Indefinite Displacement: NYC’s Migrant Resettlement Program

Photo via MotherJones

***

In the span of nearly two years, over 175,000 migrants have arrived in New York City. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has caused many migrants passing through the U.S.-Mexican border to declare the sanctuary state of New York as their final destination in America.    

New York City shelters currently house around 65,000 migrants. Families with children comprise a quarter of this population. As of January 9, 2024, the city began evicting families who had reached a 60-day stay limit at migrant shelters under the Migrant Relocation Assistance Program.

Where do migrants go after being kicked out of a time-stamped shelter? 

Families may return to the intake center at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan and apply for another 60-day residency. However, most are subject to displacement from beds where they have just begun to settle. Single adults face even harsher housing prospects as adult shelters have implemented mere 30-day limits. Around a thousand adult migrants currently sleep in or outside subway stations around the city.

Critics of the program call it disruptive to the already turbulent transition into America, especially for children attending local public schools. Due to cultural and linguistic barriers, students often encounter isolation and confusion in classrooms. Relocation across the five boroughs and the few counties receptive to migrants further exacerbates the challenges of attaining a proper education.

Mayor Eric Adams defends the shelter limits as both humane and practical. He envisions that beds will begin to free up, offering newly arrived families a place to stay. Additionally, the program coordinates previous residents with more permanent placements in hopes of moving them out of the public housing system for good. 

So far, the program has only successfully secured long-term housing for 10% of families.

In a press conference discussing the program, Adams asserts, “We need a high level of discipline not to turn this into politics. We’re talking about people.” 

He aims this statement toward federal leaders plagued by policy inaction and politicians in southern states who have spitefully sent busloads of migrants to NYC. Last year, President Biden requested “$1.4 billion in aid to states and localities” overwhelmed by steady influxes of migrants, but Congress remains at a standstill on the proposal. 

According to NPR, a crucial distinction in the experience of homelessness between migrants and non-migrants is that “U.S. citizens are eligible for all kinds of housing vouchers…that can help them get out of shelters” in a more timely manner. Migrants, however, are ineligible for most avenues of public assistance and rely on the city to provide them with housing. 

While the mayor has promised that no families with children will sleep on the streets of the city, the reality is that many have, just under the protection of a tent. Many migrant adults have experienced perpetual homelessness and achieved an unsteady income as food delivery workers, one of the few employment opportunities accessible to those without work permits. 

Anti-immigrant sentiment from the local, state, and federal levels prevents counties from adopting sanctuary status. As a result, international immigrant destinations like New York City continue to cripple under the financial strain of housing tens of thousands of migrants who have no better place to call home. 

If the nation could only relinquish the myth that immigration hinders American society rather than helps it, they would realize that migrants actually strengthen our economy and boost the workforce. The very pillars of industrial and cultural growth stand upon the shoulders of migrants from the last three centuries. An essential reminder for US citizens is that no one, except for indigenous peoples, can claim ancestry to this land.

*** 

This article was edited by Sarah Davey and Naba Syed.