Greyhound asks U.S. government for emergency funds to transport migrants

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Greyhound Lines, a bus company crucial to transporting newly arrived migrants in the United States, has asked the U.S. government for emergency funding to deal with an expected increase in migrant releases at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The letter, sent to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday, is another sign of a potential rise in the number of migrants from Central America and elsewhere at the southern border. President Joe Biden’s administration is already scrambling to deal with a growing influx of families and unaccompanied children.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seen more migrant crossings in recent weeks as new hope emerges among migrants that Biden will unravel the restrictive immigration policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump. It said it apprehended 4,500 migrants on Wednesday, about the same number as the daily average in May 2019, the peak of a previous surge in migration at the border.

The letter, signed by Greyhound CEO David S. Leach and provided to Reuters by Democratic Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar, also asks that immigration authorities provide “100% assurance” that no migrant released who may ride a Greyhound bus have COVID-19, and asks that they arrive at bus terminals carrying proof of a negative test.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not currently test migrants before release. In recent weeks it has released thousands of migrant families from custody, Cuellar said, mostly in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

Nonprofit shelters and some cities along the border have attempted to test arriving migrants, but the system is inconsistent and often dependent on donations.

Greyhound’s service has been “decimated” by the coronavirus, the letter said, with furloughs cutting the number of available drivers, and the company’s capacity reduced by 60% since the start of the pandemic.

“This could have a very detrimental impact on our collective ability to transport migrants to their destinations in the U.S.,” Leach wrote.

The letter asks that DHS provide emergency federal funding to the company for drivers and buses that will transport migrants, but does not specify the amount it is seeking.

Greyhound, the largest intercity bus operator in the United States, is owned by British transport operator FirstGroup Plc. Its buses have been essential to transporting migrants from the border to their destinations during previous periods of high migration releases.

In 2019, immigration authorities dropped migrants off at bus stations along the border without notice. Nonprofit organizations booked tickets for migrants to help them reach their destinations.

Greyhound, FirstGroup and DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Mimi Dwyer; Additional reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis