On the ‘Migrant Crisis’, Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

Cots in a migrant ‘respite’ shelter in Astoria, Queens. Source.


Amid a year-long partisan battle over the response to an influx of asylum-seekers at the United States-Mexico border, the conservative governors of Texas and Florida have sent a message to the governments of sanctuary cities and states by sending asylum seekers their way. The idea is clear: In the hopes of ‘gotcha’-ing Democratic leadership into admitting that migration is bad for U.S. communities, Republican politicians are weaponizing vulnerable sanctuary-seekers. New York leadership has taken the bait. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, in a months-long tour-de-force, has attempted to build popular support for ejecting asylum-seekers sent from Republican states. In January of this year, a frustrated Adams petitioned the White House for further assistance in dealing with the waves of people arriving from border states. In May, he asked a court to suspend an over-forty-year-old rule requiring the City of New York to fulfill a “right to shelter” obligation; he has since asked again this October, issuing apocalyptic warnings that the city will be “destroyed” by asylum-seekers. This time, Adams’ litigation strategy was co-signed by New York Governor Kathy Hochul, imploring the White House to further restrict the U.S.-Mexico border. In a bizarre move, Adams traveled to Central American states to dissuade migration.

Eric Adams visiting the Darién Gap on his trip to Central America. Source.

Why can’t New York City handle this influx of asylum-seekers? According to the City, there is simply not enough money. Adams has warned agency heads that they will face further budget cuts to make room for additional funding. Unfortunately, for Adams and Hochul, there are two big problems with this narrative.

Firstly, there is room in the budget for further expenditure on emergency relief services. The City’s Independent Budget Office estimates that the City will end Fiscal Year 2023 with a $4.9 billion surplus, assuming that the City and state of New York will shoulder the entire cost of emergency funding for shelter and other services. While the IBO projects this surplus to diminish in the coming years, there is no indication that the need for emergency funding will continue in perpetuity whatsoever. 

Secondarily, the New York City budget allocates an egregious and vastly unnecessary amount of funding in the police department. In 2022, the budget for the New York Police Department grew to over $11 billion. Additionally, the Citizens Budget Commission found this year that the City consistently underestimated the amount of overtime in the policy budget by $1.6 billion dollars. There is no reason why the police budget should be so large, especially when it is at the expense of public services that have seen dramatic cuts; the empirical argument that increased police spending lowers crime rates is unsupported and dubious. The budget’s largesse also stifles alternative approaches to public safety as pursued through community-level and social initiatives. Large amounts of money could be diverted from police budgets to emergency services, resolving both the issue of a vastly oversized budget and the need for additional funding for asylum-seekers.

Eric Adams announcing the city’s Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2024. Source.

Adams’ and Hochul’s migrant strategy is playing directly into the Republican playbook. If they are successful in overturning or restricting the right to shelter, the consequences for any homeless individuals or asylum seekers could be disastrous: it would force any number of shelter-seekers to go without housing, risking a lack of basic necessities while weathering the approaching cold winter.

If Eric Adams and Kathy Hochul are truly committed to ensuring the city’s policies remain humane, they would retract attempts at restricting the City’s right to shelter. Instead, they have resorted to Trump-era scapegoating that distracts from the very real and, importantly, self-inflicted resource constraints for services like public education, housing, and libraries. There is no excuse for replicating centuries-old racist myths that immigration saps resources, and New York should fight back against self-imposed austerity that hurts the whole city.


This article was edited by Matthew DeMott.