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New York City mayor embarks on Latin American tour to address immigration crisis at its source

The influx of asylum seekers to the Big Apple has sparked a fierce political debate over Mayor Eric Adams’ intention to suspend the city’s longstanding right to shelter

Crisis migrante en EEUU
Migrants camped outside a Manhattan hotel in February 2023.Leonardo Munoz (Getty Images)
María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo

The mayor of New York, Democrat Eric Adams, will undertake a four-day tour of Latin America this Wednesday, with a first stop in Mexico, to learn about the main routes followed by migrants arriving in the United States, according to his office. Since April 2022, 122,000 migrants have arrived in New York City, most of them coming from Latin America and Venezuela in particular. The influx has caused such a strain on the city’s shelter system that the mayor’s administration tried this week to move toward repealing New York’s “right to shelter” law, which requires the city to provide temporary housing to anyone who asks for it. Historically, this policy has been an obligatory one, until the number of migrants arriving has materially overwhelmed the city’s asylum capacity.

Adams’ tour will continue in Quito (Ecuador) and Bogotá (Colombia), ending with a visit to the Darién Gap, the rainforest separating Colombia from Panama that migrants perilously cross by foot on their way north. He is scheduled to return to New York this Sunday.

After repeatedly asking the federal government for help in dealing with the economic cost of the crisis, the Adams administration is coming under increasing criticism from many of its Democratic allies. The mayor’s top advisor, Ingrid Lewis-Martin — who this weekend literally said that what President Joe Biden should do is “close the border” to cut off the influx of migrants — has come under fire for her recent statements, as numerous activists and organizations, as well as people from within Adams’ own party, consider such assertions to be more typical of the most extreme factions of the Republican Party.

“The federal government needs to do its job,” Lewis-Martin said in a television interview. “We need the federal government, the Congress members, the Senate, and the president to do [their] job: Close the borders.” She added: “And until you close the borders, you need to come up with a full-on decompression strategy where you can take all of our migrants and move them throughout our 50 states.”

The local debate on immigration policy has become especially heated following the Adams administration’s second legal attempt late Tuesday to suspend the city’s right-to-shelter norm. If it were suspended, any migrant — or any homeless individual, as they are also covered by the mandate — would automatically be denied emergency housing. In recent weeks, the policy has already been curtailed in practice: single men, who until July were entitled to two months’ shelter, now only have one month, after which they must find new accommodation in the vast network of hotels and camps set up for migrants, including the gymnasiums of numerous public schools. The mayor’s office has been moving to suspend the right to shelter for months now.

Repeal the ‘Callahan doctrine’

Proponents of the so-called right to shelter say the mayor’s legal initiative spells the end of sanctuary as it is known in the city. If approved by a Manhattan State Supreme Court judge, it would mark the first major change in a practice that has been in place since 1981, when the city agreed to settle a lawsuit by the Legal Aid Society, a human rights group, by providing sanctuary to any adult, foreign or American, who requested it. This rule is also known as the Callahan consent decree, or Callahan doctrine, and obliges the city to provide refuge to any single adult in need (the mayor’s office has not questioned the asylum of families with minors, who receive immediate shelter and their children receive overnight schooling).

According to data from the mayor’s office, the migration crisis has cost the city more than $2 billion since the spring of 2022, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott chartered the first of the migrant buses to New York, in an attempt to put political pressure on Adams’ administration and by extension all other Democratic states.

Despite additional funding approved by New York State, in addition to aid coming from the federal government, the Adams administration insists that there is not enough money to meet all the expenses derived from the influx of asylum seekers. In the agreement reached in Washington to avert a federal government shutdown for 45 days, no additional funding to manage the migration crisis was included.

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