WASHINGTON– The Pentagon denied a request from the District of Columbia to assist the National Guard in a “growing humanitarian crisis,” which the mayor described as a “growing humanitarian crisis” sparked by thousands of migrants moving out two southern states were brought to the city.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin declined to provide security guards and use of the DC armory to help welcome migrants into the city, according to US defense officials. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the district may be able to send an amended, “more specific” request, adding that she believes this is the first time a DC request for the National Guard has been denied.
An official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a not-yet-released decision, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Food and Shelter Program has allocated funds to the problem and has indicated those funds are sufficient at this time .
Bowser, the district’s Democratic mayor, last month formally asked the White House for an indefinite deployment of 150 National Guard members per day and a “suitable federal site” for a mass housing and processing center, and mentioned the DC Armory as a logical candidate.
In the spring, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, announced plans to send busloads of migrants to Washington, DC, in response to President Joe Biden’s decision to call an emergency Repeal pandemic-era health regulation that restricted migrants’ entry numbers. On Friday, Abbott said the first group of migrants from his state had now also been bussed to New York.
By mid-July, about 5,200 migrants had been bused from Texas to DC and more than 1,100 from Arizona since April, which began in May. The governors are calling the practice a voluntary ride — paid for by state taxpayers — that brings migrants closer to families or support networks.
But Bowser dismissed that characterization last month, saying asylum seekers are being “tricked” as many don’t get close enough to their final destinations and some are dropped off at Union Station, near the US Capitol and White House. Often they come with no resources and no idea what to do next.
On Friday, Bowser told reporters that the Pentagon appeared “concerned about the openness of our request.” and that a more specific one would help.
“We want to continue working with the Department of Defense so they understand our operational needs and make sure political considerations are not part of their decision,” Bowser said, adding that she believes the “crisis” will only get worse. We need the National Guard. If we were a state, I would have done that long ago.”
A coalition of local charity groups has been working to feed and shelter the migrants, supported by a $1 million grant from FEMA. But organizers have warned that both their resources and staff were on the verge of exhaustion.
“This reliance on NGOs is dysfunctional and unsustainable — they are overstretched and underfunded,” Bowser said in her letter. She has repeatedly said the influx stresses her government’s ability to care for its own homeless residents and now requires a federal response.
Bowser slammed Abbott and Ducey, accusing them of “cruel political shenanigans” and saying the pair “decided to use desperate people to score political points.”
Abbott explained his decision to add New York City as a travel destination, saying that Biden’s “refusal to acknowledge the crisis caused by his open borders policy” has forced Texas to “take unprecedented action to protect our communities.”
He said the migrants would be dropped off at the Port Authority bus station.
“Alongside Washington, DC, New York City is the ideal destination for these migrants, who can receive the wealth of city services and housing that Mayor Eric Adams boasted about in the city of refuge,” Abbott said.
In response, Adams spokesman Fabien Levy tweeted that Abbott’s “continued use of humans as political pawns is disgusting. NYC will continue to welcome asylum seekers with open arms as we always have, but we still need support from DC.”
As DC’s mayor, Bowsesr does not have the authority to personally order a National Guard deployment, an issue that has become emotionally charged in recent years as a symbol of the district’s established status as less than a state.
Her limited authority played a role in the January 6, 2021 riot in the US Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump. When it became clear that Capitol Police were overwhelmed by the crowd, Bowser was unable to deploy the precinct guard immediately. Instead, crucial time was lost while the application was reviewed at the Pentagon, and protesters rampaged through the building.
Associated Press writer Ashraf Khalil in Washington, DC and Karen Matthews in New York City contributed to this report.