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Transcript: Mayor Adams Appears Live On CNBC’s “Squawkbox”

March 1, 2024

Andrew Ross Sorkin: Welcome back to SquawkBox. President Biden and former President Trump separately visiting and speaking from the U.S.‑Mexico border. That happened yesterday.

Biden talked up a border security bill that's been shunned by many in the House GOP Conference, Trump blaming, though, Biden for the broken state of things, tens of thousands of migrants that have made their way into this country have come to New York, putting a strain on some of the city services.

Joining us to talk about that and so much more, New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Mayor, good morning to you. Thank you for joining us.

Mayor Eric Adams: Good morning.

Ross Sorkin: It's great to see you. Let's talk about the migrant crisis, and let me just ask you frankly, who do you blame for what's happening here?

Mayor Adams: Well, I think that the goal is not so much pointing the blame, because blame can go around so many different sectors. It's how do we solve the problem? 177,000 migrant and asylum seekers have found their way to New York City, and I think there's a clear way that we can solve this problem.

Number one, we need a real decompression strategy to allow this to go throughout the entire country; and number two, we need to allow people to work. What is more of the American dream than the right to work? You cannot prevent that if we want people to take the next step in their journey.

Ross Sorkin: But tell us about the battle that's been happening between the City of New York, the State of New York and Washington. You all plus CEOs in this city have called for federal funding from the White House, and that call has not been returned.

Mayor Adams: Well, actually, when you look at it, a real coalition has developed. You look at what's taking place in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Washington, D.C. and other local municipalities, El Paso, Texas. No city should have to carry the load of the migrant asylum seeker crisis. It's a national problem.

The long term is having a real immigration reform that's taking place, but immediately, we need to have the proper funding because it is impacting all of our cities at this time economically.

Ross Sorkin: There's a historical issue here, though, to talk about, which is the sanctuary city status that New York has or has had, something that you are now trying to change. Can you speak to that?

Mayor Adams: Well, we believe in the sanctuary city status. Immigrants that are here should be allowed to continue to move forward in their lives. We are talking about a specific part of it that was changed under the previous administration.

From the days of Mayor Koch and Mayor Bloomberg, there was a clear indicator for those who commit serious crimes in the city, they should be able to be deported after they serve their time. And I continue to believe that as a former police officer. 

We have a job to apprehend those who commit crimes.The prosecutors prosecute and I think the federal government should use this authority after the time is served to deport the individual. Dangerous people, no matter if they're migrants and asylum seekers or long‑term New Yorkers, should not be carrying out violent acts on New Yorkers. And the overwhelming number of migrants and asylum seekers here are trying to take that next step, but there is a small number that are violent and they're dangerous.

Ross Sorkin: You spoke earlier about the idea of having these migrants work in New York and giving them an opportunity to work. Have you ever thought of just doing it on your own at this point?

Mayor Adams: We would love to. Trust me, I've turned over every legal stone to see how we could go about doing it. But if we do it, we could expose ourselves to violating federal laws as well as the city being sanctioned.

And would you believe, I cannot even allow migrants to volunteer and give them a stipend. If I wanted them just to clean up in the areas where they are staying, that's not allowed to do. When you think about this, this strikes at the heart of who we are as a country. All of our immigrants that have come to this city, all of us in this country, we had the authorization to work and earn our rights to be here, and that's all the migrants and asylum seekers are asking for.

Ross Sorkin: Well, one of the things you are doing is an experimental program to provide debit cards with cash on the card. This has created an enormous controversy in the city among some taxpayers who say why are we paying and giving out this money to these migrants, and isn't this only going to encourage more migrants to come to New York?

Mayor Adams: The reason it's created such controversy is because of how it has been reported and distorted. Here's what we're doing. We are required to feed migrants and asylum seekers as well as everyone else in our homeless system. About 40,000 are in the homeless system that are not migrant and asylum seekers. We're required to feed them.

And so what I told the team to do is we have to find a way to do it that's less costly — because we’re doing a 30 percent decrease in the cost of the migrant crisis — and that we don't have food waste. We were able to do that. We are saving approximately $600,000 a month, $7.2 million a year by giving individuals a card that allows them to buy food or baby supplies, spending $13 a day on food. That's cheaper, that's less food waste. This is a real win‑win for us.

And the money will go into the local economy because now we're going to the local stores, supermarkets where we're going to hire local. This is a smart way to bring down the cost and replace the money back into our city.

Ross Sorkin: Mayor, a very direct and political question. When you look at President Biden and you look at former President Trump and you look at the migrant crisis that you are facing… 

Mayor Adams: Well, I think that… 

Ross Sorkin: ...which one do you believe will ultimately help you solve that crisis faster?

Mayor Adams: I am a supporter of the president and I think when you do an analysis of this issue of immigration, this is an issue that has been played out too long on the political stage of our country. It has to be resolved as one of the top issues that voters are looking at.

I think that we could solve it now by taking some very clear steps such as the decompression strategy, funding these cities, allow migrants and asylum seekers to work. We did almost 25,000 with work authorization amd TPS when it was recently expanded. We can go even further to some of the other cities and municipalities.

Joe Kernen: Mr. Mayor, I've seen, you know, you can imagine it's been dredged up from 2019 and it was President Biden basically saying, it sounded like something from the Statue of Liberty, bring us your tired message. This is why we're here. If you want to come here for a better life, come here. We want you to come. Then he rescinded, what, 90 executive orders at that time.

