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Texas sends immigrants by bus; many are happy to go

(CNN) — Genesis Figueroa and her husband spent more than a month traveling from Venezuela to the U.S. border, an exhausting trip that was cut short when she was admitted with pneumonia in Guatemala.

Less than a week after finding shelter in Eagle Pass, Texas, after crossing the Rio Grande, they embarked on another journey Thursday morning: this time to the city of Washington, by bus.

Figueroa and her husband are among thousands of immigrants transported from the Lone Star State to Washington and New York City this year at the behest of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in an effort to highlight their criticism of the Biden administration’s immigration policies .

“Before we started transporting immigrants to New York, it was only Texas and Arizona that bore the brunt of all the chaos and problems that come with it,” the governor said in a statement this week. “Now the rest of America can understand exactly what’s going on.”

Abbott said Friday that the state has transported more than 7,000 immigrants to Washington since April and more than 900 immigrants to New York since Aug. 5.

Many, like Figueroa, are happy to leave Texas. Buses stop in several cities en route to the northeast, allowing migrants to disembark to meet friends and family elsewhere. In Washington, Figueroa and her husband will meet with their friends.

But New York officials have criticized travel conditions, saying immigrants arriving on those buses are hungry, thirsty and “often sick.”

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“We’ve been on the road for so long that we don’t care about another two or three days,” Figueroa (28) told CNN in Spanish.

Nor the cousins ​​Luis Pulido and Aynner Garrido, who traveled from Venezuela to Texas for six weeks. Pulido’s younger brother did not come to the United States with them. He disappeared when the group swam across the Rio Grande. Officers at the shelter in Texas told Pulido that they had found his brother’s body; he drowned.

But the cousins ​​have come this far and are determined to continue with their plans. They will get on the bus to the city of Washington and will get off before their destination, in Kentucky, where their relatives will be waiting to pick them up.

“They want to go on the buses,” said Valeria Wheeler, executive director of Mission: Border Hope, a nonprofit serving the border community in Eagle Pass. “No one was forced.”

The groups go partly because they want to, Wheeler added, and partly because it’s a free ride to New York or Washington.

Receiving cities struggled to accommodate the increase in immigrants and their needs. New York City officials said last week that intake centers were already overwhelmed, and while they planned to open more emergency housing this month, they ran into problems stemming from a lack of coordination from the state of Texas.

“Basically, they weaponized this situation,” Manuel Castro, commissioner of the mayor’s office of immigrant affairs, said during a recent City Council hearing. “We learned that the bus company they were working with has a confidentiality agreement that doesn’t allow them to communicate with New York.” Abbott’s office did not respond to previous CNN questions about confidentiality agreements for bus companies.

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New York Mayor Eric Adams also accused Abbott of forcing immigrants onto buses, which the governor denied.

Last week, Washington City Mayor Muriel Bowser renewed a request for the National Guard to help with the continued arrival of migrants, after an earlier request was rejected. His office said the city had reached a “tipping point.”

The mayor’s office also requested to turn an “appropriate federal location” into a processing center for migrants, saying a local welcome center in Maryland is full, CNN previously reported.

Back in Eagle Pass, more than 40 people, including men, women and children, boarded the bus headed for Washington City Thursday morning with cousins ​​Pulido and Garrido, and Figueroa and her husband.

When she got there, Figueroa told CNN she hoped she could find work cooking, cleaning or in an office so she could support her family at home.

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