On Sept. 27, Anne Williams-Isom, New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, held a briefing on the city’s asylum seeker response. She was joined by NYC Health + Hospitals Senior Vice President Dr. Ted Long, among other state and city officials, as well as Mayor Jaime Pumarejo of the city of Barranquilla, Columbia to discuss his experience handling the influx of Venezuelan immigrants sinc3 2019.
“Since the first asylum seeker arrived in New York City in 2022 we have talked about how this is a larger national humanitarian crisis where people are coming from a number of places from around the world,” Williams-Isom said.
She added that “ultimately, political instability, economic depression, and strife in one’s home country led them to the U.S. and for many to New York City.”
Sharing insight into Columbia’s crisis, Pumarejo said his country has received, over the past four years, over 150,000 Venezuelans into his city of Barranquilla, which he says represents “at least 10 percent of its population.”
He said a major tool his community used to address the crisis was to grant asylum seekers work permits and temporary access to the country’s health, social and school programs. He said his city’s school program alone has had to accommodate upwards of 20,000 new students.
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“We’ve found a way to integrate them into economic life so that they can start working, becoming productive members of society and therefore helping us out in terms of growing the economical [situation] in our city and therefore making them a part of the city instead of having to subsidize their way,” he said adding that more than 2 million Venezuelans have fled to his country in recent years.
Williams-Isom noted similarities between the situations in Barranquilla and New York City:
“The asylum seeker issue is a national issue here in the United States as well. Which requires a comprehensive national response from our federal government,” he said, adding that “just as New York City needs help from its state and federal partners, municipalities around the country and around the globe need support as well.”
NYC is ‘out of space’
Williams-Isom said the city is now distributing flyers at the southern border, as well as communities around the country and more locally in shelters in the city in an attempt to address misinformation.
“We are releasing updated flyers to combat misinformation at the border and in cities across the country where people are coming to New York City from,” she said, adding that, “We want people to know what New York City is able to provide and what New York City isn’t able to provide any longer.”
“New York City is out of space,” she said.
Dr. Long said that the city is seeing new asylum seekers every day and that the influx of people is continuing to strain the city’s resources and that the city is now engaging in intensive “case management,” which he described as the “backbone” to their response.
The city is undertaking a census of all asylum seekers in order to gain better insight into what is needed for asylum seekers to “complete their journey,” and exit the city’s system.
According to Williams-Isom, as of Sept. 24, there are over 115,200 people currently under the care of city programs “including over 61,400 asylum seekers.”
“Over 118,800 asylum seekers have come through our intake system since last spring,” she said, adding that, “We have opened 210 sites including 17 humanitarian relief centers.”
From Sept. 18 to the 24, more than 3,000 new asylum seekers entered city care, Williams-Isom said.
“New York is and will always be a city of immigrants and we will always do our part to contribute to this national crisis,” she said. “But one city cannot support tens of thousands of asylum seekers without additional state and federal partners with no end in sight.”
She then called for more financial support, a comprehensive “decompression strategy” and a declaration of a federal emergency so that New York can unlock faster support from Washington.
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As the briefing unfolded, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was in New York City, speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Manhattan Institute.
Abbott has been instrumental in bussing migrants from the southern border to New York City.
“What’s going on in New York right now might not be the common circumstance or what you were looking for. But what is going on in New York is calm and organized compared to the real chaos of what we see on the border — not every day, but every hour of every day,” he said, according to Politico.
New York Mayor Eric Adams has laid the blame for New York’s migrant crisis directly at the feet of Gov. Abbott. Earlier this month he called Abbott “a madman.”
“New Yorkers deserve better than being trapped between a vicious game of political hot potato,” Adams’ spokesperson recently said, adding that, “When thousands of asylum seekers arrived at Governor Abbott’s doorstep in pursuit of the American Dream, he chose to use them as political pawns.”
Abbott says he has only bussed 15,800 migrants to New York City, while the Adams administration says nearly 120,000 migrants have arrived, including more than 60,000 who are currently under the city’s care.
Abbott does agree with Williams-Isom that the federal government needs to provide more support for communities in both New York and Texas, saying at the breakfast that “you may be able to expect some litigation.”
When asked what advice he has for Adams and New York state Gov. Kathy Hochul, he said, “They must prevail upon their president for more than just money. They need a change in policy,” adding that, “They need to demand what all Americans expect and that is the Biden administration will follow the rule of law and stop illegal immigration into the United States.”