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City of Immigrants

Adams and Hochul Point Fingers at Each Other Over Migrants. The Federal Government Is Raising a Middle Finger Right at Them

The sooner New York's leaders realize that the federal government isn't coming to save the day, the sooner they can figure out their own solution to helping asylum seekers.

(Governor’s Flickr)

Last week, it was going a little better. A state judge was commending Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul on finally working together to help migrants find shelter in the city.

Then the backroom sniping spilled out into the open. First, Gothamist reported that the Adams administration rebuked the Hochul administration in a letter to that judge, and tried to bury the paper trail (it was made public anyway). Then the governor fired back, closing the door on helping send migrants to other New York localities. And now on Tuesday, the mayor turned up the heat, saying Hochul was "abdicating" her responsibility to arriving migrants and to New York City.

In the end, the crumbling of a relationship between a New York City mayor and the governor is no big news story of its own—the mayor's job is to demand resources for the city whose fate rests in Albany, and the governor's inclination is to (mostly) say no. But amidst this mudslinging and finger pointing, both Adams and Hochul agree on one thing: that the federal government and the Biden administration need to be doing more.

"We need the federal government to allow asylum seekers to work, so they can provide for themselves and their families," Adams said in a statement last week. "We also need the state and the federal government to implement decompression strategies, so no one municipality has to manage a disproportionate share of this crisis."

"This crisis originated with the federal government, and it must be resolved through the federal government," Hochul said in an address last week

Both have said that Congress should take immediate action to let migrants obtain work permits, a process that currently, in the best-case scenario, takes at least six months. In the real world, that timeline is often lengthened by both delays in getting migrants started on their asylum paperwork, and a backlog at the federal government level in processing them. 

Congress could take action to speed up the process, but the likelihood of a Republican-controlled House doing anything to alleviate a situation that's having Democrats fighting amongst themselves, as Texas Governor Greg Abbott looks on gleefully, is near zero. And when it comes to things like executive orders, President Biden seems equally disinclined to take recommended actions before next year's election. 

So what more can we expect from the federal government to help New York deal with the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants to the city, along with the very real pile-on effect of other states and border-based nonprofits now just giving migrants free one-way tickets to New York City

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a few options on the table, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, the policy director at the American Immigration Council, told Hell Gate.

"What could be done now is having DHS create a dedicated office within headquarters that works directly with receiving communities to address some of these issues, or at least serve as a point of contact and information for localities across the country," Reichlin-Melnick said. "That is crucially missing right now—there's no centralized hub to work on issues of migrant reception." 

With an office like this, DHS could more effectively dispatch help. Much of the agency's vast resources goes toward enforcement and carceral uses—not to help migrants resettle once they're in the United States. Other options include speeding up the processing of asylum applications to help people move on out of shelters, or to more quickly join the workforce. 

Aside from providing $140 million in funding to New York City to help defray shelter costs, the Department of Homeland Security hasn't done much over the past year to help coordinate New York's response, or to give guidance on how states could work together to deal with the influx of migrants. Instead, on Monday, after finally reviewing shelters in New York, DHS criticized the City's response. "The structural issues include governance and organization of the migrant operations, including issues of authority, structure, personnel, and information flow," DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wrote to Adams and Hochul in separate letters obtained by the New York Times. "The operational issues include the subjects of data collection, planning, case management, communications, and other aspects of the day-to-day operations." Only now has the agency begun advising the City on how best to deal with the skyrocketing shelter population, a full year after reactionary governors began sending migrants here.

Earlier this month, DHS visited several City-run shelters, and based on Mayorkas's letter, they were unhappy with what they saw. And it's not hard to see why: the Adams administration is overwhelmed, overmatched, and completely unable to handle the rising population of its shelter system, instead handing out eye-popping contracts to underqualified contractors, while refusing easier and more cost-effective solutions to alleviating the crush on the City's shelter system. At the same time, the state government hasn't done much at all to help get people out of shelters

Beyond attempting to process thousands of arriving migrants at the southwest border each day (and still turning away thousands of people in immediate peril), DHS has taken a hands-off approach to what happens to migrants once they're in the country. And while this certainly benefits those wary of possible removal from the country, it leaves New York's leaders scrambling to figure out how to accommodate them. 

DHS might be trying to compel the City to get its act together before throwing any more money in its direction, but mostly its own hands are tied by politics and a reactionary court system. Aside from trying to process asylum applications as quickly as possible and shifting resources in that direction, Reichlin-Melnick is skeptical that any big shift will come from DHS. 

"The response we're seeing reflexively out of DHS these days is that they're gun shy, because they've been blocked in court repeatedly every time they try to do any kind of major overhaul of the system," explained Reichlin-Melnick. "And then when advocates come to them now and say, 'We want you to do this thing,' they're clearly hesitant to take the bold risks that they would have [taken] at the start of Biden's term in office." 

New York, whether it likes it or not, is mostly on its own. Now its leaders have to actually deal with that reality. 

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