On the heels of negative polling, Hochul makes formal call to Biden for work authorization for asylum-seekers

Earlier this week, Siena College found that 82% of New Yorkers believe the influx of migrants is a “serious problem.” Hochul said she’d ramp up efforts to connect migrants to jobs as soon as the federal government acts.

Hochul addressed New Yorkers directly Thursday.

Hochul addressed New Yorkers directly Thursday. Screenshot/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

In a public address to New Yorkers, Gov. Kathy Hochul once again reiterated her calls for federal action to address the migrant crisis Thursday. In a letter to the president, Hochul called for work authorization for new arrivals, more financial assistance to address the crisis and federal facilities for temporary shelters. “Let them work,” she said repeatedly. The roughly 10-minute speech outlining her requests was atypical for Hochul, and largely repeated calls she has made to President Joe Biden in the past months, while seeking to assure New Yorkers that her administration is doing all it can to handle the influx of asylum-seekers. The address came on the heels of new public polling that found the vast majority of New Yorkers consider the migrant crisis a serious concern, with the majority disapproving of Hochul’s handling of the asylum-seekers and her job approval hitting new lows.

Hochul spoke directly to New Yorkers in a virtual speech that was unusual for the governor. “I work every single day on your behalf to address the issues facing all of us,” Hochul said. “And that's why I'm speaking to you directly today, the people of New York, to give you the answers you deserve.” She once again assured suburban New Yorkers as well that the state “cannot and will not force” municipalities outside New York City to shelter migrants. “I'm grateful to the counties that have welcomed and supported the migrants, and we will continue to partner with them,” Hochul said of local county leaders who have accepted asylum-seekers. They are the outliers – many counties issued orders banning New York City from sending migrants there, leading to court challenges by the Adams administration. 

The letter and address, though one of the Hochul’s more direct pleas, did not demand anything from the federal government that she and others have not already called for. And the governor did not announce any new state action other than the launch of a new program from the Department of Labor to connect migrants with jobs as soon as they receive work authorization. But they both come just days after a poll from Siena College found that the vast majority of New Yorkers consider the migrant crisis to be a serious concern, with New Yorkers in the suburbs split on their desire to help the city house them. Hochul notably underperformed in the suburbs in last year’s elections, and those communities on Long Island and the Hudson Valley are home to some of the most competitive congressional seats in the state that Democrats are hoping to win back. “Hochul’s move is a great example of what happens occasionally: the intersection of a really important problem that needs to be dealt with because it’s the right thing to do, but also because there’s a political imperative that makes it a necessary thing to do,” said Larry Levy, dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, noting that her office polls continuously. “This cannot be a surprise.”

A spokesperson for the governor told City & State that the public address was in the works since well before the Siena poll became public. “The Governor told her staff she wanted to deliver this speech more than a week ago and has been working on it since then,” spokesperson Avi Small told City & State. Hochul’s recently hired communications director Anthony Hogrebe previously worked for New York City Mayor Eric Adams, for whom such updates regarding asylum-seekers are more common.

In a follow-up briefing, Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray reiterated that the governor will not be taking any executive action to force counties outside of New York City to shelter migrants and city officials continue to scramble for housing and asylum-seekers sleep on the sidewalks. Adams himself asked the governor again last week to issue an executive order to prevent localities from rejecting migrants outright. “The governor has been really clear that what the state is going to do here is to assist with resettlement not resheltering,” Bray told reporters. “People have been moved around this country sometimes against their will, and what we want to do is like we said, expand the back door out of shelter so we can help more people live independently instead of… (moving) from one shelter in New York City out of New York City to another shelter.”

The Adams administration has been locked in a court battle over the city’s right to shelter as the mayor has attempted to roll it back in the wake of the migrant crisis. But the state has also been brought into the case as both the city and advocates for the homeless argue that the state has a responsibility as well. In response to a letter penned by lawyers for the city for aid, lawyers for the state responded by criticizing a “lack of coordination” from the city. Lawyers for the Adams administration wrote another letter to the state yesterday that included a list of potential sites both in the Big Apple and across the state that could house migrants. The suggestions went unmentioned in both the public address and the media briefing afterwards. 

In a lengthy statement, Adams praised Hochul’s call for immediate federal action, but criticized the lack of additional state action to assist the city. “Although we’re disappointed that the state today appears to minimize the role that they can – and must – play in responding to this crisis, the state must fulfil (sic) its duty to more than 8 million of the state’s residents who call New York City home,” the mayor said in a statement. Adams added that the governor is “abdicating the state’s responsibility to coordinate a statewide response.”

During the public address, Hochul once again laid the blame for the start of the migrant crisis on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who sent buses of asylum-seekers to New York last year, and called the issue an inherently federal one. “Since that time, the state has deployed enormous resources toward New York City's valiant efforts to shelter and support these nearly 100,000 migrants who have already arrived here,” Hochul said. “The reality is we've managed thus far without substantive support from Washington.” She touted the $1.5 billion the state has already invested to assist the city handle the crisis, the deployment of National Guard troops and support for shelters in the city, and sought to reassure wary New Yorkers that the state is doing all it can. Hochul appears to have support from legislative leaders, with state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins tweeting, “@GovKathyHochul is right,” and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie telling reporters the governor is “doing the best she can.” Bray, meanwhile, praised legislators for their help in getting state funds to New York City, and said that there are no plans to call lawmakers back for a special session this year to address asylum-seekers. “I say New Yorkers, thank you for listening, I promise to keep you engaged and involved,” Hochul said to close her remarks. “And as your governor, as I promised two years ago today, I will always protect the interests of all of you and your families.”