As Migrant Crisis Worsens, New York Leaders Pressure Biden to Do More

After months of mostly working behind the scenes, a force of municipal, business and labor leaders in New York has begun a public campaign to highlight how they believe Washington has failed to adequately address the migrant crisis that has overwhelmed the city in recent months.

As part of that effort, Mayor Eric Adams staged a rally just outside the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse on Thursday and called on federal officials to expedite work authorization for asylum seekers. He was joined by union leaders, state lawmakers and a handful of migrants, all standing beneath a red, white and blue flag banner with the slogan, “The American Dream Works.”

“We are united on the same concept and belief that the precursor to sleep that allows us to experience the American dream is the right to work, the right to prevail, the right to provide for your family,” Mr. Adams said at the rally.

The day before, Gov. Kathy Hochul met with White House officials to push the Biden administration for more support, days after she shifted tactics and began to publicly call on Mr. Biden to speed work authorizations. She emerged from the meeting in Washington hopeful but still dissatisfied that the help offered was “not enough to fully address this crisis.”

And earlier this week, more than 120 of the city’s top business executives co-signed a letter to President Biden and congressional leaders that urged them to provide more federal assistance.

The pleas for help come amid signs that the influx of migrants into New York has still not reached a peak. From Aug. 21-27, more than 2,900 new asylum seekers arrived in the city, according to Anne Williams-Isom, the deputy mayor for health and human services.

Of the 107,000 migrants who have arrived since last year, almost 60,000 are still in the city’s care. The influx has increased the number of people in shelter to a record-breaking 115,000. The city has opened over 200 sites and humanitarian relief centers to house and process the migrants, which officials estimate will cost $5 billion this year, as much as the budgets for the parks, fire and sanitation departments combined.

Mr. Adams said the current flow of migrants could cost $12 billion over the next three years, exceeding the city’s current fiscal and physical capacity to deal with the crisis — a reality that has brought consensus among many New York leaders, even some who do not typically see eye to eye.

Indeed, there has been broad disagreement over where to house the migrants. Mr. Adams has called on Ms. Hochul to facilitate the flow of migrants to counties in upstate New York, a prospect the governor has strongly resisted.

And when city officials seek new shelter sites within the five boroughs, they often run into deep opposition from residents and local elected officials, who have staged their own protests, especially in cases that involve the use of schools, ball fields and tent cities.

The city has also tried to lessen the problem through legal and strategic measures. The mayor has asked a judge to relieve the city of its legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone who asks, and has imposed a 60-day limit on adult migrants at some shelters.

And in an effort to slow the spread of migrants into New York, the city began distributing fliers at the southern border telling asylum seekers that the cost of living in New York City was high and there was “no guarantee” that they would receive help, in spite of the city’s legal obligation to provide shelter to anyone who asks.

Jessica Ramos, a state senator from Queens, has criticized the Adams administration on many of those actions, but she appeared onstage at the rally to support the mayor’s call for expedited work authorization.

“There is no reason anybody should be denied the right to work as they undergo the immigration process,” Ms. Ramos said. “People shouldn’t be denied the right to provide for themselves and their families.”

Brad Lander, the city comptroller, has also sparred with Mr. Adams over the city’s handling of the influx of migrants around spending. The mayor lashed out at Mr. Lander in June, questioning whether he had lobbied Washington for help. Yet the two put aside their differences on Thursday, with Mr. Lander speaking at the rally.

“Look, this is something — for all the sniping and naysaying — that we can genuinely work together on,” Mr. Lander said.

Jumaane Williams, the public advocate, said the unified call for work authorization was politically powerful: “They can’t just say it’s the mayor now,” he said as he left the rally.

Ms. Hochul, who did not attend the rally, said in a statement on Wednesday that expedited work authorization for migrants was her “top priority” and the “only way to help asylum seekers become self-sustaining, so they can move into permanent housing.”

The governor’s meeting came after the Biden administration issued a letter this week from Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Homeland Security secretary, saying that the federal government had identified “structural and operational issues” with the city’s management of the influx of migrants.

Ms. Hochul had issued a similar letter two weeks ago, questioning the mayor’s management of the crisis and criticizing the city for failing to take offers of assistance from the state. Both the state and federal government said the city had not prioritized helping migrants fill out the necessary paperwork to apply for work permits.

Mr. Adams, who has criticized both President Biden and Ms. Hochul for not doing enough to help the city, responded harshly to the criticism at the rally on Thursday.

“Don’t critique what we’ve done. Don’t tell us how we could have done it better,” Mr. Adams said, his voice rising. “Don’t sit in the bleachers and be a detached spectator on this full contact sport called asylum seekers. Get on the field and fight this battle with us.”

Following the meeting with Ms. Hochul, the Biden administration said it would initiate a month of action in September to send teams of people to help asylum seekers in New York apply for work permits, asserting that a “substantial number of recent migrants who arrived in New York City are currently work eligible but have not yet applied to get a work permit.”

Ninaj Raoul, executive director of the group Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, said that she supported the mayor’s call for expedited work permits but that many of the Haitian arrivals who were eligible to apply for work authorization had not been helped.

“If someone has humanitarian parole, the first thing you do is apply for work authorization,” Ms. Raoul said.

Nuvia Veloz, a migrant who said she fled danger in Ecuador with her husband and 16-year-old son, arrived in January but has not been able to get a work permit. Ms. Veloz, who attended the rally, said she had accumulated debt fleeing to the United States and had family members still in Ecuador who needed help.

“At this point, the most important thing is to work,” Ms. Veloz said through a translator from Mixteca, an organization that supports Latino immigrants. “It’s a horrible feeling to not be able to help.”

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