Eric Adams: Biden has ‘failed New York City’ on asylum-seeker support

The New York City mayor assailed the president in his strongest terms yet, as he pleaded for support in getting migrants work authorizations.

The city says nearly 35,000 recent migrants are in city shelters, and Adams said “there’s only one thing they ask for: … They’re saying, ‘Can we work?’”

The city says nearly 35,000 recent migrants are in city shelters, and Adams said “there’s only one thing they ask for: … They’re saying, ‘Can we work?’” Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Don’t blame congressional Republicans – President Joe Biden needs to take action to help New York City provide for the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who have arrived in the past 12 months. That was Mayor Eric Adams’ message Wednesday as he pleaded for action in his most critical terms yet against Biden, a fellow moderate Democrat and political ally.

“The national government has turned its back on New York City,” Adams said in a press conference at City Hall. He added later: “The president and the White House have failed New York City on this issue.”

Adams’ focus was on getting migrants work authorization, so they get jobs legally and provide for themselves. The city says nearly 35,000 recent migrants are in city shelters, and Adams said “there’s only one thing they ask for: … They’re saying, ‘Can we work?’”

To that end, Adams called for Biden to allow recent migrants from Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and other counties to apply for temporary protected status, a federal designation that would allow them to work. He called on Biden to provide the migrants humanitarian parole, another temporary legal status that was recently used to help Afghans relocate to the U.S. after the U.S. military pulled out of that country. And – noting the massive bureaucratic backlogs for migrants – Adams is also calling on Biden to speed up the process of seeking asylum and getting work authorization by assigning more U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employees to the job.

Of course, Adams’ own government is struggling with bureaucratic backlogs, as many city agencies face a staffing crisis. Adams has pledged to hire more people while cutting some unfilled positions – in fact, relying on that practice of shrinking the city’s headcount to balance his budget.

Adams also recently directed city agencies to find additional savings, cutting their city-funded budgets by another 4%. He has repeatedly attributed the need to save to, in part, the cost of providing for asylum-seekers. His office said Wednesday the city has already spent $817 million on the migrants through March 31, and it expects to spend about $4.2 billion through June 2024, the end of the next fiscal year.

Before Adams spoke, protesters in City Hall yelled at the mayor asking why he was cutting the budget for schools, housing and social services. The mayor responded directly, “I said before, every service in this city is going to be impacted by the asylum-seeker crisis. Every service. And even as we said that, for almost a year now, people are still asking the question why are we cutting. It’s called $4.2 billion.”

But it’s not just protesters. The New York City Council has questioned the mayor’s accounting, suggesting that his budget office’s revenue estimates were too conservative, and that his estimates for spending on asylum-seekers were too high. “There’s been no real accounting, so we don’t know,” a member of the council’s Budget Negotiating Team told City & State. They asked for anonymity given their involvement in ongoing budget negotiations. “All signs point to the numbers sort of stabilizing. So I don’t know where they think this is going to take off for the moon … It’s just like, show me the money,” the member said.

Adams spoke surrounded by poster boards with graphs and figures depicting, broadly, the city’s estimates. He noted that the pandemic-era rule known as Title 42 is expected to expire soon, which could result in even more Latin American migrants coming to New York City. The Biden administration, however, is planning to implement a stricter policy in its place that would limit asylum-seekers’ entrance into the U.S.

“We have constantly heard everyone state that these (are) make-believe numbers,” Adams said of City Hall’s cost and population estimates. “These are real numbers. This is what it costs to do this. So what we’re saying to the White House, the Biden-Harris team, if you would allow people to work, it would take some of the pressure off of the city of New York and other cities.”

Adams has repeatedly called on the federal government to provide funding and support to cities like New York that have experienced a huge influx of asylum-seekers over the past year. In early January, when the city was averaging 400 new arrivals every day, the administration called on the state government to help provide shelter to migrants.

The White House seemed to brush off Adams’ criticism. An emailed statement from a White House official highlighted the federal infrastructure money that’s already been sent to the city, and noted that “FEMA is also providing assistance to support this city as it receives migrants and will announce additional funding for receiving cities like New York City in the coming weeks.” The Adams administration this month submitted a request for $650 million in federal aid, the Daily News reported, even as the White House only allocated $350 million this round to be split among multiple local governments.

The White House official also noted that some migrants coming to New York were already eligible for work authorization under programs like humanitarian parole and temporary protected status – though Adams called on Biden to expand eligibility for those programs. “None of these Administrative tools are a substitute for Congressional action,” the official added. “We need Congress to act. Only they can reform and modernize our decades-old immigration laws.”

The Adams administration could be doing more to limit city spending, like expanding eligibility for city housing vouchers to get migrants into long-term housing, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander said in an emailed statement. “Right now, we are spending over 99% of our resources on temporary shelter measures, and less than 1% towards helping new arrivals build new lives that will contribute to our city’s cultural and economic vitality,” he said.

Adams’ press secretary Fabien Levy said Adams is headed to Washington, D.C., for a day trip Friday for a meeting of the African American Mayors Association, and he plans to meet with Biden administration officials afterward to discuss support for asylum-seekers. 

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was in Washington on Wednesday, also lobbying for support for the city. “He’s not on the steps of City Hall asking what are we doing,” Adams said of Williams, a frequent critic of the mayor. “He’s in Washington, D.C., meeting with our national leaders, asking what are they doing.”