WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon rejected a request from the District of Columbia seeking National Guard assistance in what the mayor has called a "growing humanitarian crisis" prompted by thousands of migrants being bused to the city from two southern states.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to provide Guard personnel and the use of the D.C. Armory to assist with the reception of migrants into the city, according to U.S. defense officials. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the district may send an amended, "more specific" request, adding that she believes this is the first time a D.C. request for National Guard has been denied.
One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision not yet made public, said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency's food and shelter program has provided funding for the problem, and has indicated those funds are sufficient at this point.
Bowser, the district's Democratic mayor, formally asked the White House last month for an open-ended deployment of 150 National Guard members per day as well as a "suitable federal location" for a mass housing and processing center, mentioning the D.C. Armory as a logical candidate.
During the spring, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, announced plans to send busloads of migrants to Washington, D.C., in response to President Joe Biden's decision to lift a pandemic-era emergency health order that restricted migrant entry numbers by denying them a chance to seek asylum. The rule remains in effect under court order.
On Friday, Abbott said the first group of migrants from his state had now been bused to New York as well.
As of mid-July, about 5,200 migrants had been bused from Texas to D.C. since April. As of Aug. 3, more than 1,300 had been sent from Arizona since May. The governors call the practice a voluntary free ride - paid for by state taxpayers — that gets migrants closer to family or support networks.
But Bowser last month dismissed that characterization, saying that the asylum-seekers are being "tricked," as many don't get close enough to their final destinations and some are ditched at Union Station near the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Often they arrive with no resources and no clue what to do next.
On Friday, Bowser told reporters that the Pentagon appears to be concerned "about the open-ended nature of our request." and that a more specific one would help.
"We want to continue to work with the Department of Defense so that they understand our operational needs and to assure that political considerations are not a part of their decision," Bowser said, adding that she believes the "crisis" will only worsen. "We need the National Guard. If we were a state, I would have already done it."
A coalition of local charitable groups has been working to feed and shelter the migrants, aided by a $1 million grant from FEMA. But organizers have been warning that both their resources and personnel were nearing exhaustion.
"This reliance on NGOs is not working and is unsustainable — they are overwhelmed and underfunded," Bowser said in her letter. She has repeatedly stated that the influx is stressing her government's ability to care for its own homeless residents and now requires a federal response.
Bowser sharply criticized Abbott and Ducey, accusing them of "cruel political gamesmanship" and saying the pair had "decided to use desperate people to score political points."
Explaining his decision to add New York City as a destination, Abbott said that Biden's "refusal to acknowledge the crisis caused by his open border policies" forced Texas to "take unprecedented action to keep our communities safe."
He said the migrants are being dropped off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
"In addition to Washington, D.C., New York City is the ideal destination for these migrants, who can receive the abundance of city services and housing that Mayor Eric Adams has boasted about within the sanctuary city," Abbott said.
In response, Fabien Levy, spokesman for Adams, tweeted that Abbott's "continued use of human beings as political pawns is disgusting. NYC will continue to welcome asylum seekers w/ open arms, as we have always done, but we still need support from DC."
As mayor of D.C., Bowser 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 entrenched status as less than a state.
Her limited authority played a role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump. When it became clear that Capitol Police were overmatched by the crowds, Bowser couldn't immediately deploy the district guard. Instead, crucial time was lost while the request was considered inside the Pentagon, and protesters rampaged through the building.
Associated Press writer Ashraf Khalil in Washington, Karen Matthews in New York City and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.