Facing influx of asylum-seekers, New York City says it has reached its limit on migrants

NEW YORK (AP) — The end of a pandemic-era immigration restriction could send a new wave of asylum-seekers toward New York City — a place that has long prided itself on welcoming the world's huddled masses. But as migrants gathered at the southern U.S. border, Mayor Eric Adams warned his city would be unable to accommodate the expected influx.

City officials expecting to receive busloads of migrants from Texas and other border states have explored housing the newcomers in airplane hangars, a race track, gymnasiums or even tents in Central Park. Others could wind up on the streets, advocates feared, despite the city’s court-ordered commitment to provide all residents with access to a place to stay.

Faced with what he described as a “humanitarian crisis,” Adams, a Democrat, has taken a series of steps aimed at easing pressure on the city’s overcrowded homeless shelter system.

On Wednesday evening, he temporarily suspended portions of New York’s longstanding law guaranteeing shelter to all residents. A few hours later, he sent roughly two dozen migrants on a bus to a hotel in the upstate town of Newburgh, overriding fierce backlash from local leaders.

Adams' “decompression strategy” marks the latest escalation in the city’s ongoing struggle to handle tens of thousands of migrants, many of whom have arrived in the last year on buses sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican.

Several other Democrat-leaning cities, including Chicago and Denver, have also grappled with a growing number of migrants and how to provide them with food, medicine and shelter without significant federal funding.

As the Biden administration prepared to lift a restriction on Thursday night known as Title 42, a COVID-era rule that allowed the government to quickly expel migrants back to Mexico, many expected the numbers to grow even higher.

Adams said New York City in recent weeks has been seeing 500 migrant arrivals per day. More than 61,000 have sought services from the city in the past 12 months. Once the rules change, “we could potentially get thousands of people a day in our city,” Adams said Thursday.

In recent days, officials have sought to coax nonprofits and business leaders to identify spaces to house migrants, while calling on municipal workers to help greet the asylum-seekers, according to people familiar with the effort.

The city has also turned to the real estate industry, including the owner of the Flatiron Building, who rebuffed requests to turn the iconic skyscraper into a shelter, the New York Times reported.

At a news conference Thursday, Manuel Castro, the commissioner for immigrant affairs, said the city “no longer can physically accommodate people that request emergency shelter.”

The admission intensified fears among some about the city’s ability to fulfill its right-to-shelter commitment, a court-ordered agreement that for decades has required the city to house anyone without a roof over their head. Under an executive order signed by Adams, the city no longer has to meet a strict deadline for providing that shelter.

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless condemned the change, warning it could "force families with children to languish at the City’s intake facility for extended periods of time.”

The city has also faced pushback in its early efforts to escort migrants out of the city. In Rockland County, local officials successfully secured a temporary restraining order banning the city from sending migrants to a hotel.

After two dozen migrants arrived in a Newburgh hotel on Thursday, Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus, a Republican, blamed Adams for a “disorganized disaster,” vowing to secure his own restraining order.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said the city faced an “untenable situation.” But she said she also understood the stress faced by county executives and their decision to lash out at the buses.

“Our view is to continue working with the counties, but really focusing on continuing to support Mayor Adams because he’s receiving the brunt of most of this,” she said.

Ilze Thielmann, who leads a group that provides resources to newly-arrived migrants, said her team of volunteers had been preparing for the end of Title 42 for months. She wondered why it seemed other levels of government hadn’t done the same.

“In a city with this many buildings and this many human beings and this many empty hotels,” she said, “how can you say you’re out of space?”