For months, New York officials grappling with an unexpected and unrelenting influx of asylum-seeking immigrants sent here from border states have been pressing Washington for help. President Joe Biden's administration answered Wednesday, at least on the policy front.

The Department of Homeland Security announced that it would allow up to 24,000 Venezuelans to enter the country legally, provided the migrants had a U.S.-based financial sponsor. That comes against the backdrop of what New York City officials have predicted could be up to 100,000 migrants flowing into New York alone.

The administration announced it would also use a policy known as Title 42 to keep many migrants from arriving at the U.S. border in the first place. The policy, instituted by former President Donald Trump's administration, came into effect in 2020 at the start of the pandemic as a means of protecting public health.

The administration’s moves were denounced by immigrant rights advocates, who said they would result in thousands of people being denied their right to apply for asylum. They also noted that the U.S. approach to Venezuelans fleeing an economic crisis wasn’t nearly as generous as its approach to the 100,000 Ukrainians who have entered the United States fleeing the Russian invasion this year.

We now have a path, we’re going to start seeing the flow of individuals stemmed.
Gov. Kathy Hochul

But on Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke approvingly of the administration’s response.

“We now have a path, we’re going to start seeing the flow of individuals stemmed,” she said.

The governor noted, however, that “thousands of individuals” from Venezuela and other countries remain “here right now” and that the federal government had to intervene. Meanwhile, aides to Mayor Eric Adams said they were hopeful that the city would recoup some portion of its costs so far in providing for the migrants..

The Adams administration estimates that the city’s bill for housing and assisting migrants could hit $1 billion in the coming year..

“We really are looking for a federal response to this,” Hochul told members of the press on Wednesday. “This belongs in the federal government and that's where the mayor and I are 100% in sync, to make sure that we have the resources, to make sure that this does not devolve into a real humanitarian crisis. We want to stop that from happening.”

'We need help'

Adams argues the city’s handling of the situation “has been nothing short of heroic” but that it had become unsustainable and requires immediate legislative and financial assistance.

“The time for aid to New York City is now,” said Adams when he declared an asylum seeker state of emergency on Oct. 7. “We need help from the federal government, help from the state of New York.”

The number of asylum seekers who have arrived in the city in recent months totals some 18,600, many from Venezuela and other south and central American nations. Of those, nearly 13,000 now reside within the city’s shelter system.

This week the city’s shelter population reached 62,070, the highest number since the early 1980s, when the earliest figures were recorded.

Adams said that at the current pace the city’s homeless population could cross 100,000.

Fabien Levy, a spokesman for City Hall, said in an email, We do not yet have a figure to share, but we have spoken to the federal government about reimbursement and they have said they want to expedite our reimbursement requests as they are put in.”

While Levy said the assistance would involve multiple federal agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) acknowledged it was in conversation with the Adams administration and was assisting local officials with their application to the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, which helps fund nonprofit and government agencies dealing with hunger and housing issues.

Silence from Biden

While immigration rights and homeless advocates have been critical of the mayor for certain aspects of the city’s response, many said the situation demanded a more muscular response from President Biden and from Congress.

“I think that the Biden administration should absolutely be leading the response,” said Camille Mackler, the executive director of Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (Immigrant ARC), “or at least providing significant support to all communities dealing with an influx of border arrivals, because, at the end of the day, these are individuals who have come to the U.S. to ask for protection, not to any particular state.”

Mackler said the administration had instead maintained a “prolonged silence on the issue” of how to best handle the tens of thousands of new migrants arriving in New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, many bused north by southern governors like Greg Abbott of Texas.

But experts were divided over the reasons for Biden’s low profile on the matter, with some blaming conservatives and others blaming progressives for being unwilling to cede ground on a deeply complicated and polarizing issue.

Theo Oshiro, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, said there is “plenty of blame to go around” and that the federal government should help New York provide indoor housing to the new arrivals, rather than the tent cities the Adams administration is currently constructing. He also pushed for meaningful immigration reform, something that has bedeviled Congress for years.

“Driven by hateful fear-mongering, Republicans at the federal level have for decades prevented sensible immigration proposals that would provide a path to citizenship and ensure a more functional system for asylum seekers and refugees,” said Oshiro. “This has frequently led Democrats to shy away from engaging on immigration policy as forcefully as they should, which we continue to see this year. Now, Republican governors are following their congressional delegations’ leads and shamefully using asylum seekers as political pawns.”

Vanessa Merton, who directs the Immigration Justice Clinic at Pace University’s School of Law, said Republicans had spent decades opposing “obvious common-sense and popular moves” such as institutionalizing DACA or expanding the number of work visas for immigrant healthcare workers as well as child- and elder-care providers.

“Any move the Biden Administration makes to ameliorate conditions for migrants (and in reality for all of us – our economy would benefit substantially from increased migration and workers at this time) is immediately denounced as ‘open borders’ and supporting ‘the invasion,’” she wrote in an email.

'Damned if you do ...'

However, others said advocates for immigrants are unwilling to acknowledge the scale of migration and the challenges it poses for policymakers.

Muzaffar Chishti, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, noted that border patrol officers had handled more than 2 million encounters in the last fiscal year, a record. Nonetheless, he said that the toxic nature of the immigration debate was such that some observers on the political left shied away from using the word “crisis” to describe the situation in what he suggested was a wrongheaded effort to downplay its severity.

“You’re kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't,” said Chishti. “If you begin to show any sense of urgency about it, you are branded as anti-immigrant, as if you are really raising the specter of an uncontrolled border.”

Chishti said one challenge in dealing with the current wave of asylum seekers is that many do not appear to have family members in the U.S.

“They have nowhere to go, they become wards of the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, New York officials will be looking to the federal government for help.

However Jojo Annobil, the executive director of Immigrant Justice Corps, said that certain federal efforts would only go so far.

“I don't think that FEMA coming in solves the problem,” said Annobil. “I think it's a bandaid.”

The problem, he said, required a nationwide response.

“Something has to give,” said Annobil, “and I think sometimes it's crises like this that get all of us to sit up and say, ‘What do we do now?’”