L.A. City Council pushes for legal action against Texas governor over migrant buses

After a 30-hour plus ride, a chartered bus carrying 30 immigrants from Texas arrives at Union Station in Los Angeles on Thursday, July 13, 2023.
The arrival of a bus carrying migrants from Texas at L.A.'s Union Station on July 14 prompted the City Council to investigate taking legal action against Texas and its governor, Greg Abbott. (Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to look into whether the city can sue the state of Texas and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for sending a busload of migrants to Los Angeles on June 14, and to investigate whether Abbott's actions violated any criminal laws.

"These motions are about investigating whether Gov. Greg Abbott committed kidnapping, human trafficking or any other crimes when he sent vulnerable families on a 23-hour bus ride with little or no food or water," Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez said shortly before the 13-0 vote.

The June 14 bus was the first sent to Los Angeles by Texas. Ten more buses have arrived in the 2½ months since, with the most recent bus arriving at Union Station during the council's Wednesday meeting.

The proposal directs City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto's office to investigate and begin proceedings on potential civil legal action that could be taken against Texas, Abbott, or "any other entity relating to planning and actions of June 14, 2023." It also asks Feldstein Soto's office to investigate and report on whether "human trafficking, kidnapping or any other crime was committed" on or before the day the day the first bus was sent.

"The L.A. City Council members are complete hypocrites. In June, they unanimously voted to become a sanctuary city, welcoming migrants to the city,” Abbott spokesperson Andrew Mahaleris said Wednesday afternoon, making an apparent reference to the council’s June 9 vote to toughen policies around the use of city resources for federal immigration enforcement. (That so-called “sanctuary city” ordinance would essentially codify existing policies, but it still has to be drafted by the city attorney’s office and return to the council for a final vote before becoming law.)

Mahaleris asserted that migrants had willingly chosen to go to Los Angeles on buses stocked with food and water, saying they “signed a voluntary consent waiver available in multiple languages upon boarding that they agreed on the destination."

“Governor Abbott should be ashamed of himself for playing politics with the lives of vulnerable migrant families. ... I am deeply offended by his inhumane actions and am eager to investigate this further,” Feldstein Soto said in a statement Wednesday evening.

The council also unanimously approved a separate resolution calling on L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, and U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland to similarly investigate and report on whether any crimes were committed.

Read more: Texas sent more asylum seekers to L.A. even as Hilary raged, immigrant rights group says

Both the proposal and the resolution were originally introduced on June 16 by Soto-Martínez and fellow Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez, Monica Rodriguez and Nithya Raman. The text of both documents only directly addresses the first bus, though council members spoke of the other buses during their comments.

During the council meeting, Soto-Martínez also excoriated Abbott for sending a bus of migrants to the city earlier this month while Los Angeles was under an unprecedented tropical storm warning and officials were urging residents not to travel.

Mayor Karen Bass also slammed Abbott after that bus arrived, calling the move “evil.”

Councilmembers Kevin de León, Heather Hutt and Imelda Padilla also spoke in support of the proposals.

Padilla, the newest member of the council, directed her comments to the service organizations that have helped welcome the arriving migrants, saying she knew the arrival of large numbers of people at once could cause strain and asking them to reach out if they needed assistance.

The bus that arrived Wednesday morning carried "35 asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Russia, and Venezuela," including 21 adults and 14 children, according to the nonprofit Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles, known as CHIRLA.

More than 400 people have arrived on 11 buses since mid-June, Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl said Wednesday.

"The city has continued to work with city departments, the county and a coalition of nonprofit organizations, in addition to our faith partners, to execute a plan set in place earlier this year. As we have before, when we became aware of the bus yesterday, we activated our plan," Seidl said in a statement.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.