Busloads of migrants to the United States were dropped off early Thursday near Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory, amid a new tactic by Republican governors in the national debate over asylum seekers.
The migrants — many carrying everything they own in plastic bags, including their immigration paperwork — were sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in protest of immigration policies, he said. Aide workers and volunteers sprang into action to help them.
One of the migrants new to D.C. told reporters about his journey since he and his sister fled Venezuela. They walked through a jungle for eight days, walking 12 hours a day, he said.
“Very difficult. Mexico, a lot of corruption to get to the border. But thank God we were able to cross,” he said via an interpreter.
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Men, women and children who arrived before 7 a.m. didn’t know what was happening, said Tatiana Laborde, managing director of the humanitarian nonprofit SAMU First Response.
“They knew they were on a bus in Texas and they knew that organizations were coming here to receive them — as we have been, in collaboration with other local organizations, since day one — but they were not expecting to be left in this residential area for an even-stronger political statement,” she said.
Abbott, the governor of Texas, said in a tweet early Thursday: “VP Harris claims our border is ‘secure’ & denies the crisis. We’re sending migrants to her backyard to call on the Biden Administration to do its job & secure the border."
Abbott was referring to the vice president’s remarks this past Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
“The border is secure, but we also have a broken immigration system — in particular over the last four years before we came in — and it needs to be fixed,” Harris said.
“We have a secure border, in that that is a priority for any nation, including ours and our administration, but there are still a lot of problems we are trying to fix,” she continued.
Harris’ office did not immediately release a public comment on Thursday.
Thousands of migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum in the U.S., have arrived in D.C. on buses from Texas and Arizona since April. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public emergency in the District last week to provide services to migrants.
Busloads of migrants have primarily arrived at Union Station. Aid groups and volunteers outside the Naval Observatory, located on Massachusetts Avenue NW, said they were ready at about 5:30 a.m. to help migrants at the train station. Then they learned of a “last-minute change” to drop people off near Harris’ home instead, Laborde said.
People at the Naval Observatory said the Secret Service seemed caught off guard. They helped people get from near the entrance to the property to the other side of the street.
Aid groups were working to get 101 people needed food, clothing, hygiene kits and transportation, Laborde said. The people on the buses were taken to a church. From there, they will either go to hotels or shelters, or be provided transportation to their destinations.
The arrival of migrants to the Naval Observatory came hours after the unannounced arrival of migrants on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard. A representative from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' office told NBC Boston that the planes came from his state.
Local officials opened emergency shelters after what Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts called a “cruel stunt” by DeSantis.
There is no coordination between Texas officials, D.C. officials and aid workers, so it’s unknown if more buses will arrive at the vice president’s residence or other locations in D.C.
In remarks last week, D.C.’s mayor called on the Biden administration and Congress to take responsibility for thousands of asylum seekers entering the U.S.
“What we need in this country is we need the Congress to do its job and fix the immigration system. We have millions of people living in this country who don’t have the means to take care of themselves and have a secure life, and we need a pathway to citizenship for them,” she said.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.