Deluged by 100,000 Migrants and Counting, New York City Begs President Biden for Help

Thanks to a 1981 court order, the city is legally obligated to house anyone who needs shelter. That’s precipitated a crisis.

AP/John Minchillo
Pedestrians pass migrants waiting in a queue outside of the Roosevelt Hotel, which is being used by New York City as temporary housing. AP/John Minchillo

President Biden dispatched a top lieutenant to meet with Mayor Adams Thursday as New York City reaches a “breaking point” in its migrant crisis and Democrats call on the Biden administration to act. The city has been overwhelmed by tens of thousands of migrants from Central and South America seeking free shelter they are guaranteed by a court order.

A senior advisor to the president and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Tom Perez, met with Mr. Adams at City Hall, for what Mr. Adams’ chief of staff later told reporters was “a good conversation.”  

“We had conversations about how we can get additional resources to New York City writ large,” Camille Varlack, the chief of staff, said. 

The meeting comes one day after Mr. Adams renewed his calls for federal help at a speech at City Hall, where he laid out staggering new cost estimates for the city: $12 billion over the next three years to feed and shelter the growing migrant population. 

Yet while the federal government has only given the city $140 million to help handle its migrant crisis so far, Mr. Biden asked Congress on Thursday to authorize another $40 billion spending package that included an additional $24 billion in aid to Ukraine and just $4 billion for border security. Critics of the White House say this shows where the administration’s priorities lie.

Mr. Adams also told CNN late Wednesday that he has not spoken to President Biden once in 2023. 

“We are facing an unprecedented emergency. The immigration system in this nation is broken,” Mr. Adams said. “New York City has been left to pick up the pieces.”

New York, along with other cities that have designated themselves “sanctuary cities,” has struggled to handle the flood of migrants who cross the southern border into California or the Southwest, then make their way north. Texas governor, Greg Abbott, is also offering migrants free bus rides to “sanctuary cities” like New York. 

Mr. Adams says the city has seen nearly 100,000 migrants arrive since last year, with more than 57,000 currently housed in emergency shelters. 

The city, which is required to provide housing to those who ask for it under its “right to shelter” policy — the result of a 1981 court order — is spending nearly $10 million per day on housing, food, and other social services for asylum seekers, he said.

Defenders of the “right to shelter” policy, like the city comptroller, Brad Lander, say it is why New York City doesn’t have tents lining its sidewalks, as many West Coast cities now do. The policy, however, is proving costly. 

The city now operates nearly 200 emergency shelter sites to handle the influx, including 13 humanitarian relief centers. The Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan, which was converted into a migrant shelter, is filled to capacity along with many other hotels and motels, and lodging houses around the city’s five boroughs and in nearby suburbs

“We are past our breaking point,” Mr. Adams said. “New Yorkers’ compassion may be limitless, but our resources are not. And our partners at the state and federal levels know that.”

Mr. Adams projects that by 2025, the city could have more than 100,000 migrants residing in homeless shelters. The projected $4 billion per year cost to house and provide services to the migrants, Mr. Adams said, is more than the budgets for the sanitation department, parks department, and fire department combined.  

Videos of asylum seekers sleeping and sitting corralled behind metal barriers on the sidewalk outside the Roosevelt Hotel, because there was no room inside, went viral on social media this week. 

Some New Yorkers came out to help the migrants waiting outside in the heat, providing them with food and clothing. The mayor warned that scenes like this will “sadly become more common” without federal help.

The city is also now converting the playing fields at Randall’s Island, between Manhattan’s East Harlem and Queens, into a massive emergency shelter meant to house 2,000 individuals. There are rumors — which the city has not denied — that it is also considering building temporary shelters at Manhattan’s Central Park or Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. 

“Instead of ruining Randall’s Island and taking it away from kids, we should put [the migrants] in Rikers Island. They have 30,000 rooms available,” a supermarket billionaire and former Republican candidate for mayor of New York, John Catsimatidis, told the Sun. He is referring to Rikers Island’s notorious jail, widely considered one of the worst managed and most dangerous in the country.

“The right to shelter law was meant for 100 people coming in, 200 people coming in, 1000 people coming in — it wasn’t meant to keep the borders open and having 100,000 people come,” Mr. Catsimatidis continued.

On Sunday, residents of Sunset Park at Brooklyn — many of them immigrants themselves — protested the use of a community recreation center to house migrants. Parents of public-school children have also expressed concern about overcrowding and lack of resources to handle the matriculation of migrant children.

Even pop star Lady Gaga’s father, Joe Germanotta, a restaurateur who lives at Manhattan’s wealthy Upper West Side on West 70th Street, down the block from a hotel-turned-migrant shelter, is sounding the alarm. He tells the New York Post that the migrants host parties all night outside the hotel and race bikes up and down the street, and that “you see prostitutes coming out of the building.”

“If it was like this when my girls were growing up, I wouldn’t be living in New York,” Mr. Germanotta said.

“This crisis is just another symptom of a completely inept government,” a mother and stylist in New York City, Sarah Sheppard, tells the Sun. “But if any mother puts herself in the shoes of a parent who needs to flee a country filled with violence, we would all honestly do the same thing. So I don’t judge them for wanting to come here.”

“This is not sustainable,” Mr. Adams said Wednesday. “While New York City will continue to lead, it’s time the state and federal government step up.”

Mr. Adams is also calling on the Biden administration to expedite work authorizations for migrants. Otherwise, they will be stuck relying on the city’s dime, he said.

Massachusetts’ Democratic governor, Maura Healey, also blasted the Biden administration this week, declaring a state of emergency and calling it a “federal crisis of inaction.”

A New York Democrat, Congressman Jamaal Bowman agrees. “We need leadership from President Biden, period,” Mr. Bowman told reporters this week. “Democrats are looking bad right now in New York State, and that’s unacceptable when we have to win at least four congressional seats to take back the House, so hopefully the president is listening.”

The New York Sun

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