Home Part of States Newsroom
Texas flies over 120 immigrants to Chicago in expansion of Gov. Greg Abbott’s busing plan


Texas flies over 120 immigrants to Chicago in expansion of Gov. Greg Abbott’s busing plan

Dec 20, 2023 | 5:41 pm ET
By Uriel J. García
Texas state capitol

Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Texas flew out over 120 immigrants from El Paso to Chicago on Tuesday as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s policy of transporting recently arrived migrants to Democratic-led cities he has described as sanctuaries, according to the governor’s office.

Since April 2022, Abbott has ordered to send buses with immigrant passengers to Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver and Los Angeles, sometimes mocking those cities’ leaders for saying they welcome immigrants and criticizing the Biden administration’s policies on immigration.

In total, Texas has bused over 80,000 people from border cities to those six cities, according to the governor’s office. Tuesday’s flight was the first time Texas has used planes to transport immigrant passengers.

According to a report by WTTW, a Public Broadcasting Service member TV station in Chicago, city officials there have cracked down on some of the bus drivers coming from Texas, saying they’ve ignored municipal rules on where to drop off the passengers. Last week, the city impounded a bus because the driver was not licensed to transport passengers.

"Because [Chicago] Mayor [Brandon] Johnson is failing to live up to his city's ‘Welcoming City’ ordinance by targeting migrant buses from Texas, we are expanding our operation to include flights to Chicago, like the Biden Administration has been doing across the country,” said Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesperson for Abbott. “Until President Biden steps up and does his job to secure the border, Texas will continue taking historic action to help our local partners respond to this Biden-made crisis.”

All of the migrants Texas has transported recently crossed the Texas-Mexico border, turned themselves to immigration agents and were released after officials conducted a background check.

According to the governor’s office, migrants willingly accept Texas-sponsored transportation and sign a consent waiver.

In the federal fiscal year 2023, which ended in September, there were 2 million encounters at the Southern border between migrants and Border Patrol agents at the southern border. It represented a 7% decrease from the previous fiscal year, which had hit a record-breaking number of 2.2 million encounters.

In October, the number of migrants Border Patrol agents encountered crossing the U.S.-Mexico border was down 14% from 218,763 the month prior, according to the latest federal government data. But according to news reports, immigration agents apprehended more than 10,800 immigrants across the Southwest border on Monday, higher than the usual average of daily apprehensions, citing previously unreleased data.

Earlier this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it temporarily suspended operations at the international railway bridges in Eagle Pass and El Paso to redirect personnel to help Border Patrol agents with taking migrants into custody.

Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas said on Tuesday that immigration officials estimated that about 4,000 migrants crossed from Piedras Negras in Mexico to Eagle Pass the day before.

Since March 2021, Abbott has employed different tactics to deter the number of immigrants crossing the Rio Grande, including stationing troopers and National Guard members across the Texas-Mexico border to arrest migrants on trespassing charges.

On Monday, Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law, which authorizes police to arrest people suspected of illegally crossing the Texas-Mexico border. Immigrant rights groups and El Paso County have sued Texas, asking a federal judge to prevent SB 4 from going into effect. As of now, the new law is scheduled to take effect on March 5.

The law would make it a state crime to cross the Texas-Mexico border between ports of entry. The new crime is a Class B misdemeanor carrying a punishment of up to six months in jail. Repeat offenders could face a second-degree felony with a punishment of two to 20 years in prison.

The law allows a judge to drop the charges if a migrant agrees to return to Mexico.