Big Apple blues
IN THE NEWS | New York City grapples with backlash against its open-door immigration policies
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Zac Martin’s phone never stops pinging. The Brooklyn-area pastor tries to care for the needs of his neighbors in his role at Next Step Community Church, and lately that’s meant tuning in to a buzzing WhatsApp thread highlighting the needs of local migrants.
Martin makes weekly trips to nearby 47 Hall Street, a boxy industrial complex that’s been converted to a shelter. Inside, rows of cots cram warehouse-like rooms with concrete ceilings and exposed pipes. The building houses hundreds of migrants of varied backgrounds and languages. More overflow onto the sidewalks outside, living in cardboard boxes, blankets, and tents.
“It’s a very, very tenuous situation,” Martin said.
More than 120,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since last year. Some arrived on buses from Southern border states—Texas alone has sent over 18,000 since April 2022.
Those migrants have entered a city already buckling under a housing crisis. Now, once-welcoming politicians are backpedaling, saying the city is out of space. Residents are feeling the tension, too, and some are protesting what they see as neighborhoods overrun. As the weather grows colder, others are working to meet the new arrivals’ needs.
Mayor Eric Adams, once a proud “sanctuary city” proponent, toured Latin America in early October with a new message: “We are at capacity.” As Adams tries to stem the tide of newcomers, Gov. Kathy Hochul has joined him in a legal petition to suspend the city’s “right to shelter” policy. That policy requires city officials to provide temporary housing to all homeless applicants.
Meanwhile, the flood of migrants is testing New York’s resources. The city already spends an estimated $9.8 million daily to house and feed migrants, and Adams’ chief of staff announced on Oct. 4 that more than 600 new people now arrive each day.
Some New Yorkers are calling for an end to the influx. In Staten Island, hundreds of demonstrators have gathered on several occasions, demanding the closure of a shelter in the former St. John Villa Academy. At an Aug. 28 protest, the crowd waved American flags and signs reading “Close the Border” and “Protect Our Children.” Many complained that the shelter was located next to two schools.
Protest organizer Scott Lobaido, a Staten Island local, told Fox News he thinks most migrants are “wonderful and looking for a better life. But we do not know. They are not vetted for crimes, rapes, murder, diseases.”
Lobaido and others celebrated on Oct. 16 when the NYC Fire Department ordered the St. John Villa shelter to close after protesters reported it lacked fire alarms and sprinklers. Several other shelters have closed for similar reasons.
New York City migrant shelters have a 30- to 60-day limit for adults and a 60-day limit for families with children. But migrants often struggle to find work due to lack of documentation or a pending work authorization, which takes at least six months for asylum-seekers.
Recently, the Biden administration expanded Temporary Protected Status eligibility to include about 200,000 additional Venezuelan migrants—under pressure from Adams, according to NBC News. TPS status allows people to stay for up to 18 months and get work authorization faster than asylum-seekers.
Simon Hankinson, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said TPS is “just one of many Band-Aids” and won’t stop more people from crossing the border.
Still, Martin says TPS status is a much-needed relief for migrants already living in New York City. He says the people he’s met don’t want to spend their days living on food stamps and in shelters: “They want to work.” That’s a desire Martin’s seen firsthand at his local shelter, where migrants use electric scooters for delivery jobs.
There have been a few flare-ups in Martin’s neighborhood, though. Last month, a local restaurant owner got into a fight with migrants he accused of stealing food. He rammed his car into two men and is now charged with attempted murder. Martin said migrants have had belongings stolen, and passersby occasionally hurl insults or call the police on them. Homeless New Yorkers sometimes clash with migrants over city handouts like meals, backpacks, and blankets.
Yet Martin says there’s been “a real rallying cry” among his neighbors to care for migrants. After the car incident left one man with a mangled leg, residents drove him to doctor’s appointments and raised money for a walking boot. Martin’s church also hosts a food pantry three Saturdays a month and helps migrants secure documentation.
Recently, Martin and his staff brought a meal to some migrants living on a mattress under a highway. At the sight of their stark living conditions, one of the staffers began crying.
According to Martin, a migrant responded, “Don’t cry. This is infinitely better than what we were living with before.”
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