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Transcript: Mayor Adams Announces new Policy to Help Asylum Seekers Move From Shelter

July 19, 2023

Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom, Health and Human Services: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Anne Williams-Isom, the deputy mayor for Health and Human Services, and Mayor Adams has joined me at this week’s asylum seeker briefing to share a new step that the administration is going to be taking to help asylum seekers move through our system and ensure that we can prioritize children with families. Now, I’d like to turn it over to Mayor Adams.
Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you so much, deputy mayor, and I continue to sit back in amazement with you and your team as you have navigated this crisis. When you think about it, in April of last year and the flow of asylum seekers and migrants coming to the city, we have been extremely successful in how we have been managing this crisis. Night after night, day after day, responding during the middle of the night. And we have been really successful in not having every day New Yorkers, number one, visually see the impact, the strain this has been on the city, but also to infringe on their daily lives as many of us cycled out of Covid and had other obligations. 
But we stated several months ago that we have reached full capacity. And that full capacity was verbalized. And now, New Yorkers, it’s going to be visually actualized. We’re going to see how much of our cup has, basically, runneth over. We have no more room in the city. And we need help from the federal government. We’ve been very clear that we need to allow asylum seekers to work, we need the economic support on the federal government, and we need to ensure that there’s a real decompression strategy throughout the entire country. 
This has now become a playbook that many of our bordering states are carrying out, using a funnel system, funneling asylum seekers and migrants to New York City in general but also targeting the three to four other cities: Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and New York. 
This cannot continue. It's not sustainable and we're not going to pretend as though it is sustainable. This is wrong that New York City is carrying the weight of a national problem. New York City is where people come in search of the American dream and that dream should not turn into a nightmare. It should not turn into a suicide that I sat and visited a family member over the weekend who lost her husband and the children lost their dad. Speaking with her, coming here to pursue that dream turned into a nightmare.
And this is what happens when you overburden the system in an unfair manner. That's a real human being that lost her husband and the children lost their dad due to what I believe is how the national government is not effectively handling this issue. We must address this issue in a real way. And unlike Texas, where Governor Abbott is ordering troopers to push migrant children into the Rio Grande and deny asylum seekers drinking water, our city has continued to respond with humanity and compassion.
Listen to the numbers. 90,000 people have arrived in our city and have gone through the process. 90,000 people. Our city has continued to do its job. We gave them a place to sleep, we gave them food. We ensure that the children were in our school system and incorporated into our school system. New Yorkers know that our city and country have been here and we continue to be here for the immigrant populations.
This is what has built not only our city, but our country, but we cannot continue to absorb tens of thousands of newcomers on our own without the help of the state and federal government. I want to thank Governor Hochul for her assistance. We need more on all of our state partners throughout the entire state. New York City's the economic engine of this state and country, and we need the support and the voices and the advocacy for everyone that's in government.
This is all of our problem. That is why I haven't taken extraordinary measures to shelter and care for asylum seekers. We must now take additional steps to create urgently needed space for families with children who continue to arrive seeking asylum and help those with us take the next steps to their journey. We will do this by giving 60 days notice to adult asylum seekers already in our care to find alternative housing paired with intensified casework services to help them explore their options and connect with their networks of friends and families.
We'll start this in the coming days with asylum seekers and humanitarian relief centers who have been in our care for a significant amount of time and we'll work to help those who are needed to move out of shelter and take their next steps forward. And we must think of this as well, New Yorkers. Over 90,000 people. We now have 54,000 that are still in our care. What does that mean? That means that close to 46,000 or 36,000 or whatever my math is.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: Over 30,000.
Mayor Adams: 30,000, over 30,000. Over 30,000 went on in some way someplace, either stayed with the family doing what's needed to continue to participate in the American Dream. That's at a significant number of people that have found their way in the city or throughout the country. We know that people are finding their way and they're taking next steps already. In an ideal world, we're clear, asylum seekers would be sheltered throughout the country with expedited work authorization and proper support.
That's not the ideal world that we're living in, but without proper state and federal assistance, we must make difficult choices. The city must make difficult choices. Today we're also announcing border advocacy flyers to honestly communicate our city situation to those thinking of coming here. We're going to go to the front line of this issue, communicate with people on the border by handing out flyers, looking at social media posts as well. There are social media sites that are promoting New York City. We want people to be faced with the real reality at the border, something that the federal government should be doing.
Since they're not doing, we are going to ensure that it is done at the origin of this crisis. This will help to reduce disinformation and is another effort we are making in the absence of federal action. And I want to be clear, New York City has done more than any other level of government to address this national crisis. We have shown leadership and have set high standards for care despite the fact that only the federal government can take essential measures like expanding the immigration process and granting work authorizations to name just two examples.
