New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) on Wednesday redoubled his calls for federal assistance to house asylum-seekers, touching a sore spot in his relationship with the White House.
In a speech from City Hall, Adams underscored his resolve to be welcoming toward immigrants but said the estimated price tag over the next three years is unsustainable.
“New Yorkers could be left with a $12 billion bill. So, while New York City will continue to lead, it’s time for state and federal government to step up,” he said.
The city has already received about $140 million in federal funding for shelters, more than any other city away from the southwest border.
But, like other jurisdictions that attract newly arrived asylum-seekers, New York is struggling to house and feed a population that includes many people who can’t legally work in the United States.
Adams joined a fast-growing group of Democrats calling on the Biden administration to speed up the process for asylum-seekers to get a work permit; currently many have to wait about six months from the time of their application to start working.
“They want to work. This is nothing more anti-American than not letting people work,” said Adams.
“Imagine the boost to our nation’s economy if we were to fill the hundreds of thousands of jobs that need workers right now. It’s the right thing to do. And it is smart economics.”
Because working illegally can undermine an applicant’s chances, many asylum-seekers avoid working without Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorization.
The demands have created some frustration in the Biden administration because its expanded legal pathways for asylum-seekers already circumvent the legal requirement to wait 180 days to apply for work papers.
Asylum-seekers paroled into the United States either through the Biden administration’s program for citizens of Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti and Nicaragua or through the CBP One app are not subject to the wait, meaning they are eligible to apply for work papers as soon as they file an asylum application.
Those work papers are currently being processed in six weeks for Cuban, Venezuelan, Haitian and Nicaraguan nationals, and in two months for others, according to a DHS official.
The complexities of the immigration system could mean a number of the asylum applicants sitting idle might already be eligible to apply for work papers and not know it.
But frustration is growing amid a persistent need for workers in the economy and an idle population raring to work and instead living off humanitarian aid.
Democrats including Reps. Dan Goldman (N.Y.) and Jesús “Chuy” García (Ill.) are leading calls for the administration to amp up its use of measures such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS)and to speed up work permits for asylum-seekers.
In May, New York’s congressional Democrats joined to call for work papers for asylum-seekers.
Adams gave a shoutout to Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D), who issued a state of emergency Tuesday over dwindling shelter resources and joined calls on the Biden administration to break open the executive toolbox.
Healey’s state of emergency announcement came in the form of a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“While many Republicans in Congress may be holding up critical reform, the White House can help us now. I agree with Massachusetts Governor Haley. The federal government must take action,” said Adams.
Adams also recognized a DHS team sent to the city to “assess the situation” this week.
That team is expected to identify areas where New York and the federal government can better collaborate, review their findings with city officials and report their findings to Mayorkas, according to a DHS official.
Still, Adams is treading on thin ice with the administration.
In May, he was dropped as a surrogate from President Biden’s reelection campaign in part over an April press conference where Adams declared the city was being “destroyed by the migrant crisis.”
The White House deferred to DHS for comment on this story.
On Wednesday, Adams went out of his way to praise current asylum-seekers and the city’s long history as a migrant mecca.
“For centuries, immigrants have made that impossible journey, that leap of faith searching for freedom’s sake, a shot at the American dream. And the asylum-seekers who have arrived in our city since last spring are writing a new chapter in this timeless story,” he said.
Those comments could stave off some criticism from immigrant advocates who’ve panned the mayor’s approach to the issue in the past, but his policy prescriptions are unlikely to sway the Biden administration.
Apart from asking for federal dollars for New York shelters and work permits for asylum-seekers, Adams stuck to his proposal for the state and federal governments to lead “decompression” strategies.
“We need the federal government to lead a decompression strategy at the border so cities and states across the nation can do their part to shelter asylum-seekers. Because cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, and El Paso cannot be left to shoulder a national crisis without the proper aid,” he said.
In a January op-ed in The Washington Post, Adams defined “decompression” as a “strategy at the border that evaluates asylum claims, establishes a plan for each migrant’s arrival — before entry into the United States — and a system to fairly distribute newcomers regionally.”
The mayor’s proposal steps on the toes of the administration’s core border management strategy, which tightened some asylum requirements while opening new pathways for select migrants to seek asylum in the United States.
For the administration, the highly politicized border is a touchy subject.
The administration has staunchly defended its policies, both publicly and in court, where last week it won an appeal to keep its asylum policy in place while lawsuits filed against it play out.
That win means the administration will continue its carrot-and-stick approach for the time being, an approach federal officials credit with restoring some sense of order despite a flawed immigration system.
But Adams said New York is bearing the brunt, waiting for the feds to step in.
“New Yorkers’ compassion may be limitless, but our resources are not and our partners at the state and federal levels know this. We continue to face impossible decisions about allocating our resources, and that means a lose-lose for our most vulnerable New Yorkers, as well as those seeking asylum,” he said.
—Updated at 6:18 p.m.