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NYC mayor pushes for national migrant strategy amid asylum-seeker influx

Newly arrived migrants receive an afternoon meal from Trinity Services and Food For the Homeless, across from Tompkins Square Park on Jan. 24, 2024 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — New York City has become a focal point in the national debate on immigration. City officials have stated that more than 180,000 asylum-seekers have passed through the city’s intake system since spring 2022, in some cases bused in by officials from cities along the U.S. southern border.


New York has struggled to house, feed and process the wave of asylum-seekers, leading Mayor Eric Adams to call on federal officials for financial support and policy change.

Adams recently proposed that the federal government implement a “decompression strategy” to distribute people seeking asylum throughout the country instead of just into certain cities.

“Cities should not be handling a national crisis of this magnitude,” he said in a January interview with ABC News’ GMA3. “We’re going to start seeing the visualization of this crisis. We’ve done a great job, but we can’t continue to sustain this.”

But what could this kind of policy mean for the United States, which is facing a backlog of 4.3 million immigration cases, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office?

The State of New York is facing an estimated backlog of 330,000 pending immigration cases, according to an analysis of Department of Homeland Security data by Syracuse University researchers.

“We’re in the issue that we are because we have been asking the administration to address this issue for years before,” said Marlene Galaz, director of immigrant rights policy at the New York Immigration Council. “So it’s really a problem of negligence and not a problem of migrants arriving.”

Seeking asylum by arriving in the United States is lawful immigration, several New York officials, including Mayor Adams, have acknowledged. 

The ‘decompression strategy’

The proposed strategy is one that has long been acknowledged by immigration scholars and researchers, according to Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migrant Policy Institute (MPI) and director of the MPI office at NYU School of Law. He said the strategy to process asylum-seeking migrants would be akin to the refugee resettlement programs in place throughout the country.

“We take refugees from abroad, they come in and we — the federal government — decide where they’re going to settle,” said Chishti. “The federal government should decide where they go — not [Texas Gov. Greg] Abbott, not buses. And the federal government should make the decision based on: do they have any family they can live with, because family first. If they don’t have family, then we send them to the parts of the country where there is need for workers and where the housing is cheap — not cheap, but inexpensive.”

Chishti then suggested that states who accept asylum-seekers could be compensated by the federal government, as to not face any fiscal hardship and to incentivize communities.

In a Sept. 8 statement, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “only Congress can really reform.”

She continued, “You hear us say that all the time: this broken system that has broke — been broken for the past couple of decades, this immigration system — and so, we — that — that could provide additional assistance. The President has done all that he can from his perch, but we need more, and we need Congress to act.”

According to the International Rescue Committee, refugees are often placed in cities where they already have relatives or friends, or where an established community shares their language or culture to make for an easier transition toward stability — however, refugees are given final choice in where they resettle. Cost of living and access to health care are also taken into consideration.

“We have to accept that this is not a Texas versus New York problem or rural vs. urban problem — this is a national problem,” said Chishti.

However, other immigration experts warn that migrants who have been bused from states like Texas to New York City and Chicago have reported poor or unsafe conditions while being transported.

“We have reports of people having to go hours — up to eight hours — on buses with no air conditioning and no bathroom during the summer,” said Galaz. “It continues to use migrants as like pawns, just moving them around without accounting for the people’s agency and means.”

Galaz said that redistributing migrants could fail to acknowledge the “humanity of them of migrants, the community ties that they might or might already be building.”

New York City Council Member Alexa Avilés said the administration has not engaged with the City Council over the proposed migration solution Adams has touted.

“I’m not sure rerouting people to random places is actually going to address the screening problem we have with the current system,” said Avilés.

However, she added that this would require the federal government “to really do meaningful investment, capital investment into the infrastructure.”

ABC News reached out to Mayor Adams’ office for further comment on the proposed immigration solution.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and other leaders from around the country sent an open letter in January to White House and Congressional leaders with infrastructure concerns: “Communities along the southern border – as well as interior states and cities across the country – lack the vast coordinated infrastructure needed to respond to the humanitarian and public safety concerns of those seeking lawful entry into the United States.”

New York’s current policies

New York City officials say they have opened up more than 200 emergency sites to address the influx of migrants — including more than 90 shelters.

The city and local advocacy groups have been at odds over the city’s right-to-shelter laws, although they have since come to an agreement about limits over migrants’ ability to stay in city shelters.

The New York State Constitution states that “the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine.”

Now, according to the mayor’s office, most adult migrants will now have to leave New York City homeless shelters after 30 days and lose their ability to reapply unless they are experiencing “extenuating circumstances.” Individuals under 23 years of age will be provided 60 days of shelter. Migrant families with children will not be subject to such restrictions.

Families with children represented 78% of the asylum-seeking population in NYC-funded shelters in January data on the shelter population, according to the NYC Comptroller’s Office.

The policy initially gave families with children 60-day notices to find alternative shelter, sparking an investigation from New York City Comptroller Brad Lander.

“We have concerns about the fiscal implications of the stated policy that the administration is executing, among them, how case management resources are being distributed, whether evictions or shelter relocations will impact migrants’ ability to obtain work authorization and appropriate immigration status, and the costs of uprooting and moving families from their existing rooms and school communities,” the comptroller said in a January statement on the policy.

New York City is also a sanctuary city, which limits the city’s cooperation with the federal immigration authorities.

Adams appeared to call for a change in these policies amid several high-profile incidents in NYC connected with migrants.

“If you commit a felony, a violent act, we should be able to turn you over to ICE and have you deported,” the mayor said during a news conference.

If an asylum-seeker has been charged with a crime but not convicted, New York’s sanctuary city status prevents them from working with ICE agents.

The City Council has said it has no plans to revisit the sanctuary city laws when contacted for comment by ABC News.

“Our city’s sanctuary policies, quite frankly, it just made us a safer city,” said Avilés in an interview. “For immigrant communities, they know they can go to a hospital. They can engage with first responders without fear of deportation. If experiencing exploitation in the workplace, they can begin to address that. So sanctuary policies have just made our city safer and it really helps to build trust between New Yorkers.”

Adams’ suggestion was met with ire and disapproval from immigration analysts and City Council members alike, sounding the alarm on potentially turning over people who have not been given due process.

“No one should be automatically deported from this country or handed over to ICE just because they are suspected of committing a crime. That just doesn’t fit in our constitutional system of due process of law,” said Chishti.

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