The 'Big Apple' isn't 'big enough' for its asylum seekers: Inside New York City's migrant crisis

Even though most of the arrived migrants have been crammed up into shelter homes in the city, a large majority are still awaiting to be legally employed.
Hundreds of migrants line up early on August 1, 2023, for placement at the Roosevelt Hotel intake center in New York. (Photo | AFP)
Hundreds of migrants line up early on August 1, 2023, for placement at the Roosevelt Hotel intake center in New York. (Photo | AFP)

Since August 2022, New York City has witnessed the arrival of nearly 100,000 migrants, largely from Latin American nations. This huge level of migrant arrivals has pushed the limits of the city's shelters and services past their capacity.

Last week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams addressed the situation and asked for federal help, stating that if the current rate of arrivals continues, an estimated amount of USD 12 billion dollars will be required over three years in order to accommodate and care for the newcomers.

He added that in the current fiscal year, the city is on track to spend around USD 5 billion dollars on migrants.

What is NYC doing to accommodate the migrants?

In March, it was announced that the city will create a new 24-hour centre to welcome migrants and also create a new agency which will guide and provide them with access to legal services. 

By early August, the city had opened 194 shelters for asylum seekers, with the shelter system rapidly reaching a point of exhaustion. 

As the number of arrivals failed to show signs of decreasing, the Mayor changed his approach to the issue of accommodating the migrants. 

For example, in May, Adams temporarily suspended the city's long-standing assurance of accommodating migrants and suspended the rules which required migrant families to be placed in private rooms with kitchens and bathrooms. 

The Mayor's office confirmed that the decision was taken as the city had "reached its limit."

As a result of this, a large number of asylum seekers were seen outside of the arrival intake centre in the city, in early August, sleeping on the sidewalks, waiting to be assigned a room or even a bed to sleep in.

Migrants sleep outside the Roosevelt Hotel as they wait for placement at the hotel in New York on August 1, 2023. (Photo | AFP)
Migrants sleep outside the Roosevelt Hotel as they wait for placement at the hotel in New York on August 1, 2023. (Photo | AFP)

Adams also introduced a new rule which required single migrants to reapply for a shelter every 60 days, in an attempt to provide space for families.

Additionally, in recent months, the Mayor's office attempted to discourage migrants from coming into the city by passing around fliers at the city's southern border, saying that the migrants had "no guarantee" of receiving shelters or services. The flier suggests that the cost of living in NYC is high and that the migrants should consider other cities to settle down.

The situation now

Even though most of the arrived migrants have been crammed up into shelter homes, a large majority are still awaiting to be legally employed.

Even the ones who have been employed are faced with threats of deportation, harsh working conditions and wage cuts. 

On the other hand, the citizens of New York themselves are accusing Eric Adams of destroying the city with his handling of the migrant crisis.

Despite Adams' plea to be united and welcome the migrants into the NYC community, his opponents have hit back, telling the government to not "fix" but "close" the border.

Migrants plea for help

Several migrants who travelled to New York City from West Africa told POLITICO that they came to the city in search of economic opportunities. However, they say that the pay that they get by working in local bakeries is inconsistent.

One of the migrants said, “I will work five or six days, and I don’t know when they are going to pay me. I know they are using me, but it’s OK,” he said. 

“I just need some money to support myself,” he added.

Others have said that they just want a normal job and a normal life. “We came here looking for green money. That’s it; that’s the truth. We just want a normal job, a job where they don’t demand we make a fool of ourselves or exploit us,” they said.

New York States' Letter to the City punctures city-state harmony

Escalating the situation, on Tuesday, leaders of New York City and New York State turned on each other after the state accused the city of badly handling the whole situation. 

Attorney of the Governor of New York Kathy Hochul, in a letter on Tuesday, criticised Eric Adams' management. The letter criticizes the city for not accepting state offers of assistance over the last year, including the use of more than a dozen state-controlled sites that could have been converted into shelters, which could have accommodated more than 3000 migrants.

It added that the Mayor's administration failed to prioritize helping the migrants get work permits, which could have reduced the number of unemployed individuals.

This lack of coordination between the officials of the city and the state has left the asylum-seeker helpless, in the middle of an administrative mess.

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