Bowser declares emergency, establishes office for migrants

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Thursday declared a public emergency regarding the influx of migrants from Arizona and Texas.

By declaring the emergency, Bowser established an Office of Migrant Services, within the Department of Human Services, to combine and streamline support and services to migrants.

The declaration “gives me an emergency authority that I don’t normally have,” Bowser said at a briefing Thursday. It lasts 15 days, Bowser said; during that time, the D.C. Council will be asked to pass emergency legislation to create and establish a framework for the office.

The mayor said the new office would provide reception, respite, meals, temporary accommodations, urgent medical services, transportation, connection to resettlement services and other needs. She added that the needs of migrants are distinct from those of the District’s homeless population.

The District is allocating $10 million for the new office, and will seek reimbursement from the federal government, Bowser said.

“With this plan,” the mayor said in a statement, “we are staying true to our D.C. values and building a system that will support a compassionate, consistent, and well-coordinated response.”

“In the spring, the governors of Texas and Arizona began busing migrants to Washington, D.C., in a political stunt meant to get the attention of the White House,” Bowser’s office said in the statement. Since then, the statement said, “Texas and Arizona have reported to the media that approximately 9,400 migrants have been bused” to the District.

Bowser said she couldn’t know how many people are still coming, saying, “The crisis at the border is not lessening; it’s getting worse.” She added, “We also know the political statements that we’ve heard from Texas and Arizona,” she said, adding that both states have pledged to continue, and even expand, busing indefinitely.

Council member Brianne Nadeau, of Ward 1, said she was “thrilled to see” the declaration, and would work to get the legislation passed when the council returns from recess..

“The governors of Texas and Arizona have created this crisis, and the federal government has not stepped up to help,” Nadeau said. “So we, along with our regional partners, will do what we’ve always done – well rise to the occasion.”

“Mayors do a lot of things, but we are not responsible for a broken immigration system,” Bowser said. “What we need in this country is for the Congress to do its job and fix this immigration system. We have millions of people living in this country who don’t have the means to take care of themselves and have a secure life. We need a pathway to citizenship for them. We need a pathway to work for them.”

The move comes after Bowser was twice refused permission, which governors of states do not need, to activate the National Guard to help.

Curfew questions

The mayor and deputy mayor for public safety were asked about a report in The Washington Post that the District is stepping up enforcement of its youth curfew, in step with neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Both said there was no such ramp-up of enforcement of the curfew, which has been on the books since 1995.

“We’ve always had a curfew,” Bowser said.

Deputy Mayor Christopher Geldart said there hadn’t been “any major enforcement” of the curfew since 2017. “There’s been no ramp-up of the enforcement of it,” Geldart said. “There’s been a steady enforcement when necessary. There’s no serious uptick” this summer over last.

“I have not announced or directed a new initiative around juvenile curfews,” Bowser said.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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