State of emergency declared in NYC over influx of asylum seekers

Latin American migrants seek refuge in the United States only to be shuttled around as political pawns and sleep in tents in the richest city

October 08, 2022 by Natalia Marques
NYC Mayor Eric Adams holds press conference with other city leaders and declared a state of emergency. Photo: NYC Mayor's Office

On October 7, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency in the city, claiming that since April, over 17,000 asylum seekers have been transported from the southern border of the United States to NYC. These migrants are from Latin America, seeking asylum from violence and extreme poverty, often caused by US imperialist economic policy.

According to Mayor Adams, the 17,000 asylum seekers have overwhelmed the city’s shelter system which has now surpassed 61,000, including 20,000 children.

As a solution, Adams decided to build a tent city in a beach parking lot in the Bronx, despite warnings that this area was prone to floods. On the first weekend of October, the tent city under construction flooded after less than one inch of rain. Adams has now relocated the tent city to Randall’s Island, in between the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. Adams is also considering using a cruise ship as temporary housing for migrants.

New York City has a “right to shelter” law, which means that the city has a legal obligation to provide shelter to single adults and families with children.

Many have criticized Adams’ policy as not properly utilizing the vast resources the city of New York, one of the richest cities, has at its disposal. According to NYC’s own data, there are around 80,000 vacant homes and apartments in the city as of 2017. It is important to note that Adams introduced a much-criticized policy of forcibly clearing out homeless encampments in March of this year. Part of his justification for this policy was that there was no legal right for homeless people to “build encampments.” Some criticize Adams for consigning immigrants to the same fate.

“The New York City shelter system has a policy of housing anyone who seeks it. And it’s been failing, not because of a policy, but because the resources aren’t being prioritized to make this policy work,” Karla Reyes, Harlem housing and immigrant rights organizer, told Peoples Dispatch. “The way to remedy this is to use empty apartments, all the luxury housing, all of the real estate that’s not being used, all the Midtown offices, the Downtown offices for people who have not reopened fully.”

“And our duty as progressive people to welcome our new neighbors, to start dialogue, to create unity with each other as people who are fighting for affordable housing in this city.” Reyes added. “It may not have been the choice of every migrant to be flown to New York, but it is our choice to fight for their interests, because they’re our interests.”

System failure

The arrival of 17,000 asylum seekers in New York City since April is part of a far-right strategy to make liberals “pay” for “liberal” immigration reform. Far-right Governors such as Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida have been transporting migrants to so-called “liberal” enclaves such as New York, Chicago, and the wealthy Martha’s Vineyard. Many have denounced this policy as cruel, transporting asylum seekers far distances without giving them the resources they need to survive. DeSantis claimed credit for flying 50 Latin American immigrants to the vacation island of Martha’s Vineyard. Migrants claimed they had been lured onto the flight with the promise of receiving work papers or that they believed they were going to a different destination.

The political strategy of these right-wing governors is to attempt to discredit liberal immigration reform by transporting large amounts of migrants to places like NYC, which labels itself a “sanctuary city”, meaning the city limits its cooperation with national immigration enforcement. By transporting enough people into these cities to break down local shelter systems, these right-wing governors feel as if they can prove that progressive immigration policies are failures.

“Biden’s inaction at our border puts Texans at risk & is overwhelming our communities,” Abbott tweeted on August 31. “We’ll continue bussing migrants to sanctuary cities like NYC, DC, & now Chicago until the federal gov’t does its job & secures the border.”