Asylum Seekers Face Various Challenges as they Arrive in New York City


Martha Daniela Guerrero

Over the past few weeks, busloads of migrants have continued to arrive in New York City from southern border states. Local officials now estimate around 4000 incoming asylum seekers in the past few months.

Since April, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, two staunch anti-immigration Republicans, had increasingly publicized their efforts to ship hundreds of newly arrived asylum seekers to East Coast Democratic strongholds, most prominently to Washington, D.C. 

Shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser urged the federal government to help “prevent people from being tricked into getting on buses” to the nation’s capital, New York City Mayor Eric Adams began raising alarms about an “unprecedented surge” of at least 3000 migrants coming into the city. 

During an interview with Fox News anchor Sean Hannity in early August, Abbot denounced “the hypocrisy of these liberal leaders up in the northeast,” saying that Bowser and Adams were “up in arms.” 

After sparring with Adams on social media, two weeks ago, Abbott finally confirmed that a bus that arrived in Manhattan on August 5th held “the first group of migrants bused to New York City from Texas.” 

“I think that Governor Abbott, what he’s doing is just so inhumane,” Adams said at a news conference on August 8th, accusing the Republican leader of “putting them on a bus for the 44-hour ride, very few breaks, no food, no direction and clear information.”

Abbott reportedly hired private security firms to escort the busloads of migrants during their trek to New York City. 

As reports of armed bus guards began to circulate, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro said that his office was “aware” of Abbott’s efforts to keep migrants from hopping off buses before arriving at their final destination. 

While the migrants transported to New York and DC signed waivers acknowledging their voluntary relocation, Castro and Adams have called that into question. 

“People are confused as to why they are being put on buses headed to New York City, some often are leaving,” Castro said in a press conference. “They are staying in other cities and towns across the country and we are concerned that they are being forced or intimidated to stay on the bus to arrive here in New York City.” 

So far, Texas has transported a minimum of 800 migrants to the city on at least 15 buses. 

In line with other local authorities, Adams has vowed to give “shelter and support” to “every asylum-seeker that comes to New York.” However, the city’s scrambling to deliver on that promise has laid bare various structural inequalities, administrative hurdles, and economic challenges.

As the city increasingly relies on volunteer mutual aid groups and notorious for-profit homeless hotel operators to provide the basics of clothing, food, and shelter, its management of the asylum seeker influx has revealed simultaneous crises of housing, immigration enforcement, labor, and human rights. 

Border officials have been reportedly flooding New York nonprofits with improperly addressed court notices for asylum seekers, putting thousands of migrants at risk of deportation. 

Over the past few months, community organizations in New York have received over 300 notices instructing asylum seekers to appear in immigration courts in Manhattan and the Bronx, as well as several parishes across the city.

NBC 4 recently reported that notices are not only being sent to non-residential addresses, but also border officials are giving migrants paperwork with fake addresses with smiley-face emojis drawn in place of signatures on at least two occasions.

As many of the migrants with addressed notices are yet to enter the state, advocates have denounced southern border officials for making an already arduous asylum-seeking process all the more perplexing for applicants. 

Local organizations like Catholic Charities received hundreds of summonses and court orders for migrants with whom they had no prior relationship, and simply couldn’t contact. If a person seeking asylum fails to appear in court, a judge can issue an “in absentia order of removal,” meaning the individual would then become subject to deportation. 

“We don’t know what it is or why exactly they’re doing it,” said Josh Goldfein, an attorney with Legal Aid’s Homeless Rights Project, during a recent interview with City & State. “Maybe somebody’s trying to be helpful and saying, ‘oh, here’s a service provider in New York City. If that’s the case, then they’re just incompetent. It could also be something more malicious, you know, a lot in the spirit of what Greg Abbott has said, you know, ‘New York thinks that it’s okay for people to cross the border, then New York can deal with it. Here’s a random social services organization.’”

Along with court hearing schedules conducive to missed appointments and even deportations, New York has also seen an already strained shelter system pushed to the limit by the influx of migrants. 

As a right-to-shelter city, New York is required by law to provide same-day refuge to anyone who arrives by 10 p.m. at a shelter. However, over the past few weeks, the Adams administration has had to respond to incidents involving several families that were turned away from shelters and forced to sleep on the floor of intake centers. 

In a city where 60% of the population are either migrants or their children, new arrivals are not necessarily a new phenomenon. However, immigration advocates and attorneys said that the significant numbers of refugees coming via Texas — mainly from Central and South America, central Africa, and the Middle East — are arriving at a time when the city’s shelter system is severely overburdened. 

This summer, Adams responded to concerns about declining capacity in the shelter system by blaming refugees. However, even as the shelter population has been rising for months, some city officials say arriving migrants wouldn’t have represented a tipping point if social services had been properly managed. 

Cascading issues are behind an increasingly crowded shelter system, including an expiring state moratorium on evictions, skyrocketing city rents, a seasonal bump in family homelessness, and record local unemployment rates for Black and Latino residents.

Additionally, as shelter providers continue to reel from pandemic-era impacts, many have maxed out on their credit lines while still awaiting payments from the city and facing critical staff shortages. 

“It’s a little bit disingenuous to say it’s only one thing that’s driving this crisis. Because it’s multiple things,” said Catherine Trapani, Executive Director of Homeless Services United. “While I didn’t have this on my bingo card, what we could have anticipated was the need to add more shelter capacity as the census was going up.”

Migrants are arriving with just the clothes on their back, many hungry, dehydrated, and even ill after various days of traveling from southwestern border checkpoints, according to multiple local outlets and immigration advocates. Almost none have any of the belongings or documentation they first brought with them on their journey.

Adding to out-of-state court notices and a backlogged shelter system, arriving asylum seekers are likely to face ample challenges as they continue to make their way into New York City. 

Over the past few weeks, migrants have been reportedly out searching for jobs across the city every day, only to be denied employment and return to their temporary shelters without being able to access more permanent housing. 

As asylum seekers continue to arrive in large numbers, local politicians from border states and New York alike seem more interested in scapegoating migrants to justify controversial policies or evade responsibility than in fully addressing their needs and rights.

Today, thousands of migrants from Central and South America, central Africa, and the Middle East are confronting the US’ increasingly ambivalent commitment to asylum, displayed by leaders like Adams and Bowser, while also exposing the rising anti-immigrant populism that figures like Abbot have revitalized.