In escalation, mayor says migrant crisis ‘will destroy New York City’

NEW YORK — Mayor Eric Adams escalated his rhetoric over the migrant crisis on Wednesday night, claiming in stark terms that New York City was being destroyed by an influx of migrants from the southern border and saying that he did not see a way to fix the issue.

“Let me tell you something, New Yorkers, never in my life have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to — I don’t see an ending to this,” the mayor said in his opening remarks at a town hall-style gathering on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “This issue will destroy New York City.”

Adams, a Democrat in his second year in office, has clashed with leading members of his party as New York City has struggled to provide housing and services to the migrants, who now number 110,000. For months, Adams has criticized President Joe Biden and Gov. Kathy Hochul for failing to help the city provide for the asylum-seekers and pleaded for additional funding and expedited work permits.

In recent weeks, the mayor has sought to increase the pressure, holding rallies and coordinating social media campaigns about the current and looming impact of the migrant crisis. In particular, Adams has focused on how it was hurting New York City’s budget and would prompt widespread cuts to city services.

But the mayor’s comments on Wednesday were his most ominous yet, and they drew praise from Republicans and condemnation from some Democrats.

On Wednesday, Adams pointed to new projections that the city’s budget gap could grow to nearly $12 billion — the same amount that city officials estimate that the migrants could cost the city over three years.

“Every community in this city is going to be impacted,” Adams said at the meeting. “We have a $12 billion deficit that we’re going to have to cut — every service in this city is going to be impacted. All of us.”

The surge of migrants crossing the southern border has overwhelmed city shelters and led to the opening of more than 200 emergency sites to house them. As New York City students returned to school on Thursday, city officials said that about 20,000 migrant children were expected to join them.

Migrants waiting to be processed outside of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. People have come from all over the globe to a city that is legally required to give them a place to stay. This week, city officials said they had run out of room.. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)

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Republicans have increasingly used the mayor’s criticism of Biden as a talking point before the 2024 presidential election. On Tuesday, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy quoted Adams in a statement that argued that the “Biden Border Crisis is hurting the country.”

“Mayor Adams is right,” McCarthy said. “New York City deserves better.”

Fabien Levy, Adams’ deputy mayor for communications, responded by criticizing “Trump Republicans” for failing to pass immigration reform in Congress.

But the mayor’s office has also continued to criticize Biden this summer, saying last week that the city’s requests for help were still mostly “unaddressed” and calling for a federal emergency and a national “decompression strategy at the border.”

Adams repeated the critique on Wednesday.

“We’re getting no support on this national crisis,” he said.

New York City has a mandate that it must provide shelter to anyone who needs it — a policy that has presented an enormous challenge for Adams, who has tried to weaken the mandate through legal and strategic measures. He has sought to appear welcoming to migrants while also raising alarm about the financial impact of hosting them.

He has received criticism from all sides. Hochul and the White House have assailed his management of the crisis. Republican leaders, some of whom have sent buses of migrants to New York, argued that the mayor should not complain because he championed New York City as a sanctuary city. Left-leaning Democrats have called the mayor’s rhetoric toward migrants xenophobic.

Anne Williams-Isom, the city’s deputy mayor for health and human services, said at a news briefing on Wednesday that the right-to-shelter provision was a major reason migrants were choosing to come to the city.

“Before, the right to shelter and what’s going on in New York City was like our little secret,” she said. “Now the whole globe knows that if you go to New York City, we’re going to do what we always do. We have a big heart. We have compassion. We’re going to take care of people.”

The setting for the mayor’s comments — the Upper West Side, a wealthy neighborhood in Manhattan whose residents largely did not vote for him in the 2021 mayoral primary election — seemed deliberately chosen.

Adams said the neighborhood was home to some of the most highly educated people in the city and asked what they had done to help solve the migrant crisis.

“As you ask me a question about migrants, tell me what role you played,” he said. “How many of you organized to stop what they’re doing to us?”

Then he made one last dark warning before opening the floor to questions from the crowd: “The city we knew, we’re about to lose.”

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