Opinion | Mayor Adams Turns His Back on Immigrants and New York’s Legacy

Since last year, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have arrived in New York City from the southern border and around the world, seeking a better life in a place that has welcomed generations of immigrants since its founding.

What many of those migrants have found instead is a tepid welcome amid a housing crisis that has left the city barely equipped to offer them more than a meal in the hotels used to house a booming homeless population. They are lucky if they get a bed.

In recent days, the slapdash system the city has built to address the crisis has broken down completely, leaving migrants sleeping on Midtown streets. The city says there is no more room for them, but advocates say it needs to try harder.

And on Sunday, The Times reported that a shady contractor tapped by New York’s mayor, Eric Adams, to send asylum seekers upstate and provide them with services harassed them instead. The city’s taxpayers are footing the bill for this abuse, to the tune of $432 million. The curiously large, no-bid contract with DocGo, a medical services company, should never have been signed and needs to be terminated.

It’s true, as Mr. Adams has repeatedly said, that this crisis is a national issue and requires action from the White House and Congress. Cities like New York, which has more than 100,000 people living in shelters, cannot be expected to welcome asylum seekers on their own. More than 90,000 migrants have arrived in New York City over the past year, many as part of a political stunt by Texas, Florida and Arizona. Though immigrants strengthen the U.S. economy and are a vital part of the fabric of the democracy, local governments can’t simply absorb tens of thousands of people without help — especially for housing — and their taxpayers, in New York and elsewhere, shouldn’t be expected to foot the bill.

Still, there is something particularly disappointing about New York City’s official response to the asylum seekers, unfolding under the gaze of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. Nearly four in 10 city residents were born outside the United States. Waves of immigrants — Dutch, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Chinese, Latino and Afro-Caribbean immigrants, along with many others — helped build this city. So did millions of Black Americans who chased dreams in the city after fleeing the tyranny of the Jim Crow South.

That rich legacy doesn’t seem to be on Mr. Adams’s mind. Since the moment the migrants began showing up last spring, he has made clear he wants little to do with the practical or humanitarian issues their arrival has raised. The mayor has provided basic services for the migrants, and rightly so. But at every turn, he has done so grudgingly.

Mr. Adams has complained loudly that the immigrants were a “burden” on the city’s resources. His administration shut down a welcome center at the Port Authority bus terminal where volunteers had for months helped connect asylum seekers to services.

He said the migrants would cost the city $4.3 billion over the next two fiscal years, a figure New York’s nonpartisan budget watchdog said is probably $1.2 billion too high. He tried to undo a 1981 court decree that requires the city to provide shelter to anyone who needs it.

He erected giant tents — now dismantled — to house the migrants in remote areas of the city inaccessible to public transit, then made it exceedingly difficult for nonprofit groups to provide critical services to this vulnerable population, like legal assistance and even help navigating the city and its laws. Such services could help migrants acclimate to life in New York City and could ease complaints from neighbors of the hotels the city is using to house many migrants.

The Adams administration has been warehousing asylum seekers instead of putting the country’s largest municipal government to work helping them build new lives, in New York or wherever else they may want to go. This summer the Adams administration printed fliers to dissuade migrants from seeking new lives in New York, leaflets that sum up the mayor’s overall approach and betray the promise and spirit of New York as a home for people from around the world.

New York’s leaders are supposed to be different. The city’s voters didn’t intend to elect a mayor who acted like Greg Abbott, the Texas governor who sent migrants to cities across the country, including New York. Nor did they vote for someone like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, the presidential candidate who used asylum seekers for political sport, flying them to the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts at taxpayer expense just to own the libs.

New York can do better.

First, it seems clear that Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York needs to step in and demonstrate the concern lacking from City Hall. It may be in the best interest of both taxpayers and the asylum seekers for the governor to name an expert manager to oversee the crisis, which is clearly too much for the mayor to handle — a kind of New York asylum czar.

That wouldn’t free Mr. Adams to simply throw up his hands and walk away from the obligations the city has to these tens of thousands of people, whether they turn out to be temporary guests or newly minted New Yorkers.

The mayor could make a big difference quickly by welcoming established nonprofit groups — not no-bid profiteers — to provide critical services where migrants are being housed. Those services should include English-language classes, as well as basic job certification courses to help asylum seekers find work.

Despite Mr. Adams’s cold approach, many nonprofits and private volunteers and some municipal workers are engaged in this humanitarian work. In one small example, Dr. Theodore G. Long, a senior vice president at the city’s public hospital system, noticed many meals at the facilities used to house migrants weren’t being eaten, so he conducted a survey to find out why. The results? “We swapped out roast beef and did Italian food instead,” he told me. “I figured, let’s ask people what they want instead of guessing.”

That’s the kind of welcome a city of immigrants provides.

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Mara Gay is a member of the editorial board. @MaraGay

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