‘We need help. We need it now’: Pols issue joint call for government assistance with migrant crisis

Borough President Reynoso joined with local pols migrant crisis
Reynoso stood on the steps of Borough Hall on Aug. 15, petitioning for help from the Biden Administration.
Photo courtesy of Isabel Shepard

Local leaders gathered on the steps of the Brooklyn Borough Hall on Tuesday to admonish the federal government for its lack of assistance in serving the nearly 100,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in the city since last spring.

Borough President Antonio Reynoso was joined by Mayor Eric Adams and a cohort of city and state level representatives to ask for more help as the city scrambles to find housing and resources for migrants across the five boroughs. 

Mayor Adams joined local pols in calling for federal aid during growing migrant crisis.
Mayor Eric Adams joined local pols in calling for federal aid as the city struggles to handle the growing migrant crisis. Photo by Jada Camille

Adams said the city’s resources have been stretched thin, as they were still recovering from the economical effects of COVID-19. Last week, the mayor said the city has already spent more than $1.4 billion to accommodate migrants – and if nothing changes, expenses could balloon to more than $12 billion by next summer. 

“It’s unfair as this city continued to evolve [from] a national crisis, a humanitarian crisis of a level that has never been experienced before is now dropped into the lap of this city with no support that we deserve,” he said.

Reynoso said city agencies have been left to address this crisis on their own with little help from the state and a “completely absent” federal government. 

“This responsibility on addressing immigration issues falls on the federal government. There are only so many things we could do legally at the state and city level. We can only pass so many laws that tinker at the margins of this problem,” he said. “The mayor is doing the best he can under the circumstances to solve for this problem the best he can.”

Earlier this year, Reynoso offered to use Brooklyn Borough Hall as a shelter — an offer he still stands behind, he said Tuesday. 

Several advocates from across Brooklyn joined Adams and Reynoso in this public address including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, state Senator Jabari Brisport, Assembly Members Robert Carroll and Lester Chang, City Council Member Alexa Avilés and others. 

Williams said despite everyone’s varying stances on political policies, those who stood together on Tuesday were gathered in complete alignment that “this city cannot handle this humanitarian crisis by itself.”

He said without adequate federal help, local pols are left making the “best of bad options.”

migrant center with tents
Last fall, the city opened a temporary facility for migrants on Randall’s Island, which quickly closed after outcry – but the administration is now planning to open a similar facility on the island and at other locations across the city. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

“We need help. We need it now,” he said. 

Avilés — who represents Sunset Park, where the city recently moved to house 100 migrants in a recreation center — said she does not stand against people immigrating to New York City. Rather than opposing immigration, she petitioned  for a national strategy that would alleviate the workload of local government. 

“We stand firm in the dignity of all people. I am very proud of New York City for stepping up and saying this is a welcoming city and reaffirming that with as much resource as possible but it is not possible to do this alone,” Avilés said. “We need comprehensive immigration reform.”

City, nonprofits struggle with rising costs of providing aid

In response to previous pleas for help, Governor Kathy Hochul secured $1 billion in the FY 2024 State Budget towards the crisis and advanced $250 million to the city to reimburse it for the cost of aid for asylum seekers. That will also support the work of Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, sanctuary sites, and respite renters.

“Since asylum seekers first arrived in New York, we have been providing significant humanitarian aid as New York City works to meet their legal obligation to provide shelter,” Hochul said in statement. “We will continue our efforts to provide financial support, personnel and equipment, and continued advocacy for federal assistance.”

State, federal, and city officials also began exploring alternative shelter options and locations where they could build migrant facilities including Floyd Bennett Field, a decommissioned airfield in southern Brooklyn. That option has rejected by the Biden Administration, a decision that leaves local government’s hands tied, Reynoso said. 

The mayor emphasized how important it is for New Yorkers to stand together as try to find solutions that work for both residents and migrants. 

“New Yorkers please don’t turn against each other. That is what the enemy wants. We cannot celebrate on Sunday and Friday nights and Saturdays in our synagogues, our churches, our Buddhist temples, our Sikh temples and talk about how great our Gods our yet we leave and use a level of hateful tone and rhetoric,” Mayor Adams said in a statement. “Don’t just be a good worshipper, be a good practitioner.”

The pols were also joined by representatives from the New York Immigration Coalition, The Legal Aid Society, Bridge Street Development Corporation and the Hotel and Gaming Trades Council.

hochul and adams shake hands migrant crisis
Hochul allocated some funds in the state budget to help allay the cost of the crisis in New York City, but pols say she and the federal government need to do more. Photo courtesy of Don Pollard/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gregory Anderson, president of Bridge Street Development Corporation, said the number of asylum seekers has grown so quickly that even non-profits like his that are used to providing wrap around services, are inundated. 

“Since last October, Bridge Street Development has collaborated to provide one-stop, wrap around services to thousands of asylum seekers, including food and clothing distribution, and direct access to much needed legal, financial, educational, physical, and mental health services for all ages,” Anderson said. “As the need and costs for these services continues to increase, so does the need for increased federal and state funding, as well as greater support from the private and philanthropic sectors. The time to act is now.” 

As city shelters, non-profits and immigration coalitions reached capacity, the city started opening untraditional emergency shelters in public school gyms, community parks,  hotels and other relief centers. 

These decisions have experienced their share of pushback from local residents.  

“President Biden and Governor Hochul have so far failed to galvanize the full weight of the federal and state governments to ensure the humane treatment of new arrivals to New York City, and the city’s compliance with all Right to Shelter court orders and local laws,” said Legal Aid Society chief attorney Adriene Holder in a statement. “This moment demands urgency from both the Biden and Hochul administration, and we call on the governor for increased resources in the form of funding, facilities, staffing, coordination and more, as legally obligated under New York State’s constitution.”