Debate over security and immigration policy last week shifted from the U.S. southern border to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.
That’s where three more busloads of asylum seekers on Wednesday arrived from Texas, courtesy of that state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, who has been sending new arrivals to Democrat-run cities like New York and Washington, D.C, to draw attention to border issues.
The 80 to 100 migrants are among what the Adams administration contends are some 4,000 asylum seekers to come to New York City in recent months, filling the city’s homeless shelters to near capacity, while waiting for their asylum claims to be heard.
Weekend All Things Considered Host Tiffany Hanssen discussed the growing controversy with senior reporter Arun Venugopal of WNYC’s Race & Justice Unit. Their conversation has been lightly edited for content.
Before we get to the growing concern over shelter capacity, I want to talk about what it's like for these asylum seekers when they first step foot in New York City. You were there this week at the Port Authority. Paint a picture for me.
It was quite a scene. You had three buses pull up, one after the other off of Eighth Avenue. And as these migrants disembarked from these buses, they had to get past this massive crowd of members of the press, TV crews, as well as demonstrators – some of them holding signs; some of them trying to help these migrant travelers. And then they proceeded into the Port Authority, where they were greeted by city officials, nonprofit groups, and offered legal and medical assistance. And then we saw some of them leave, and head to what we were told were emergency shelters.
We're fairly certain they were headed to shelters? I have seen pictures this past week of folks sleeping on chairs and in offices. Do we know where they're going for sure?
Some of them are going to shelters. Some of them have journeyed to other cities to stay with relatives. Primarily we’re talking about single men who appear to be in their 20s and 30s, coming from countries like Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, even Argentina. There is a much smaller number of women and children. But, yes, here we're getting at the controversy, what the debate is about: Where are they? And how does their presence affect the shelter system, if at all?
The Adams administration is saying something like 4,000 immigrants seeking asylum have come into the city in recent months and that's what's causing this strain on the shelter system, which was near capacity. Advocates don't necessarily agree that it is asylum seekers filling the shelters. So what's going on here?
There is a real issue here, which is that there is a large number of asylum seekers – 4,000 or more, which members of the Adams administration, and the mayor himself, have been pointing to, saying we've had thousands of these immigrants arriving on buses that Gov. Abbott has been deploying and sending as part of this much larger sort of national debate about border security, and what he says are the failures of the Biden administration to maintain border security.
But what many other people are saying outside of the administration – people such as City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams – is, we need a lot more transparency on this 4,000 figure because they're not getting that so far. Other people, as well from the Legal Aid Society, are saying what they suspect is that the Adams administration is not being forthcoming enough and that they're using this 4,000 figure to cover up their failings on the city’s housing crisis. We don't actually have the answers on whether it is a significant number of migrants who are at the center of this problem, or if the Adams administration is really, in fact, covering up a problem that has to do with evictions and the housing crisis at large.
You mentioned Gov. Abbott from Texas. Despite the political and sort of divisive nature of his actions, is it true that he is actually forcing what some see as a needed discussion on the issue of immigration?
Well, I think that's what a lot of people are saying, including immigrant rights activists, who may be firmly in the opposite camp from Gov. Abbott and other hardliners when it comes to immigration. Some of them are pointing to what they see as failings of the Biden administration. Following the very openly hostile attitude of the Trump administration, they kind of imagined or hoped that the Biden administration would be owning immigration, painting a more humane sort of climate for immigrants. And, instead, what they say is that Gov. Abbott and others in his camp are kind of setting the terms of this debate. And Democrats are sort of caught between a need to say ‘yes, we believe in border security like Republicans do, but we also believe in the humanity [of migrants],’ without necessarily accomplishing either.