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Transcript: Mayor Adams Calls for Expedited Work Authorization for Asylum Seekers

May 22, 2023

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[Governor Kathy Hochul speaks.]

Mayor Eric Adams: I really want to thank our governor. She was in City Hall one day last week. She came by to sit down and speak with me about this crisis. I think, governor, the first time a governor was in City Hall seeing a mayor a long time and to have you there showed me how you understood firsthand how this crisis, probably one of the greatest humanitarian crises that has hit our city in a long time. But I join with you in saying in crisis there's opportunities. And you have really led from the front, you have allowed your team to come in and be part of our administration as my team leaders organize and move the number of people, resources, and places to execute this plan.

And there are two moments in life, as I say to our friends in the media, there is a ‘I gotcha’ moment and there is ‘I got you’ moment. And some of the things we are seeing is really working against the people of this city. We received, last week, over 5,800 asylum seekers. While we are speaking with Washington and others to report that we are not having a crisis of disproportion, it's just counterproductive. It is hurting our fight. And we are all in this city together, it doesn't matter if you are a messenger or a reporter, this is our city and we should be clear on this moment that this challenge is of epic proportion and some of the reporting that is indicated we are not dealing with a crisis is hurting what we are attempting to accomplish. I am pleading with you that we should have a level of accuracy in what is happening during this particular period of time. Some of the reporting is not reflecting that and it is unfair to the people of this city.

5,800 people came to our city last week, those are factual numbers, they're not made up numbers. And we are seeing the week before, 4,200. Just in one location alone, we had over 800, not only by buses, through the airports, through cars, through every mode of transportation, and our administration has accurately reported the information to the best of our ability to partner with the governor's office to monitor and to address this crisis.

And to my congressional delegation, Congressman Nadler and Congressman Ryan, who are both here. Congressman Nadler, from the beginning of this crisis and our visits with him in Washington, being the dean of our congressional delegation, I cannot say thank you enough for really pushing to get the resources here with our minority leader in Congress and our Senior Senator, Senator Schumer, who with his coordination we were able to get $800 million in the omnibus bill. It's unfortunate, out of the $350 million, New York City only received $30 million and those bordering states received in some cases more than what we did, and they're using the money to bus individuals to New York City.

This is what we are up against. This is a symbol of our nation, as the governor alluded to, the lady that sits in our harbor welcomed countless numbers of immigrants to these shores throughout generations. 1 million in 1907 alone, a million people went through that amazing island we call Ellis Island, also called the island of hope, the island of opportunity. That hope did not dissipate merely throughout the years and generations, that hope is still alive. And those who come here come here for one reason only, and that is to participate in the American dream. That dream should not become a nightmare when they hit our shores.

I think often about the dream of the dreamer of my commissioner of Immigrant Affairs coming from Mexico with his family pursuing the American dream and now reaching the point where he is in charge of those who come to this country. Commissioner Castro is a symbol of those who are coming here today and would like to participate in what this country has to offer. Our immigrants helped build this country. They helped generate the greatest economic expansion in history. Thousands of asylum seekers continue to arrive at our border, we see history in motion once more. And the history books are going to judge us based on our interactions and reactions on how we responded, just as history judged us on how we responded to our early Irish, Italians, Greek, Africans and other people from the diaspora across the globe. People are on move in search of the same dream that we've all had and we all are pursuing, the American dream.

If these asylum seekers cannot work, if they cannot work, it is going to be a major impediment and interruption in the pursuit of that dream. And that is all they ask for. When I speak with my asylum seekers at the HERRCs, at the hotels, on the streets, they state clearly, "We don't want your free room and board and food and clothing, we want to work. We want to have an opportunity to provide for ourselves." And right now we are denying that opportunity by refusing to let them work legally. It is creating an underground market where individuals could be exploited, unable to pay into our tax base, working long and difficult and dangerous jobs because they are living in the shadow of the American dream and not out front. It increases the risk that they can be abused. It is one of the major goals we must accomplish.

And so today we stand with our business leaders. We cannot thank them enough for what they are saying as they realize this problem is all of our problems. Kathy Wylde and the Partnership and others are stepping up and saying, "We are ready to hire if we are given the authorization to do so." We have one message, let them work. That is our clear message that we are sending. We must expedite work authorization for asylum seekers, not in the future, but now. In New York City, throughout our state and across the country we have thousands of unfilled jobs, including jobs right here in Industry City in Brooklyn. And as the governor indicated, across the board, backstretch workers in our racing industry, agriculture, food service, home care, transportation and manufacturing fields all need labor. And the lady in the harbor right behind us reminds us every day who we are as a city and as a nation, a place of hope and opportunity, where people can get a job and do their part of pursuing and building on the American dream.

