(The Center Square) – The Texas Division of Emergency Management has spent $2.9 million so far to send 1,778 immigrants to Washington D.C. at taxpayer expense, according to documents released by the agency.
In April, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Division of Emergency Management to charter buses to transport migrants from Texas to Washington D.C. By the end of the month, Abbott had announced an effort to crowdfund the bus rides to offset the cost to taxpayers. That change came after criticism from some Republicans and support for the effort from some Democrats.
Abbott’s effort to call attention to immigration issues and President Joe Biden’s border policies has cost Texas taxpayers $2.9 million through June 7, according to invoices released by the Texas Division of Emergency Management in response to an open records request.
When the first charter bus carrying 24 passengers arrived in Washington D.C., Abbott issued a statement to share the news.
“As the federal government continues to turn a blind eye to the border crisis, the State of Texas will remain steadfast in our efforts to fill in the gaps and keep Texans safe,” Abbott said at the time. “By busing migrants to Washington, D.C., the Biden Administration will be able to more immediately meet the needs of the people they are allowing to cross our border. Texas should not have to bear the burden of the Biden Administration’s failure to secure our border.”
Records from the Texas Division of Emergency Management document bus trips from April 11 through June 7. Altogether, 61 buses carried 1,778 people to Washington D.C. The total cost of $2.9 million works out to about $1,600 per passenger. First-class airfare in June and July from San Antonio to Washington D.C. on United, American and Delta costs less than $1,200, according to Google Flights. A June 19 Greyhound bus ticket from San Antonio to Washington D.C. costs between $291 and $311. An Amtrak train ticket for June 19 costs between $282 and $384.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management and Wynne Transportation, the company contracted by the state to provide the busing, did not respond to emails seeking to verify the information provided in the documents obtained through the state’s open records laws.
The busing costs to taxpayers could climb. The governor’s office said Friday that more than 70 buses carrying 2,100 people have been sent to Washington D.C.
Some buses carried more passengers than others. One bus carried nine people. Another carried 53 people.
Texas taxpayers paid for drivers, security guards and GPS tracking, among other things. Security costs alone for the buses topped $1 million.
Selene Rodriguez, a policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said illegal immigration is costly.
“The way we see it, while any unnecessary taxpayer expenditures on illegal migrants should be avoided, in view of this expenditure in particular, one needs to take into account how much taxpayers would otherwise be spending if the migrants stay here, in terms of healthcare and other social services,” she said. “In healthcare alone, according to Texas Health and Human Services Commission data, Texas taxpayers have been forced to foot the bill for tens of millions of dollars per year in emergency medical and perinatal care.”
Rodriguez said the state estimates in 2019 Texas taxpayers paid $80 million for emergency Medicaid and $6 million for care to pregnant women.
“There is also a heavy fiscal burden on Texas public schools, since 2015 the costs have been as high at $176.42 million per year,” she said. “These costs will continue to rise as more migrants flood the Texas-Mexico border.”
State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, dismissed Abbott’s move as a stunt.
“Greg Abbott has never let fiscal responsibility or the interests of Texas taxpayers get in the way of a political stunt if he thinks it will help him,” Turner said.
Abbott’s Press Secretary Renae Eze said the charter bus efforts have helped Texans
“President Biden has turned a blind eye to the suffering of Texans, as his dangerous open border policies overrun border communities with a historic level of migrants from over 155 countries flooding into our state. After speaking to border officials desperate for help, Texas began busing migrants to our nation’s capital rather than let the federal government dump them in our border communities – and over 2,100 migrants have been bussed on 70 trips so far,” she said in a statement. “The Biden Administration has responded by slowing their dumping efforts – unintentionally providing relief to these overwhelmed border communities – and even instructing migrants not to board D.C-bound buses to avoid further embarrassment.”
Eze said the crowdfunding effort has raised more than $112,000.
“After Governor Abbott announced his plan to bus migrants to President Biden’s backyard in Washington, D.C., we received an outpouring of support from across our state and the entire country of people wanting to help and donate to the operation, raising over $112,000 so far,” she said. “Lt. Gov. [Dan] Patrick, [Texas House] Speaker [Dade] Phelan, Senator [Joan] Huffman, and Representative [Greg] Bonnen agreed with Gov. Abbott that additional funds were needed for Texas to respond to the humanitarian crisis created by the Biden Administration, authorizing the transfer of funding for Operation Lone Star and to help bus migrants to our nation’s capital, including providing security for the buses. Texas continues stepping up to help our local partners and protect Texans – it’s time for President Biden and Congress to step up and do their job to secure our border.”
In late April, those lawmakers approved the transfer of $495.3 million to continue funding Operation Lone Star and border operations at other state agencies. Some $465.3 million of that money will pay for the deployment of the Texas National Guard.