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Some immigrants will stay in Philly for a time, after being bused here by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

"Governor Abbott’s busing efforts serve as a ploy to wreak social discord and spread misinformation," one immigrant leader said.

A bus with migrants from Texas to Philadelphia arrives at JFK Boulevard just west of 30th Street on Wednesday morning.
A bus with migrants from Texas to Philadelphia arrives at JFK Boulevard just west of 30th Street on Wednesday morning.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

Nicaraguan immigrant Dobin Garmendia climbed off a bus from Texas and into the foggy predawn darkness Wednesday morning, a little uncertain about who had sent him on a two-day trip to Philadelphia.

People who he believed were Texas state officials offered him and others a free ride to Philadelphia, he said in Spanish, and that was good with him.

“I need to find work,” said Garmendia, 23, “and report to Immigration.”

He and 27 other migrants disembarked outside 30th Street Station just as the city was waking to life, passengers on a bus that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he sent to bring “much-needed relief to Texas’ overwhelmed border communities” — and that local advocates decried as a cruel trick on needy families who are legally in the country.

Philadelphia city officials said they didn’t know what promises or explanations were given to people to get them to board in Del Rio, Texas, a border city of 35,000 people about 150 miles west of San Antonio.

But they and immigrant leaders were preparing for more buses from Texas and potentially from other Southern states. The safe and caring welcome they organized on Wednesday now may need to be replicated, but where, when, and how often, no one could say.

Abbott has crowed over his delivery of thousands of immigrants to Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Chicago — and that he had added Philadelphia to the list.

At a morning news conference, Mayor Jim Kenney called it “sad and outrageous that Governor Abbott and his administration continue to implement their cruel and racist policies using immigrant families — including children — as pawns to shamelessly push their warped political agenda.”

One arriving child was taken to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with a fever. Others, children and adults, were given winter coats, blankets, and hot chocolate as they disembarked about 6:15 a.m.

“People are asking questions, ‘Why is the press here? What is happening?’” said Blanca Pacheco, codirector of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia. Her agency worked tirelessly during the last week to be sure people were met with care.

City Councilmember Helen Gym hugged a woman carrying a baby, and offered words of welcome to others in the early morning grayness.

Most or all of the arrivals, who are originally mostly from Colombia, and others from the Dominican Republic and Cuba, are seeking asylum, a protection that can be afforded to people who are persecuted in their home countries. Asylum is a legal means to remain in the United States, and if granted bestows the right to pursue citizenship.

“Seeking asylum is a human right,” Gym said. “Our country has always welcomed people seeking refuge here, and we have flourished because of that.”

The bus remained in Philadelphia only briefly, departing at 6:25 a.m. for new destinations as those still aboard sought to reach family members in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and other states.

Others had called family members from the road, making arrangements to meet in Philadelphia. Only two people will be staying in the city for an extended time.

On Wednesday evening, about 19 were at a city-organized welcome center in North Philadelphia.

“The mood is good,” State Rep. Amen Brown said after meeting with the arrivals. “They’re excited to see family members. Philly stepped up.”

People were being fed and undergoing medical screenings, and would have shelter for the next few days at a flat block building on Luzerne Street.

“It’s not the Four Seasons,” said Emilio Buitrago, founder of Casa De Venezuela. “They have a room to rest, they have a little TV, a microwave. Their basic needs are going to be covered right now.”

A woman named Georgina — whisked away by family members before she could provide her surname — explained in Spanish how she spent about two days on the road. Still, the 24-year-old said, she felt “super good” and was looking forward to spending time with her relatives.

She’s one of the two who will be staying in Philadelphia.

Since summer, the Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Office of Emergency Management have been preparing for the potential arrival of unscheduled, unanticipated buses from Southern states.

Those agencies have been planning with 15 local organizations, including New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, Juntos, HIAS Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, and Nationalities Service Center.

Those efforts intensified in the last several days, even as officials weren’t sure that a bus was coming. Sowing confusion and tying up resources, some said, was part of Abbott’s tactic.

“Time and time again, immigrants are used as tokens to advance the political agendas of individuals who have no interest in our communities’ well-being,” said Erika Guadalupe Núñez, executive director of the Juntos advocacy group.

Texas has been sending migrants to Northern cities in what it calls an effort to relieve pressure at the border, and others say is a hurtful political stunt.

“Until the Biden Administration does its job and provides Texans and the American people with sustainable border security,” Abbott said in a statement, “Texas will continue doing more than any other state in the nation’s history to defend against an invasion along the border, including adding more sanctuary cities like Philadelphia as drop-off locations.”

He cited Kenney’s advocacy for Philadelphia’s role as a sanctuary city for “making the city an ideal addition to Texas’ list.”

The Kenney administration fought and won a major lawsuit over former President Donald Trump’s effort to withhold grant money unless the city helped enforce federal immigration laws.

Sanctuary jurisdictions such as Philadelphia aim to treat undocumented migrants the same as everyone else when they come in contact with the legal system. Those cities and states say it’s illegal for them to detain migrants for arrest by ICE agents, absent a judge’s order.

Staff writer Rodrigo Torrejón contributed to this article.