And that's what I hear over and over again. They want to work. And they continue to ask the questions, the question they ask in El Paso, the question they're asking in Brownsville, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Washington, and New York City, they're asking, "Can we work? Can we work?" That is the precursor to sleep that allows you to experience the American dream. Without it, it turns it into a nightmare. And it would take us the action to fulfill this dream. We can do this by direct action by the executive branch of the federal government. Without legislation we can get this done. Republicans, as we know, have blocked all attempts at fixing our broken immigration system intentionally causing chaos and dysfunction. We cannot believe all of a sudden that's going to change with the Republican-controlled Congress.

If we don't get it done through presidential action, we are going to slow down the progress we need. So we are calling on the White House, the United States Department of Homeland Security to ensure our newest Americans can work lawfully and build stable lives for themselves in our country. Our leaders in Washington must redesignate and extend Temporary Protective Status, also known as TPS. And we want to be included those from Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon, and other nations. Given the continuing worsening humanitarian crisis in those countries, they are going to pursue the stability that our country has to offer.

The federal government must also expand and extend access to humanitarian parole for asylum seekers already in the United States and processed at the border, as well as increase the number of United States citizens and immigration officers. To have the opportunity but not have access to the opportunity because of the lack of personnel is defeating the entire purpose. What we see happening on our border is not new, it's a logical and human response to hunger, violence and political instability in other countries. In an ideal situation, all Americans will do their part. And I want to thank New Yorkers who have stepped up, volunteered, participated, and have done their part on so many levels.

Instead of putting the responsibilities squarely on the cities in general and specifically in New York City, we must have the responsibility for care to have the national decompression strategy that is deserved of this crisis we are facing. We must help our fellow arrivals to be a participant in the American dream. And I have described New York City as a city of yes so often, but that spirit of innovation and inclusiveness is foundational to this entire nation. America is a country of yes, not only New York City. Yes to immigrants, yes to new housing, jobs, and opportunities, yes to the can-do spirit that built our great nation. These asylum seekers came here looking for the American dream, a chance to work and build successful lives. Let's give them a fighting chance at making this dream a reality. And that fighting chance comes with our business community and we cannot thank them enough for what they have done, as I indicated and as the governor alluded to. And leading that challenge on so many fronts is my good friend and a great New Yorker, Kathy Wylde, from the Partnership. Kathy.

[Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, Danny Meyer, founder and executive chairman of the Union Square Hospitality Group, Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, and Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO speak.]

Speaker 2: Speech will be translated live by Manuel Castro, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Commissioner Manuel Castro, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs: [Translating for asylum seeker.] Good morning everyone. My name is [inaudible]. I am 24-years-old. I took on this journey like many of us have done, crossing the fearful jungle of [inaudible]. And I crossed six other countries to arrive here to New York who has opened the doors for us. I have only been here for 20 days. On the third day that I arrived, I came to NICE who opened their doors. It's an organization that has been helping immigrants like myself who have no other where to go. We are learning there what are our rights and also our responsibilities. I have been engaging in their training. I have now a license to do many of these jobs that are required. I am in the OSHA training. I am graduating this Wednesday. All of you are welcome to join me.

I just want to say that thank you for all the help that you have brought us, given us. Many of us are in need of support right now. We are hardworking people and we came here to do that. We came here to live a dignified life, but also to contribute back to the city that has brought us so much. I just want to say that on behalf of migrants, we ask President Biden to give us the ability to work, to give us a right to work so that we can contribute back to the City of New York and others that have opened the door for us to be here. So that we can have a dignified life that we all deserve as human beings. So that we can provide for our families and continue forward in our journey. Thank you so much for all of you for your help and for all that you guys done for us. Thank you so much for helping us with open arms for all those who are arriving here in New York City recently.


Commissioner Castro: I just want to quickly mention that [inaudible] is a member of NICE, which is one of 12 asylum seeker support centers that, thanks to Mayor Adams, we have set up across the five boroughs to support newly arrived immigrants. And much like I came with my family as a five-year-old, Evirt just crossed the border with two young daughters, I believe… One year and 11-month-year old. So he came here for opportunity and he shared with me that he was very nervous, but wanted to speak on behalf of his daughters so they can have a future like I had one here myself.

Question: Governor, how are you?

Governor Kathy Hochul: Hi Bernadette. Long time no see.

Question: Nice to see you.

Governor Hochul: We miss you in Albany.

Question: Miss you too. So I was wondering, when you're talking about judges and not having enough judges in the State of New York, where are you saying that you want them to be sent up from? And then also separately, your request to use the Floyd Bennett Field. What's the holdup in that and who have you been talking to in the federal government about that request?

