News & Politics

NY GOP thanks Texas governor for making immigration a local issue

At the state party’s annual gala last week, New York Republicans demonized asylum-seekers while celebrating the man who has shipped them to New York City.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at the New York State Republican Party’s annual gala on April 4, 2024.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at the New York State Republican Party’s annual gala on April 4, 2024. Timmy Facciola

“And thus began the busing of migrants to New York City,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced to a room full of cheering New York Republicans last Thursday night in Midtown. 

Since 2022, Abbott’s office has sent an estimated 40,000 undocumented migrants to New York CITY, stressing its social safety net and ushering to the forefront of Empire State politics an issue once relegated to the southern border. Under the leadership of chairman Ed Cox, the New York GOP has ditched its previously moderate posture for a Trumpian wrath against undocumented immigration, bucking its old reputation and harshening its rhetoric. 

While none have yet joined former President Donald Trump, in referring to undocumented migrants as “animals,” many Republican politicians in New York are now eager to blame all 170,000 asylum-seekers living throughout the city for the crimes of a few. Last week, 500 of the state party’s biggest supporters paid $1,250 each to have dinner in the same room as the man who bussed to their hometown 15,000 of the migrants they now so fervently fear.

Shortly before 6 p.m. donors began filing in for the New York GOP Annual Gala – a smattering of county, state and federal Republicans hailing from the shores of Long Island to the New York-Canadian border, dressed in bespoke pinstripe suits, star-embroidered blazers, Gucci loafers and their square-toed knock-offs. At least two gentlemen sported ties bearing an image of the U.S. Constitution. 

Among the first arrivals was Mazi Pilip, the former Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District who lost a special election to Rep. Tom Suozzi by seven points in February. She didn’t want to answer any questions, saying she was just there to enjoy the night. She inched closer to a crowd of familiar faces including former Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin, U.S. Senate candidate Mike Sapraicone and Rep. Anthony D’Esposito. On cue, the group of notables walked through a set of doors, past the dining area and into a side room for a special VIP cocktail hour where waiters passed beef tartare on soggy crostini. 

D’Esposito, the lone member of Congress in the room, told City & State that he did not blame Abbott for sending the migrants to the city.

“While I would rather the migrants not be shipped to New York, when you’re elected into office, your job is to find solutions to problems and that’s exactly what he did,” he said. “He found a solution to a problem that his state was facing by taking migrants and placing them into a sanctuary city. Unfortunately, here in New York City, there (were) no plans in place to actually serve as that sanctuary.”

Outside the VIP room, a handful of other recognizable Republican faces mixed with the hoi polloi. Curtis Sliwa stood in his red beret, shaking hands and basking in the attention. The former Republican mayoral candidate – who in February did a live Fox News interview while his Guardian Angels roughed up an innocent civilian whom he wrongly claimed was a migrant – was eager to talk about the migrant crisis. But he seemed less excited about Donald Trump being the presidential nominee than some of the evening’s other guests.

“Well, obviously, he is the nominee. You know, the migrant issue is the dominating issue and he owns it. Biden continues to fumble the ball, which affects our entire country,” he said. “I was there on day one in August of 2021 when Eric Adams’s swaggerman came out with his entire entourage and met the first buses that Abbott had sent to New York and called him a racist.” The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Across the room was Rob Astorino, the former Westchester County executive who was once the Republican nominee for governor of New York and now has his own Saturday afternoon show on Newsmax. Astorino has been complaining about the influx of undocumented immigrants in New York for more than two years, longer than most at the gala. “I was ringing the bell and nobody wanted to hear it,” he told City & State.

In February 2022, Astorino obtained video of a group of children and teenagers boarding buses at the county airport and then sent Joe Biden a letter demanding answers about the supposedly  “secret” flights of “illegal aliens.” In response, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Health and Human Services said that there was nothing secret about the flights.

“Unfortunately, you compound what Joe Biden was doing with the flights with the sanctuary city status and you’ve got what we have today: an ungovernable New York City,” he said. “It always looked like the problem was somewhere else and the border was going to remain open. (Abbott’s) forced everybody, including Democrats, to deal with the problem now.”

The gala’s attendees represented a relatively narrow slice of the Republican party in New York, as both moderate members of Congress and the party’s hardcore pro-Trump youth wing kept their distance. Reps. Marc Molinaro and Mike Lawler – vulnerable first-term incumbents – were both absent. So was Gavin Wax, the firebrand leader of the New York Young Republican Club, who feels that the state party was too slow to embrace Trump.

“The real New York Republican gala happened this past December with President Trump at Cipriani Wall Street hosted by the NYYRC,” Wax told City and State. “Not sure what this cheap knockoff was but the chicken they served looked as cold and stale as our illustrious State Chairman Ed Cox.”

Although Wax did not attend last week’s event, the stage was occupied by another member of his zealous lot – Rep. Elise Stefanik, a member of the New York Young Republican Club and a potential Trump running mate. It’s been four months, but Stefanik was still boasting about the House committee hearing that cost two Ivy League presidents their jobs. The fourth-ranking House Republican cemented herself into GOP stardom in January when the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania resigned following backlash from questions Stefanik asked them during their congressional testimony about their response to campus protests.

“A reckoning is coming and I believe this scandal will prove to be the greatest scandal ever in higher education,” Stefanik told a howling audience that was enjoying their evening dose of the culture war after Abbott’s immigration speech. “And mark my words, I will not rest until they are all exposed and held accountable. The world is looking for strong moral leadership and these university presidents failed the test.”

Stefanik said that Abbott was not the politician responsible for crimes committed by migrants he sent to New York. “I blame sanctuary cities and I blame Joe Biden’s border policies,” she told City & State. “It is Joe Biden’s border crisis that he created on day one. And I stand with Governor Abbott, and the people stand with Governor Abbott to secure the border.”

As he surveyed the room at the end of the night, the gala seemed to be going just as Cox had hoped. There was deep anger at the Biden administration and gratitude to Abbott for raising the issue of immigration and sticking it to the Democratic leadership of New York state. Cox is confident that Republicans will win in November so long as immigration and crime continue to dominate the headlines.

“The three big issues, whether it’s here or in Texas: one is migrants, two is inflation…and third is crime,” Cox told City & State. “And the first merges with the third when you have crime by a migrant. It’s going to be a huge political issue.”