We will begin giving 60 day notice to adult asylum seekers in the coming days and those who do not find alternative housing by the time their 60 days are complete, they will be required to reapply for a new placement at the Arrival Center. This is the only way we can make critical needed space for families and children. We don't want to reach the point and we won't reach the point where families and children are living on our streets like you're seeing in other municipalities. For the sake of our city, state and country, for the sake of those who have arrived and who will continue to arrive, we'll become committed and dedicated like we have.
Many of the people who have arrived here are going to do the same as many of our families have done in the past. They're going to become the Americans that are going to build this city and run this city and country. We once again call on the state and federal government to step up and play their part in managing this humanitarian crisis. And again, I cannot thank you enough, deputy mayor, for what you have done. You and your team continue to manage this crisis every day and are committed to ensuring that we can treat people with the dignity and respect that we would want those who were part of our ancestry and arrived in this country. That's the same dignity and respect we are showing them. Thank you.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: Thank you, Mayor. And as you know, this has been a whole government approach and we appreciate your leadership. And so at this time I'd like to have Commissioner Castro say a few words for us in Spanish.
Commissioner Manuel Castro, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs: Thank you, deputy mayor. I will first summarize our announcement from today in Spanish. [Speaks in Spanish]. First, I would like to say that from the start we have called on the federal government to develop a fair decompression strategy to ensure asylum seekers find the support they need across the country and not rely on any one city. Unfortunately, the federal government has failed to do so. And so as we move forward, we will be working with advocates and partners from across the city and across the country to call on the federal government to do more and insist that they use all their powers to expedite work permits for asylum seekers, including establishing and re-designing TPS for those who arrived in the last year.
Finally, I would like to thank Mayor Adams and Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom for leading us through this crisis, one of the most significant crises our city has ever faced. And thank you to my colleagues, to all the thousands of city employees and partners for supporting asylum seekers. New York City, we want to be clear, has done a thousand times more than any other locality across the country. We have truly stepped up like nowhere else, and for that we must be proud. But as the Mayor has said, it is now time for others to step up in a real way. Thank you so much.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: Thank you, Commissioner Castro. Before we open it up for questions, I just want to make sure that we have all of our numbers straight. The mayor mentioned some of them, but not all of them. Right now in our total care we have 105,800 people that the city is caring for and that includes the 54,800 asylum seekers. As the mayor said, over 90,100 asylum seekers have come through our intake centers since the spring.
We've opened 188 sites, including 13 humanitarian centers. And last week, from July 10th to July 16th, more than 2,800 people, new asylum seekers, entered our care. I know that people keep saying that things are slowing down at the border, that we have not seen that in New York City. As you all know, who when we do these briefings every week, those numbers have been 2,100.
And so this past week that number was 2,800. These steps that we are taking is to manage the steady inflow of hundreds of people per day over the last many weeks. As we keep on saying, you know that this is not sustainable. So we will do our best and our part as best we can to continue to advocate for the support that we need from all levels of government. With that, I'll open it up to on topic questions.
Question: Hi Mr. Mayor, how are you doing?
Mayor Adams: How are you? Good to see you.
Question: I had two quick questions on the reapplication process. Do you feel like people who are currently staying beyond 60 days, they aren't looking enough for other options and this is a way to encourage them to do that or maybe to deter them from staying for longer than 60 days? And secondly, do you expect any increase in street homelessness as a result of the reapplication?
Mayor Adams: Both great questions. We are going to re-intensify, we're already doing case management work. We're going to re-intensify that and give them the assistance that they need. I don't think any of the asylum seekers and I, from the time that I stayed in the HERRC to the time that I stopped by, I don't think any want to be in this condition. It's about allowing people to work.
I've said this over and over again and I really want it to resonate. What is more anti-American than not allowing people to work? All of our ancestors arrived here and what allow them to go from one level to the next was the ability to work. We're not allowing people to work. And some say, "Well, in six months they go through the process." That is just not true. Some people were saying for two years don't work. That's just unacceptable. And so we are going to re intensify to connect people to family members, to loved ones maybe in the city, maybe out of the city. We're going to intensify that effort.
And our goal is not to increase street homelessness. We don't want to do that. I said this yesterday and I'll say it again. Do an analysis across this country. You don't see the encampments, the tents, the cardboard boxes, people living the way you see in other municipalities and we're going to do everything that's possible not to, but our cup has runneth over. We don't have any more physical space. We have to address that. And I'm going to do the best that I can to continue the success that the city has carried out.
I had a dinner with one of my mayors in the big city on Sunday who's talking about their street homelessness and what they're experiencing. I try my best to make sure that our city did not go through that, but we are pushed to the brinks. We can't continue. We're at the end of our rope.
Question: Mr. Mayor, from Univision. Do you think, and I'm trying to pose this correctly and not be…
Mayor Adams: No, be raw. We at the raw place now. Just say it the way you feel it.
