Texas begins flying migrants from southern border to Chicago. The 1st plane carried over 120 people

FILE - Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico are lined up for processing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. Texas began flying migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Chicago on Wednesday, Dec. 20, a week after the city took a tougher stance on the buses that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has been sending north since last year. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas sent a plane with more than 120 migrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to Chicago in an escalation of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's busing operation that has given more than 80,000 migrants free rides to Democratic-led cities across the country since last year.

The first flight, which Abbott's office said left from El Paso and arrived Tuesday, was arranged a week after Chicago's city council took new action over the busloads of migrants that have drawn sharp criticism from Mayor Brandon Johnson. The city has said bus operators began trying to drop off people in neighboring cities to avoid penalties that include fines, towing or impoundment.

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Bus operators could now face tougher penalties in Chicago for not unloading new arrivals at a designated location or failing to fill out city paperwork. Abbott spokesman Andrew Mahaleris said Wednesday that the flights were the result of Johnson “targeting migrant buses” from Texas.

The flight took off a day after Abbott signed a new law this week that would allow police in Texas to arrest migrants who illegally cross the border, ratcheting up a series of aggressive measures the state has taken in protest of President Joe Biden's immigration policies.

“Until President Biden steps up and does his job to secure the border, Texas will continue taking historic action to help our local partners respond to this Biden-made crisis,” Mahaleris said.

The White House criticized the flight and accused Abbott of using migrants for politics.

“Yet again, Governor Abbott is showing how little regard or respect he has for human beings,” White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said in a statement. “This latest political stunt just adds to his tally of extreme policies which seek to demonize and dehumanize people.”

More than 23,000 migrants have been sent to Chicago on buses as part of Abbott's border mission known as Operation Lone Star, according to the governor's office.

The multibillion-dollar operation has also included stringing razor wire along the frontier, installing buoy barriers in the Rio Grande and deploying more officers. On Tuesday a federal appeals court ordered the Biden administration to temporarily halt cutting the concertina wire on the border while a legal challenge plays out.

Johnson's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the flights to his city.

Concerns have arisen about the living conditions and medical care provided for asylum-seekers arriving in Chicago, spotlighted by the death last weekend of a 5-year-old boy living at a temporary shelter for migrants.


Associated Press reporter Acacia Coronado contributed.


A previous version of this story was updated to correct that the first flight arrived in Chicago on Tuesday.

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