Pentagon again denies Bowser request for National Guard help for migrants


The Defense Department on Monday again said it will not help the District deal with the thousands of migrants who have arrived on buses from Texas and Arizona, upholding the department’s previous denial of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s earlier request for National Guard deployment.

In a letter to Bowser (D), Pentagon Executive Secretary Kelly Bulliner Holly outlined a host of reasons National Guard troops can’t be deployed, including the fact that its members are not trained to provide the type of services that would be required to help the migrants, including feeding, sanitation and management of a central processing facility.

More than 7,000 migrants from countries such as Venezuela or Nicaragua have arrived at Union Station on buses since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) began offering the free rides in April to highlight what he had called lax border enforcement policies by the Biden administration. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) followed suit in May.

Aid for arriving migrants strained amid dispute over who should help them

With some of those migrants sleeping outside Union Station and in hotel parking lots, Bowser called the situation an escalating humanitarian crisis, accusing the Republican governors of making political fodder of the migrants who, in most cases, have fled death threats or other dangers in their countries and are seeking asylum.

In a series of tweets Monday night, Bowser said the city would continue planning to ensure there is a “humane setting” for the migrants “coming through DC on their way to their final destination.” She also pledged to “continue working with federal partners and local NGOs on the best way to set up systems that allow us to manage an ongoing humanitarian crisis.”

In July, Bowser asked for 150 National Guard troops to be deployed to help receive the buses and for a temporary processing center to be created at the D.C. Armory, the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling military installation or the Fort Lesley J. McNair post — all of which are short drives from Union Station.

In her letter, Bulliner Holly said the Pentagon was also denying the request to use one of those facilities, but only cited problems at the Armory in its reasoning. That facility, Bulliner Holly said, has no air conditioning and would have to undergo a host of repairs to deal with other problems before it could be suitable for overnight stays — an expensive and timely undertaking, the letter said.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said Monday that the agency is in regular touch with both Bowser and New York Mayor Eric Adams (D), whose city has also received buses from Texas and Arizona, to coordinate available federal aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies.

Federal funding is also available to nonprofits working on the issue, the spokesman said.

The responsibility of helping the migrants has fallen to local aid groups, some of which have opposed Bowser’s request for National Guard deployment, calling such a move an unnecessary militarization of a humanitarian crisis.

SAMU First Response, an organization initially set up to offer aid to unaccompanied minors, has been operating a temporary shelter in Montgomery County for 50 migrants at a time under a $1 million FEMA grant. That organization is seeking a larger space closer to Union Station that would be able to temporarily house more people.

Other aid groups, most of them volunteer-based, have met the buses as they’ve arrived and driven the migrants to that facility or to hotels and other temporary shelters inside churches or nonprofit organizations.

Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.

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