Question: Do you think that we have labeled the wrong language when it comes to saying asylum seekers? The reason why I asked that is because maybe we're sending the wrong message. I have met with thousands of people outside of shelters telling me they're working, they're waiting for the permit, they're waiting for the… And I told them, "Honestly, you need to look for work. This is the country where you work. No matter how, this is the country of opportunities. You need to find your opportunities."
Can't wait for the federal government to come in. It's likely not going to happen. And if it happens, it takes a long time for somebody to get approved through the asylum process. So the question is, are we sending the wrong message by calling them that because that's like telling them, "Wait until you get the permit to work."
Mayor Adams: Well, I'm not sure what's the right terminology that's used on… I'm sorry?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: Immigrants.
Mayor Adams: Immigrants. Whatever terminology would get me help, I'll use it. Give me what word to use. Whatever I need to use, immigrant, new arrivals of folks who are coming here to pursue the American Dream, gift. You give me the title, I'll use it. Only thing I know is help me so I can help my city.
Question: The asylum part, I think.
Mayor Adams: Okay, whatever is needed.
Question: [Inaudible.]
Mayor Adams: Newly arrivals.
Question: [Inaudible] It's just so difficult for someone prove credible fear and get the asylum.
Mayor Adams: Right. The technical term that the government defined is asylum seekers and migrants.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: That's right.
Mayor Adams: But I don't want the technical term to get in the way of us saying, "We need help here in the city." What we have been saying for months.
Question: Mr. Mayor?
Mayor Adams: Yes.
Question: So the 60 days are up.
Mayor Adams: Yes.
Question: And this person has not been able to relocate with family or friends. Are they evicted from their shelter or their hotel? Where do they go and what happens to them physically?
Mayor Adams: It's a reapply process that we're doing. And you want to go?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: I can start and then Dr. Long continue. I think that they won't be able to go back to the place that they were before. And if we have accommodations available then we will place them someplace else.
Question: And if they don't?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: If they don't what?
Question: If you don't have room somewhere else? There's just like at…
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: Every day, every day we are looking for capacity. Dr. Long and I were talking this morning about the 250 people that are at their Arrival Center this morning and we're trying to figure out where we're going to place them. And so I get it. It looks like, "Oh, you guys are doing a great job and there's nobody on the streets." We're saying that it is every day we're struggling to make sure that we have places for people and so we would like to prioritize children and families. So that's what we're going to do and we'll see the next couple of days and months where we get to. Dr. Long, did you want to add anything?
Dr. Ted Long, Senior Vice President of Ambulatory Care, New York City Health + Hospitals: No. Just to be very clear, if you're an adult and your 60 days are up and through our intensified efforts, we haven't been able to find how we can help you to take the next step in your journey, you'll go to the Arrival Center again, which is where you may have started and which is where anybody new coming into New York City today would go. So your experience there is, well, we'll go through the options we have with you, but I wanted just to emphasize what the deputy mayor said, our compassion is infinite, but our space is not.
Question: Is there a bed at the Arrival Center? Is there a bed there?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: There are beds there.
Question: Where do they go?
Mayor Adams: That's a good question. Listen, today we have over 200 something people who have arrived. We're giving them notice that we have no room. We need you to come back at a different time so that we can see if we can process you….
Question: Where do they go in the meantime?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: They just wait, Julia. They're waiting.
Mayor Adams: They just have to wait.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: They're waiting. Desperately waiting to see if they are going to get a placement.
Question: [Inaudible] in the Port Authority Bus Terminal?
Mayor Adams: Wherever they can find a place to wait. There are no laws that prevent people to wait wherever they can find a place to wait. But right now, we have no space so wherever they can wait, they're waiting.
Question: Two quick questions.
Mayor Adams: Yes.
Question: So with the flyers, will someone from the city be handing them out at the border? And then secondly, do you have any update on the possible use of Aqueduct Race Track and Creedmoor, the former Creedmoor Psychiatric Center? I know there was reporting from my colleagues and others about that you were looking at this for potential HERRC. I know there was a lot of local outcry about that. But if you have any updates on I guess how the flyers are being distributed and what's at, potentially happening in Aqueduct and Creedmoor?
Mayor Adams: We are going to partner with our teams down at the border to help the dissemination of flyers and websites. There are websites that are promoting New York City. Our team is looking at that to really get on those websites and let people know. But we have teams down at the border who are going to assist us in the distribution of the flyers and everything is on the table. And I was happy to see some of my state lawmakers add to our cry that we need for the president to call for a national emergency.
We have yet to do that. There's been some reluctancy on getting the governor to do it. Our state lawmakers are now also joining that cry. Our city lawmakers, I'm going to really take my hat off to Assemblywoman Rajkumar, who has been really on the forefront of this. A group of electeds went up to Albany City Council members. We're seeing the entire elected bodies starting to wake up and realize that this is hitting home. I told everyone that eventually this is going to come to a neighborhood near you. And now that people are seeing that is actualizing, we're seeing a response and we need that response because this is impacting the entire city.
