New York is about to start discouraging asylum seekers from seeking refuge here, handing out leaflets at the southern border, who warn migrants there is “no guarantee” they will receive shelter or services, Mayor Eric Adams announced Wednesday.
The city’s move is a sharp and somewhat unexpected departure from its long-standing status as a place of refuge, and as a place that guarantees a right to shelter.
“We have no more room in the city,” said Mr. Adams during a press conference at City Hall.
As part of the city’s shift in strategy, it will now require single adult migrants to reapply for shelter after 60 days, a move the mayor said was designed to make room for families with children. Mr. Adams said the city will step up efforts to help the migrants connect with family, friends or outside networks to find alternative housing.
If alternative housing arrangements are not available, single adult asylum seekers will have to return to the reception center and reapply for housing. It is unclear what would happen if there is no housing available at the consumption centers.
Immigrant and housing advocates questioned whether the changes were legal and would lead to increased street homelessness.
“I’ve worked with thousands of people over the years whose lives have been saved by the right to shelter,” said Craig Hughes, a social worker with Mobilization for Justice, a nonprofit legal services group. “The idea that there is some imaginary place that people will go to other than city streets is simply false.”
More than 90,000 migrants have arrived in the city since the spring of 2022 and almost 55,000 are still in the city’s care. Combined with the city’s existing homeless population, more than 105,800 people are sheltered by the city, a record.
The city has opened more than 188 sites to house migrants, including 18 humanitarian aid centers. From July 10 to 16, 2,800 new migrants arrived, according to Anne Williams-Isom, the deputy mayor for health and human services.
“Our compassion is endless,” said Dr. Ted Long, senior vice president of NYC Health + Hospitals, the agency that operates much of the emergency shelter for migrants. “Our space is not.”
The flyers don’t convey much sympathy, though. Available in English and Spanish, they describe New York’s high cost of housing, food and transportation. An accompanying illustration shows arrows pointing north from the border to South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and three other states – but not New York.
“There is no guarantee that we will be able to provide shelter and services to new arrivals,” the flyer reads. “Please consider another city as you make your decision about where to settle in the United States,” it concludes.
The city, however, remains under a decades-old court order that requires it to provide shelter to anyone who needs a bed.
Brad Lander, the city supervisor, said the announcement undermines the right to shelter and “New York’s defining role as a beacon of promise enshrined at the foundation of the Statute of Liberty.”
Advocates have called on city officials to make room in the city’s shelter system by moving those experiencing homelessness from a shelter to permanent housing more quickly. Mr. Adams and the City Council recently discussed legislation that would eliminate a rule requiring a 90-day stay in a shelter before becoming eligible for a city housing voucher.
The mayor vetoed a package of legislation and temporarily revoked the 90-day rule. The City Council easily overrode the mayor’s veto last week.
“I think the real solution here is not to keep doing half measures and shortcuts,” said Murad Awawdeh, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “It actually does the job of getting people out of the shelter system and into permanent housing.”
The mayor and city officials continued to criticize the federal government for not providing expedited work permits and for not forcing other jurisdictions to help absorb the influx of migrants. The city estimated it would spend $4 billion through the next fiscal year to house and feed the asylum seekers.
Mr Adams said the city had to change its strategy because the number of migrants was overwhelming the city’s ability to house them.
One strategy involved sending migrants out of town, which sued municipalities that tried to block those efforts. Mr. Adams also asked a judge to relieve the city of its sole right to shelter duties.
Hildalyn Colon-Hernandez, assistant director of New Immigrant Community Empowermentnonprofit that supports immigrant workers, said she understands the pressure the city faces, but that the challenge of finding housing would be extraordinarily difficult for newcomers who struggle to learn English, find work and obtain basic documents needed to obtain housing.
“Even regular New Yorkers who were here and have jobs couldn’t get affordable housing,” Ms. Colon-Hernandez said. “One hundred percent of the migrants who come here will tell you that their priority is to get a job and get out of a shelter.”
Andy Newman contributed reporting.