainful employment. Similar promises were allegedly made to migrants in recent weeks.

“Like clockwork, MAGA Republicans are once again attempting to politicize immigration,” Espaillat said in a tweet on Friday afternoon, before releasing his official statement.

While most of the cities to which migrants are being sent are in fact sanctuary cities, known to be lenient to those who may enter the United States without proper authorization, the mass arrivals are causing major stress to local response forces—including in Martha’s Vineyard, where the unexpected migrants were quickly moved from the island to a nearby military base.

Among those at work in the humanitarian response is Catholic Charities, which has mobilized to support migrants both in GOP-led areas and in the cities where migrants have since been shipped, with many of the moves coming just before the Catholic Church's celebration of National Migration Week (September 19-25) and the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Monday, September 26.

Notably, all three GOP governors currently involved in the migrant transfers are themselves Catholics.

Their co-religionist Espaillat, himself a Dominican-American and formerly an undocumented immigrant, says his city will remain “welcoming and compassionate.”

“As a right to shelter city, we have a moral and legal obligation to provide asylum seekers the right to seek refuge—and we will never turn anyone away.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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