Sunday, June 16, 2024

L.A. Latinos welcome 42 migrants bused from Texas as ‘brothers and sisters’

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A month and a half ago, Miguel Ángel got off a bus in Los Angeles. He had been detained in an immigration center since January, after Border Patrol officers caught him and the four other people he was traveling with in the Sonoran Desert.

When Miguel Ángel was released from the center in late April, he said he was moved around various cities in Arizona and Central California, before he was given a bus ticket for L.A.

“Getting here was a surprise. I thought I would have been deported,” said Miguel Ángel, who is living in a shelter downtown and whom The Times is identifying only by his first name because of his undocumented status. “I just got here … and I already found a job, so I’m happy. I already cashed my check and sent a part to my family.”

On Wednesday, a bus of 42 migrants sent from Texas arrived in downtown Los Angeles. Some of those aboard were from Guatemala, Miguel Ángel’s home country. Others came from Venezuela, Honduras and China. Couples and families spent 23 hours on a foodless journey that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said would provide “much needed relief to Texas’ border communities.”

Miguel Ángel said he struggled to understand why the 42 migrants were bused to L.A. However, he said he was glad that other migrants had made their way to Los Angeles, which recently advanced a “sanctuary city” ordinance.

“It’s important that other people can have opportunities and stay here,” Miguel Ángel said. “Back in our country, the situation is very precarious. Everyone knows it. People even die while coming here. Some drop dead in the desert, others are kidnapped in Mexico, others are mistreated by the coyotes. Many things happen until you get here.”

Migrants were taken to St. Anthony's Croatian Catholic Church.

Last Wednesday, migrants were taken to St. Anthony’s Croatian Catholic Church after being driven on a bus from Texas and dropped off at Los Angeles Union Station.

(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times en Espanol)

Many Latino Angelenos have been paying close attention to the clash over immigration policy that pits California against conservative states. Since last year, Abbott and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida have bused or flown thousands of migrants to liberal cities across the country. Republican officials say the actions were necessitated by the failures of Biden administration border policies. But Democrats and activists say they are political stunts and have raised alarm over a potential lack of informed consent from some of the transported migrants.

“It’s sad,” said Guatemalan street food vendor Roselia Guarchaj, who was making tortillas in a corner stand on MacArthur Park. “Because some people were thinking something else. It’s not fair.”

Although little still is known about what the 42 migrants understood about their sponsor or their final destination when they boarded the bus, they all carried phone numbers of people they knew in California, said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, director of communications for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. The phone numbers allowed organizers to reunite the migrants with their families and friends in San Diego, San Francisco and the L.A. area by their second night in the state, he said.

“We don’t exactly know [if they wanted to come] or not. Nobody has told us that they don’t want to be here yet,” Cabrera said. “What we’re trying to investigate is when and where they have their court appointments to decide if they should stay here or go somewhere else, or if we can change the locality of their case.”

Olvera Street vendor Mayra Garcia said she heard about the news of the latest bus of migrants Thursday morning while she was getting ready for work. She expressed sympathy toward the migrants, who she said “came here for a better life.”

Mayra Garcia, 35, of Montebello works at Memo's Place at the Placita Olvera.

Mayra Garcia, 35, of Montebello works at Memo’s Place at the Placita Olvera.

(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times en Espanol)

“All the states should be working together. I don’t know how things are in Texas, but I’ve heard there’s a lot of racism towards Hispanic people, and I think [Abbott] should have accepted part of the people there instead of just saying, ‘I’m going to wash my hands, get on the bus and let other people deal with them,’” Garcia said. “What I am grateful for is that the other states haven’t said they don’t want migrants there, and that they’re accepting and helping them, which is also what’s happening in California.”

Although she thinks that Texas and Florida were not handling their immigration crises properly, Hortencia Galván also sees a contradiction in the quick actions that government officials have taken to support the bused migrants. In her view, undocumented workers who already are living in the city deserve the same level of attention and support from local officials.

“We all need the same opportunities,” said Galván, who lives a block from the church where the migrants were received on the first night. “I work at a restaurant and there’s many people who don’t have papers. I see that many of them have spent 20 to 30 years here and they can’t fix them.”

Guatemala native Virgilia, who requested to be referred to by only her first name because she has an upcoming appointment regarding the status of her visa, said she thought that the 42 migrants finding transport to L.A. was “a miracle.”

“That’s what I’m telling people. It’s a blessing.”

After hearing about the bused migrants, Notary Lesly Chavez said she decided to donate clothes she’d collected for other causes to the new arrivals. On Thursday, she drove to the Chinatown church where many of the migrants had spent the previous night. By the time she got there, though, they had all left.

Lesly Chavez of Van Nuys brought clean used clothes for the immigrants dropped off at St. Anthony's Croatian Catholic Church.

Notary Public Lesly Chavez brought donations for the migrants. She usually collects clothes for people on Skid Row and orphanages in Mexico, often with donations from her clients.

(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times en Espanol)

Westlake resident Mary Diaz said she felt that the city had plenty of space to spare so long as the migrants were “good people.”

“What happened in Miami was ugly because they got migrants out of there who didn’t know where they were going to be sent,” Diaz said. “Does it affect us? I don’t think so, the sun shines for everyone.”

Cabrera said that Angelenos had responded to the situation “in a beautiful way,” extending welcomes and donation offers to the migrants.

“As an immigrant, I feel the pain of our community. They’re brothers and sisters that come looking for a better future, that look for a place that welcomes them,” Cabrera said. “Texas doesn’t want them, so we need to act humanely and treat these people with respect and dignity. I think Los Angeles demonstrated that drama and scandal aren’t necessary to be able to help people who need it.”

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