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Pictured: A bus from Texas carrying migrants from south and central America.
A bus carrying migrants from South and Central America, sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, arrives in Philadelphia. Photo by Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

Advocates welcome migrant bus to Philadelphia

Philly is the latest in a cruel string of Democratic cities chosen by Texas Governor Greg Abbott as part of Operation Lone Star.

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Editor's note: Migrants have been transported to 600 Luzerne St, where services provided by the city will follow. 

Coats, sheets and winter gear wrapped in plastic were just some of the items prepared by immigrant advocacy groups as Philadelphia braced itself for a bus that carried a group of refugees on Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Migrant reroute are part of Abbott’s Operation Lone Star – established to ostensibly manage the influx of refugees at the southern border. Many of the diverted came from Central and South America, advocates told AL DÍA. 

At 6 a.m., a bus pulled into an avenue perpendicular to William H. Gray 30th St. Station, a busy transit area that connects Philadelphia to neighboring states. The bus carried migrants who’d just crossed the border seeking refuge in the U.S.

Sources involved in the supporting operation to welcome migrants told AL DÍA they had been preparing over the weekend and had organized refuge and services to be immediately available upon arrival. What groups knew from previous migrant diversions is that Philadelphia could eventually become a target of Abbott’s political game.

“It was only logical that Philadelphia, being a sanctuary city, was going to be a destination for these migrants who are looking for an opportunity in this country,” said Emilio Buitrago, co-founder of Casa de Venezuela, a nonprofit organization providing a series bilingual services to Philadelphia’s Hispanic population. 

Emilio Buitrago, Casa de Venezuela
EMilio Buitrago, co-founder of Casa de Venezuela, was one of many advocacy groups who organized shelter and continued services for incoming migrants. Photo by Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

“They’re looking for security and protection. A place where they can raise their families in a safe way. They’re not looking for government handouts,” Buitrago underlined. 

A coalition of groups had organized in tandem with the city to adequately prepare for what may have been an inevitable and unfortunate reality for refugees. And despite Abbott’s vacillating position on whether a bus was destined to Philly, Buitrago wasn’t concerned. 

“We were ready. What’s important about this is that we were ready. The city of Philadelphia is a place that opens its doors to immigrants, and it’s like they say in English, diversity is our strength,” Buitrago added. 

Upon their arrival, migrants were handed clothing to keep them warm and informational sheets before being transported to one of two SEPTA buses dedicated to transporting refugees to shelter. 

Coalition participants said the city was key in setting preparations in motion, in activating several branches of government to ensure services were readily available. “I am very proud of our city,” said city councilwoman Helen Gym. 

Gym arrived early in the morning and engaged in the site’s logistics. She could be seen moving boxes and speaking with advocates, many of whom requested that the press give the arriving migrants space and privacy. 

Gym was among the city reps to work with advocates that she said were “so incredibly responsive. 

“They were extremely skilled at welcoming people, at connecting them with housing and education, healthcare and employment (…) you got to see some of their work today,” she said. 

Councilwoman at Large Helen Gym
Councilwoman at Large Helen Gym helped coordinate services over the weekend in collaboration with local Philadelphia groups. Photo by Carlos Nogueras / AL DÍA News

The better part of the year has been treasonous and cruel to refuge-seeking migrants in the U.S. Families looking for safety instead find themselves amid a game of political chess, and they are the pawns. Abbott, in sending a message to the Biden administration — to ostensibly paint a clearer picture of the situation at the border — is diverting all arriving migrants to Democratically-led cities. 

Philadelphia is the latest city chosen by Abbott, following migrant drop-offs in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C, Martha’s Vineyard, and Delaware. All cities in Abbott’s list welcomed migrants with open arms, and ensured they were routes toward immediate safety, shelter, and available public services. 

In Philadelphia, several agencies were engaged in Wednesday’s operation.

“We had our Health Commissioner out here, our Managing Director was here, office of Emergency Management, Human Relations, our Police Department,” Gym explained. 

Asked whether Governor Abbott had given the city a heads up, Gym said “they didn’t expect any.”

“In terms of that individual, the Texas Governor who put a literal 10-year old to a bus for hours and hours, who was dehydrated and had a fever, he’s the one who’s inhumane. He needs to answer for that ridiculousness of a political stunt that he wants to conduct,” Gym remarked. 

“But our city is meeting this moment with humanity, and skill, and professionalism, and actual services.” 

And responding to what the financial cost of migrant support, Gym declined to answer but redirected the question toward other city agencies.

Although the city doesn’t know if more migrant buses are Philly-bound, Gym affirmed the city is likely to commit to continued services. 

“I think the city will be ready either way,” she said.

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