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Montgomery County has housed over 2,000 undocumented migrants bused from Texas, Arizona

A man can be seen through a window at Montgomery County, Maryland's temporary shelter for undocumented migrants bused up from Texas and Arizona. (Photo: 7News)
A man can be seen through a window at Montgomery County, Maryland's temporary shelter for undocumented migrants bused up from Texas and Arizona. (Photo: 7News)
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Montgomery County government has temporarily housed more than 2,000 undocumented migrants bused to the D.C. region from Texas and Arizona, a county official confirmed to 7News.

The busing program — which some have praised and others have criticized — started in the spring of 2022. Most of the charter buses have dropped off their undocumented passengers at a variety of locations throughout the District.

In June, a local church contacted Montgomery County to say it could no longer operate as an intake center for the stream of undocumented migrants. The county identified a facility that could serve as a shelter for up to 50 people at any time.

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"The vast majority are out within three to five days at most, very few end up staying any longer than that," Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard said. "The focus for the three days that they're here is getting them fed, getting them clothing they may need for whatever their final destination is, based on the weather, getting them showers, getting them hot meals, doing a quick triage to make sure don't have any medical needs, medication they might need, things of that nature."

Stoddard said other shelter goals include keeping family units together, lining up post-shelter lodging, and allowing undocumented migrants to catch up on sleep.

"They're mostly getting a lot of rest because they've been on a bus for a couple of days in a row, they're getting some extra sleep, and they're preparing for the next leg of their journey in most cases," Stoddard said.

On Dec. 24, a fire sprinkler burst in the shelter cafeteria, damaging the ceiling and floor. Seeing as the cafeteria is a critical space for shelter operations, county leaders opted to temporarily move operations to a county building in Rockville.

"We've been told around three weeks from now, we should be back up and running there, but we're trying to move it as quickly as possible," Stoddard said. "Materials are a bit hard to come by right now in the construction space."

Although Montgomery County is providing the facilities, SAMU First Response is staffing the shelter, the location of which, the county is trying to keep under wraps.

"We're just not interested in making this a spectacle for people to look at," Stoddard said, explaining, in part, why the county is not publicizing its undocumented immigrant shelter locations. "We know that these individuals are also very susceptible to scamming and being targets of manipulation and human trafficking. We obviously have secured the facility, but we do not want it to become a greater attraction for those who may be looking to do harm to those who don't understand or haven't been in the country for very long."

7News asked Stoddard if any other local governments are pitching in to assist with processing the undocumented migrants arriving by the busload.

SEE ALSO | More migrants dropped off in DC: Where are they now and who's helping them?

"It's been largely the District and Montgomery County... . I think there are other jurisdictions who are actively having discussions about getting into this because I think we recognize that it's not likely to stop anytime soon. And so, obviously, having a sustainable program that isn't just an emergent program that we developed to respond to the busses is going to become the long-term interest for the region," Stoddard said.

According to Stoddard, 90% to 95% of bused migrants are from Central and South America. However, some have come from far-off nations like Afghanistan and Ukraine.

"The vast majority of the 2,000 have moved on to other places in the United States," Stoddard said, noting that between 10% and 20% ultimately settle in the D.C. area.

Stoddard said that the federal government must fix its "broken immigration system," but admonished Texas and Arizona for the way in which they are handling matters.

"Texas is not operating in good faith here, but certainly they're doing it because they believe they've been disproportionally impacted by immigration and the lack of a good federal immigration program and plan," Stoddard said. "Our view is Texas is going to continue to do this until there is a better strategy for the entire country. And so, the county executive very much supports immigration reform that creates a pathway for immigrants to come into this country and fuel the economy, but also does it in a way that's fair and well-supported at the federal level."

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With a Democratic governor now leading the state of Arizona, Montgomery County expects migrant buses to stop coming from that state. That being said, Stoddard noted that Arizona may continue to pay for undocumented migrants to travel to the D.C. region, assuming it is their intended final destination in the U.S. However, Texas—which has sent the majority of migrant buses to the D.C. region over the past year — will likely continue with its program in full.

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