Governor Hochul: Well, the request went in last Friday. I've had conversations with a number of people at the White House, Secretary Mayorkas as recently as two days ago. And they are processing the request, it involves... It's a former military field, but it is now operated by the National Park Service. So we're waiting for an answer back on that fairly soon. I also asked them to survey all federal properties, not just that one field, but tell us what else you have in the state of New York to help us literally find temporary shelter. So that is what we're working on. And your first question?

Question: And then the judges.

Governor Hochul: A judge. Judges can come from all over. Judges can actually do remote work. This is what happened during the pandemic. There are judges, immigration judges in Buffalo who've been deployed to the border, so there is mobility among immigration judges. And we're calling upon those who as the border starts to slow down, if that's what's happening, then there should be an excess of judges, send them to New York or other immigration judges from other states that are not having to bear the same burden. So we think that that's very doable. Send the support staff. If they don't come in person, see if we can do a mechanism for remote hearings. Do it on Zoom.

Question: Governor, I have a two part question. The first question is this, you talked about the fact that you were disappointed by some of the resistance that you've experienced in counties around the state. I know that Erie County has stepped up, your home county, but what are you saying to the county executives about your disappointment and how are you getting them to decide to accept immigrants to come to their places? And then I have a second question.

Governor Hochul: Well, I have another call with the counties this afternoon and I look forward to sharing with them my sentiment that based on what I saw here this morning, any rejection of migrants coming is also hurting their employers. And in rural areas, it's hurting their farmers, it's hurting their small businesses, it's hurting their main streets. I just want to help enlighten them that I understand hesitation of the unknown, but these individuals are coming with full financial support backing them, so there's not a burden financially on the local communities. I'm not sure that's understood by everybody. I'll clarify that again.
But also, they all represent a lot of people who are employers. And everybody stays in New York City. 

That's great for New York City because the economy will just be on fire once everybody has that work authorization, is trained, it can take the 1,000 jobs here, but there are great opportunities in these communities all over the State of New York. I'm going to continue the education process and I am grateful to people like Mark Poloncarz and others who understand that the population of Buffalo went up because of refugees going to Buffalo over the last few decades. That is a way we can stem population loss, build the economy, and build for the next generation.

Question: Governor, my follow-up question is this, what is the resistance in Washington to doing this? You seem to indicate that the president could do it by signing an executive order. Why won't this happen?

Governor Hochul: There are different views on how it can happen. There's some argument that it has to happen with an action of Congress and a lot of this is driven by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which has employer sanctions and has a process for asylum seekers and legal work status. We're simply saying, I understand that is what is written on the books, but we need your help to adapt to a circumstance which has reached a crisis situation. We're working with the White House, we've not received a flat no. I want to continue working with them and helping them understand, as you heard here today, the great opportunity to change the whole narrative around these individuals and create a whole welcoming sense around them, not just here in the city but across the country. This could be a game changer for other communities that are resistant right now. When they have a steady work supply coming with them, it all changes.

Question: For the governor first and then Mayor Adams. Governor, how are you coordinating with the mayor to get migrants to other parts of the city? Is there now a coordinated plan? And then for the mayor and perhaps you, have reached out to the Catholic diocese around New York State because schools are closing and there are empty available buildings?

Governor Hochul: We have been doing surveys all across the state, particularly state-owned properties and schools. There's some schools that have empty dorms. There are some schools that are not reopening. There are former correctional facilities, which are not ideal, but that is space if we can change the environment. There's former psychiatric centers, there are facilities, we can use large parking lots. My team has been embedded with the mayor's team. We have an emergency operations team stood up. I have an 8 a.m. call every morning with them and an evening call. I convened my entire cabinet in our emergency operations center in Albany saying, "Survey your properties. Is there a barn that is housing [inaudible] right now we can clear out? Is there a facility, a warehouse that has DMV license plates?" So I'm pushing everybody saying, "If the alternative is sleeping on the streets of New York, we can find space for these people."

We have been embedded talking about logistics, also trying to give an early warning to communities where individuals are coming next and try to take down the temperature sometimes. I think that's been successful, but the mayor's team has been extraordinary in what they've had to do and we're really pleased that we could bring not just financial resources, but know-how in dealing with crises. We are very experienced in crisis management, as is the mayor's team. You bring the two together, you have all the brain power you need in the same room. Mayor, do you want to address it?

Mayor Adams: We did communicate with Cardinal Dolan, and I just really want to thank him. He did an analysis of the schools that were closed and we're in good conversation. Catholic Charities, they have been extremely supportive and we are hoping that we could line up some of the properties that are available. My Chief of Staff has been doing an analysis of all of the properties that we have that's available in the city. We really at this point cannot leave anything on the table, but we need to be clear on this also. This is not sustainable. The response can't be, "Let's find another room somewhere." This is just not sustainable. And having the right to work would allow us to take some pressure off of the situation so we can move people out of care of the state and city and move them into the stability that they're looking for.