Question: So are you opening facilities in Aqueduct? Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar was opposed to opening something at Aqueduct. Will you be opening? He didn't answer the question.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: Everything is on the table.
Mayor Adams: Hold up. I did answer it. Everything is on the table. Everything. Nothing is off the table. Everything is on the table.
Question: [Inaudible.]
Mayor Adams: Everything is on the table based on the operational needs that we have. As those operational needs that we have, everything is on the table. Dr. Long, Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom, every day, I don't think people realize what happens every day they are navigating where we're going to put the next process, the next person. So if anyone states that any place is off the table, that is inaccurate.
Everything is on the table of dealing with this ongoing crisis. The numbers are clear. I think we just saw it, 2,800 last week. Think about that for a moment. We've been averaging any anywhere from a thousand to 2,500. So what people are saying that the border crises, this is what's happening at the border crises. 
Everyone has a blueprint now where the large flow of people coming in is funneling in to New York City. You see the fallout in other places, but the funnel now is New York City. We still have the ongoing crisis… Who's that calling now? Who's that? I know you not calling now. You calling on him? Okay. My apologies.
Question: I was wondering… The number of adults to your best knowledge, I know it's a moving figure, that are getting the notice and does the intensive process include pointing them to industry that is tolerant of them not having work papers as part of this solution?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: So we are going to be looking, and it'll be a rolling process as we move forward. So we're going to do a little at a time and then we'll gear up. And I think we talk to people as we do case management about all of their options. We are desperately looking for the business community to partner with us for training opportunities for people because we are hopeful that if once people are able to work, they'll be able to be connected to the job that they originally came here for in the first place to provide for themselves and their families.
Question: I know it's rolling, but do you have a total number that you have to get to in the next…
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: We'll update you on that, but I think that we're going to continue to do this as we move forward and see how we're managing. The team has to make sure that they're managing it in the correct way. So we'll update you as that comes along.
Question: When we are talking about the 60-day experience, that applies to everybody, even the people who got here yesterday or just the people who is here for a year and something?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: We're going to start with the people who have been here the longest and then continue on a rolling basis as we move forward.
Question: Mr. Mayor, are you worried about a legal challenge coming to this, your bid to change the right to shelter laws already in court that's happening this afternoon? Do you have concerns about that?
Mayor Adams: I can't. I don't have the luxury to sit back. The court system is going to do what the court system is going to do. I am on the frontline with our team and we are going to use as our north star being humane. That is our north star. We are going to do what we have done. We are going to be as humane as possible. And everyone that tells me that, "Eric, you shouldn't do it this way or that way." I give them one sentence, "Tell me where to put the people," because we're open.
People have come to us with some great ideas. We have executed those ideas, but we have run out of ideas and I just really need people to understand every day this team is figuring out where do we put the next body? Our goal is no child, no family is sleeping on the streets. That's our goal. And we are getting closer and closer to being unable to fulfill even that goal.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: And mayor, I forgot to mention that we do want to thank our upstate county executives who have been so open with us…
Mayor Adams: Yes.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: And who are helping us through this crisis. So people can get an upstate placement when that is available.
Question: Is the administration targeting any specific locations first? Are the HERRCs being targeted and as people are moved out, will any of these locations be closed out?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: We are definitely going to start with the humanitarian relief centers. We will update you as I come back weekly and tell you how things are going. And what was the last part of your question?
Question: Will sites be closed down as people are moved out?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: We haven't discussed closing down sites yet.
Mayor Adams: Because it's continued. It's continued. That's a legitimate question. It would be nice if we could say, "Okay, we moved these people out because of the 60 days or they found their way and the flow stopped." This would be great for us if we just have to manage what we have.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: That's right.
Mayor Adams: But every day we are getting these 2,800, every week we getting these 2,800 these 1,000. So it's not like, okay, we dealt with the 90 something thousand. So now the problem has gone away. No, we have a continuous flow that's keep coming over and over and over again.
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: There's no end in sight.
Question: I wanted to confirm the big number that you guys gave before for everybody in the city's care, the 105,800, does that include all shelter beds? So does that include youth beds, HRA-run beds, HPD? And does that also include Safe Havens, stabilizations? Is that everything?
Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom: I do not think it includes all of those beds.
Question: Okay.
Mayor Adams: We'll find out for you and give you those exact numbers, but one thing we are sure of, this is the largest number of people in our care, in the history of how we've managed this shelter system. This is the largest number that we are we handling. Now, even with this large number, we have not witnessed a substantial spike in street homelessness. People talk about what homelessness, street homelessness is, but they're not factoring the fact that we have the largest amount of people in our care, in the history of what we have in the modern day history of our shelter system.


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