I mean it's clear where the 7.2 million… I think we can at least ascribe some cause and effect to those comments and getting rid of all the executive orders. Do you think the president could reinstitute, put some of those executive orders with the sign of a pen back on and would that help.  Would you urge him to do that to help your situation?

Mayor Adams: The most important thing I believe we could do during this crisis is allow people to work. Everyone who passed through the Statue of Liberty came here, and even if it was a menial job, it gave them the dignity and respect that everyone here deserves.

Think about it for a moment. Do you know, we don't even hear about the Ukrainian citizens that arrived here? We have a large Ukrainian population after the war that's here in New York City. You don't hear about them. You know why? They have the authorization to work. We gave them the financial support that they deserve. We did the right thing for them. We should do the same for those who are coming from South, Central America and other parts of the globe. That consistency will resolve this issue that we're facing.

Ross Sorkin: Mr. Mayor, I know we only have so much time and I want to hit and talk about three other topics, one being EVs. I want to talk about social media, and frankly, I want to talk about weed in New York City.

I want to talk about EV piece first. You just put out a job creation plan. Part of that includes EV infrastructure, and you're doing, though, that at a time, in truth, when a lot of the major car manufacturers in the U.S. are actually pulling back on some of their EV ambitions.

Mayor Adams: EVs are here, electric vehicles are here and they're going to be here. You're going to see a lot of laws shift and change to move away from fossil fuel. They're here. The problem is that if you build it, they will come, and the building is the EV charging stations.

And so we have a real win‑win here.  If we proliferate our cities with the charging stations, number one, you can employ many individuals who know how to install them, to prepare them, to fix them, to manufacture them. It will be a real job growth in a process.

Then it's a win for our economy. We know our economy. Our economy can take this boost and our environment when we were moving in the wrong direction and our environment. I think that EVs are the way to go. We are going to continue to expand faster charging. The technology is getting better and better as we continue to use it more and more.

Ross Sorkin: On social media, you're suing TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube over the mental health crisis you say is happening in the city and costing this city a $100 million. You've sued them.  Now, Partnership for New York says that it's the wrong approach.

I'm curious what you think the end result of that suit is supposed to be ‑‑ meaning, are you hoping to get dollars from them? Are you hoping to change their behavior, and you hoping to do both?

Mayor Adams: I think that all of you who sit around this discussion reflect on your children. You know what's happening at home. You know how addictive these devices and social media platforms, they have become to our children: increase in suicidal ideations, increase in depression. Our young girls no longer believe their body types are really part of their heritage and who they are.

We are watching violence being proliferated. Here in New York City, you're seeing young people ride on top of subway trains, getting 35 million views. We're seeing them steal vehicles because they're learning it on social media platforms. It has hijacked our babies.

And what I want out of this is for our young people to regain what we all need as we do our personal development. All our neurologists and scientists are talking about less than 14 years old, the brains are not prepared to do this form of intaking of information and some real unfortunate information that our children are receiving.

So, we want them to improve, remove and stop using algorithms that are harming our children at such an early age and to pay for the cost of some of the mental health crises we're seeing coming out of this. This is the right thing to do, just as we did with cigarette manufacturers years ago.

Ross Sorkin: You mentioned cigarettes. I want to talk about weed for a moment. Just yesterday, you had a ribbon cutting for a legal pot shop that opened up on Thursday, owned by a small business, a minority small business owner.

I'm curious what you think of weed in the city. It feels to me, as somebody who lives in this city, that every block you walk on, you smell it everywhere. It's everywhere. And I wonder just how you, as the mayor, feel about that and whether something needs to be done about that?

Mayor Adams: And I concur with you. We had a law that was passed in Albany. I thought the law had good intentions. We knew for far too long that the heavy‑handed approach of dealing with small quantities of marijuana was really criminalizing a large population of people, particularly Black and brown communities.

But we cannot allow this to get out of control. And what does that look like? We're seeing far too many illegal shops opening because the Police Department, the sheriff, we do not have the local authority to immediately close down these locations. We should make sure that this is a well-regulated legal shops that are opening.

And then we have to be clear about where you can actually smoke, like we did, was cigarettes. People thought it was not possible to regulate where you smoke cigarettes. Because we can't have our young children starting the day smoking marijuana, sitting inside a classroom and trying to learn. We know what this does to brain development at an early age. And so I'm concerned, but I think we can take the right steps and the right precautions like we do with any other substance such as alcohol, we can make sure that doesn't get out of control.

Ross Sorkin: But what does that require the city to do, what does that require the state to do?

Mayor Adams: Number one, in Albany right now, we have been having conversations with the governor, she introduced it into our budget. We just need local authority to go in, do inspections. Right now our police department cannot go in and do inspection for marijuana. We need to change that. We need to be able to go after those landlords that intentionally rent or lease their locations to people who are selling illegal marijuana. Give us the authority to do so and we'll clean this mess up.

Ross Sorkin: But what about the people on the corner of the street just smoking every which way?

Mayor Adams: The law allows you to do that. We know… 

Ross Sorkin: I know that, but that means that the whole city is just going to be overrun with it? I mean, that's part of the problem, no?

Mayor Adams: I feel your pain. But I left Albany many years ago. I'm no longer the state senator, I'm the mayor. New Yorkers that don't want this to take place, they have to share their voices in Albany about open use of marijuana. Right now it is legal to do so.

Ross Sorkin: Mr. Mayor, we always appreciate having you on broadcast.

Mayor Adams: Thank you.

Ross Sorkin: We are always rooting for New York, so thank you.

Mayor Adams: Take care.

Ross Sorkin: You bet.

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