But our plan can't be that let's continue to find a room somewhere. That is not a sustainable plan of when you get 5,800 people a week. Do the math. You don't have to be a math major to know 5,800 people a week, close to 30,000 a month. These are real numbers and it's going to impact every service in this city. What we are rolling out today is one phase of something that we can do in the short term to take the pressure off of the city, and that's what the Governor has been coordinating with us, identifying locations and places. But the plan can't be, let's just try to find another location somewhere. There needs to be a dual plan, finding a location to deal with the emergency, but this city and state cannot stay in emergency mode. That is not the way you manage your crisis. You stabilize the situation and then you improve on it. We can't stay in emergency mode. That is not how you manage a crisis.

Question: Governor, you're leaning on the federal government to ask for permission for some of the individuals to work in an expedited fashion. You had raised the possibility in terms of shelter that the SUNY and CUNY and system might be able to come up with some inventory. I was wondering if there's an update on that and can you lean on them to come up with that more quickly?

Governor Hochul: I'm sorry, leaning on SUNY and CUNY to come up with…

Question: SUNY and CUNY, do they have facilities, available space? I know it has been discussed, but it seems like we haven't had an update on where that is exactly.

Governor Hochul: No, no. We've been doing that assessment. Actually, the timing is very good because a lot of the students have left now for the summer. So there are temporary dorms through August, but we are looking at the long-range situation. What happens in August? That's the strategy that we're trying to develop now. If there's work authorization in place by then, it's a good dynamic. If not, what's going to happen? But we are looking and the mayor is correct, we can find a lot of temporary spaces. There'll be tents going up in parking lots of state facilities and state-directed facilities. That's not ideal. Nobody wants little kids and adults in a tent, but they can't live on a street either. This is where we're at.

I also do want to make a point that there are some voices on the right that are trying to say that this effort here would take away jobs from other people. I welcome them, anybody who feels that way to come to Union Square today, go up to a farm, I'll drive you there personally if you're looking for a job because there are so many jobs unfilled right now. I want to take that narrative and push it right back at everybody because that is false.

Question: For Mayor Adams, how are you, sir? The former school on Staten Island has remained open as an emergency shelter while others around the city have closed. Why has that been the case and how long do you intend for that to remain open?

Mayor Adams: The school building on Staten Island was a vacant building that was in the process, of our understanding, of being demolished, so a vacant building. We cannot afford to have vacant buildings that are not on the inventory that the Chief of Staff has put together to see if it's usable. The other 20 structures, they were self-standing gyms. They were not inside the school building, self-standing gyms. We said they were respite locations because when you get in 900 people in one day, you have to figure out how to move them during an emergency so that you can find a location. As soon as we open a location, we are finding that location to be filled. We opened the Roosevelt Hotel a few days ago. 800 rooms were filled, or 800 people went in that location at a capacity, a little over 1,000. That's how smooth and quick this is moving.

And those who have never managed a crisis, it's easy to analyze how to manage a crisis. I've managed a crisis throughout my law enforcement career. I know how to handle an emergency situation and there are steps that you have to take. That is what we're doing. That's why, unlike other cities, you don't see people and families sleeping on streets because we've been able to manage this crisis. But it reaches a point where it becomes unmanageable. And we have stated it clearly. There is no more room in our city and we're looking at every available space, including a vacant school building that was not being used.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Two questions, please.

Mayor Adams: Ready.

Question: Firstly, is there any limit at all to the number of migrants you're willing to shelter?

Mayor Adams: I'm sorry, any?

Question: Is there any limit at all to the number of migrants you're willing to shelter?

Mayor Adams: That we will allow in the shelter?

Question: Yes.

Mayor Adams: I think that what many people are not really recognizing, we are going to fulfill the obligations that are laid out by law. We are going to make sure that we be as humane as possible, but clearly, we've reached the breaking point and we have to continue to reach out to our Federal Government to address this national problem. We are going to continue to do our job here as the mayor to monitor and to really manage this situation we're in.

Question: Finally, the majority of these asylum seekers will ultimately lose their claim, statistics show. And my question is, for the mayor or the governor, what do you think should happen to them once they lose their claims, and at that point, they'll lose their work permits also?

Mayor Adams: The national government deals with that. We know this city and state, we do not handle immigration policies. So it's not up to us to make the determination how they're carried out. We have an obligation. This burden is placed on us. That's why we're calling for assistance from the national government. Governor, do you want to…

Governor Hochul: No, I agree with that. No, I concur with the mayor on that. They have their processes of what happens when someone has their asylum claim denied. We're just dealing with the crisis, the humanitarian crisis that is right at our doorstep right now. That's down the road and we'll let the Federal Government deal with that. All right, thank you everybody for coming.

Mayor Adams: Thank you.

Governor Hochul: We appreciate your attention on this important issue.

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