NEW YORK (AP) – Few places in the United States have a deeper reputation as a haven for immigrants than New York City, where the Statue of Liberty rises from the harbor as a symbol of welcome to the worn and weary.
But for Mayor Eric Adams, it’s hard to reconcile that image with the influx of immigrants landing in the city, including the thousands bused by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott from Texas. The city is struggling to accommodate what Adams says totals more than 13,000 asylum seekers, leaving him wondering whether New York can relax its practices to shelter the homeless or even temporarily migrated home on cruise ships. Both ideas have been withdrawn by liberal advocates who influence the city’s politics.
Adams is one of several leaders of Democratic-leaning jurisdictions facing a sudden test of their commitment to becoming “sanctuary” cities or states. pressure to ensure that the government treats migrants humanely.
But officials say the policy is being pursued by leaders hoping to make a political point.
“We are not telling anyone that New York can accommodate every immigrant in the city. We are not encouraging people to send eight, nine buses a day. That’s not what we’re doing,” Adams said this week about his request for Abbott to coordinate with the city about the migrant buses he’s sending. “We are saying, as a sanctuary and a city that has the right to shelter, that we are going to fulfill our obligation.”
The GOP effort began in the spring when Abbott and Gov. Doug Ducey from Arizona migrated on buses to Washington and later to New York. The move was intended to highlight what GOP governors consider failed border and immigration policies under Democrats and the Biden administration. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stepped up the tactic, chartering a flight last week to Martha’s Vineyard, an elite Massachusetts resort.
The unpredictability to which Adams referred is precisely what the governors say they are trying to achieve.
“If you believe in open borders, the sanctuary jurisdictions should be in charge of the open borders,” DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday.
Abbott’s office dismissed the complaints and says Democratic officials should have called on President Joe Biden to secure the border “instead of complaining about keeping his sanctuary city promise.”
Sanctuary cities or states are not legal terms but have come to symbolize a commitment to protect and support immigrant communities and a refusal to voluntarily provide information to immigration enforcement officials. Advocates say they are sanctuaries for immigrants to feel safe and to be able to report crime without fear of deportation.
Adams is not the only leader struggling to meet the challenge.
In Washington, DC, where Abbott has sent about 8,000 migrants this year, Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a limited state of emergency. She sought help from the National Guard, which the Pentagon denied. The DC Council voted Tuesday to create an Office of Immigrant Services to help asylum seekers.
Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker of Illinois brought in the Illinois National Guard to help more than 750 migrants who have arrived in Chicago since late August, but officials in Chicago-area suburbs have complained they received no notification when the many asylum seekers there. set up in local hotels for emergency housing.
Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso, a Republican, said Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot apologized for not giving him advance notice, echoing complaints from Democrats that Republican governors had not warned the migrants were coming. But the town of Grasso has not been asked to provide any resources to help the migrants, and the state, county and city of Chicago are paying for all the hotel rooms, according to Pritzker’s office.
Laura Mendoza, an immigration organizer for the advocacy organization The Resurrection Project, said putting migrants in suburban hotels helped relieve some pressure but finding a place to live for everyone was a challenge.
Mendoza said she missed the number of buses that helped her welcome Chicago’s Union Station as they arrived from Texas. After a 24-hour bus ride with minimal breaks, she said, some of the people who land are dehydrated and have swollen feet from sitting for so long. Others have bruises and scars from their trip, Mendoza said.
“Unfortunately,” she said, “we don’t have many answers other than: ‘You’ll have a safe place to sleep tonight.'”
Thousands of migrants who cross the border illegally into the United States are released each month to pursue their immigration cases, a practice that accelerated during the presidency of Donald Trump and has reached new levels during the Biden administration.
To avoid the time-consuming task of scheduling court appearances, the Border Patrol has greatly increased its use of humanitarian parole. Immigrants are released with an order to appear at a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.
In New York City, Adams said he is considering legal action against GOP governors. He said Monday that the city has opened an investigation after one woman who was seeking asylum died by apparent suicide over the weekend at a New York City shelter.
His administration has been pressured by the longstanding court-ordered “right to shelter” law that requires the city’s homeless services to provide shelter to anyone without a roof over their head. Adams recently suggested re-evaluating how the city complies with the law, but said Tuesday he would not consider trying to send the migrants back to border states.
“It would be the wrong thing to do, and it would send the wrong message,” he said. “When I look at the large number of other communities that have come from other places to taste the American dream, what would happen if I sent them back? That is not who we are as a country.”
New York City opened a resource center last week to connect immigrants with services such as legal aid, housing and medical care. Adams is investigating whether New York can get permits for immigrants to work, perhaps in the city’s understaffed restaurants.
Sandro Hidalgo, a construction worker from Venezuela who arrived last week on a bus sent from El Paso, is among those sheltered in New York and said he is looking for work.
“I feel there is an intention to help, but there is no organization,” he said. “There are no beds to sleep on. I slept on the floor last night, inside, just on the floor. I’m trying to get out of the shelter, but the city is very expensive.”
Associated Press writers Bobby Caina Calvan and Claudia Torrens in New York, Elliot Spagat in San Diego, Claire Savage in Chicago and Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.