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Transcript: Mayor Adams Appears on ABC's "Nightline"

August 8, 2023

Stephanie Ramos: New York, like so many cities across the country, is grappling with the overwhelming influx of migrants. There are now more than 57,000 migrants in the city's care. That number keeps growing. And today, Mayor Eric Adams shares with me that the city cannot continue to help them all.

A shocking scene, a humanitarian crisis unfolding in midtown Manhattan. More than 100 migrants sleeping on the street outside of the historic Roosevelt Hotel.

Migrant: [Speaking in Spanish] We have to sleep on the streets on top of cardboard, put up with the cold, hear people who walk by telling us to leave their country, that they don’t want us here.

Ramos: That was just days ago. Now, the lines of people outside the hotel are gone, moved to shelters around the city. But officials say hundreds more are arriving each day to the hotel, which is serving as an intake center.

Mayor Eric Adams: Hello. How are you?

Ramos: Hello, Mayor Adams. How are you?

Mayor Adams: Good, good, good.

Ramos: So nice to see you again.

Mayor Adams: Thank you. Thank you.

Ramos: New York City Mayor Eric Adams took Nightline on an exclusive tour of the hotel.

Mayor Adams: Hard to believe Roosevelt spoke from up there once.

Ramos: A historic room.

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Ramos: Now filled with cots.

Mayor Adams: Exactly.

Ramos: The city says that around 3,000 people, all families, are staying in the Roosevelt right now. We also spoke with Dr. Ted Long, Senior Vice President of New York City Health and Hospitals.

Dr. Ted Long, Senior Vice President of Ambulatory Care, New York City Health + Hospitals:  This is our New York City arrival center for asylum seekers. Many of them will leave within 24 hours because, with our help, they can take that next step forward. But now we need help from other cities, other states and the federal government.

Ramos: Is the city able to provide the basic needs to asylum seekers, right now?

Mayor Adams: No. No.

Ramos: Not at all?

Mayor Adams: No, we're not. We're at capacity. We have been providing those food, shelter, clothing, food, educating children, making sure they get the level of dignity they deserve, but we cannot kid ourselves.

Ramos: The Mayor's Office says 57,200 asylum seekers are currently in the city's care, and around 100,000 migrants have arrived since last spring. Some of them coming from Texas, part of Governor Greg Abbott's plan to bus migrants to so-called Sanctuary Cities.

Governor Greg Abbott: Before we begin bussing illegal immigrants up to New York, it was just Texas and Arizona that bore the brunt of all of the chaos and all the problems that come with it. Now, the rest of America is understanding exactly what is going on.

Ramos: What is your message to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and others who are bussing migrants here to New York City?

Mayor Adams: Dehumanizing. To treat fellow human beings in this magnitude as political stunts, it's the wrong thing to do. And I say that with the clear understanding, no city should be going through this. I'm with my brother mayors in Brownsville, I'm with my brother mayors in El Paso, in Houston, in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Armando Garcia: Well, I've spoken with migrants from all over the world, just in recent days. And they're coming here to New York City for a variety of reasons. Some of them want to stay here and find work. They've heard that there are resources being provided to them. So, I do think that there's a sense of taking advantage of some of those Governor Abbott buses, as long as it means it's getting them to where they actually want to go.

Ramos: New York City has a unique piece of legislation on the books that makes this situation even trickier for the mayor, Right to Shelter. The city must provide safe, clean, short-term housing for anyone that requests it.
So, in May, your administration's legal team asked the judge to relieve the city of its right to shelter mandate for some homeless adults. Why do you want to change it?

Mayor Adams: The founding fathers and mothers of this law built it when we were dealing with just a few thousand people who are in our homeless system. But in their wildest dreams, they did not think that 100,000 people were going to show up in our city in a little over a year.

Garcia: There was mass frustration outside of the Roosevelt Hotel because a lot of the people that I spoke to actually didn't know what they were standing in line for. They just knew that it was a one-stop-shop and it was the very first step to seeking asylum.

Migrant: [Speaking in Spanish] What are the numbers in English? 

Ramos: The [inaudible] Gonzalez family recently arrived to the Roosevelt.

Migrant: [Speaking in Spanish] We got here without knowing. We asked around, and then came here. And were told it’s a process where we might be sent somewhere else or we could stay here. We are waiting to be relocated somewhere else because there is no space for us here.

Ramos: The family is stuck waiting for more than just shelter. Asylum seekers can apply for a work permit between five and six months after they submit their asylum applications.

Migrant: [Speaking in Spanish] The delay is because we need to have a permanent address, so that we can get our resident cards and paperwork and start looking for jobs.

Garcia: It's also very difficult to seek asylum and file all of those documents if they're jumping shelter to shelter. One of the things that it asks you for in your asylum claim process is, "Where are you living? What is your address?"

Ramos: Expediting that process is on the mayor's long to-do list.

Mayor Adams: Every migrant I heard from, they said, "We don't want your free food. We don't want you to clothe us. We don't want you to wash out clothing. We don't want you to give us anything. We want to work."

Ramos: So, what needs to happen in order to expedite those work authorizations?

Mayor Adams: All we need is for the White House to give us that TPS status to allow the men and women to work. The congressional delegation is calling for it, local leaders are calling for it, everyone is calling for it. It is something within our powers and there's no reason we're not doing it.

Ramos: Adams, New York's senators and the city's house Democrats met in July with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, in Washington DC. Mayorkas said that he would appoint a liaison to the city, to coordinate on migrants.
Meanwhile, some New York residents have taken it into their own hands.

Mammad Mahmoodi: So, it's Sunday morning at EVLovesNYC. We are still putting their stuff together and preparing. So, we have different sectors that we do different things.

Ramos: Mammad Mahmoodi and his partner Sasha Allenby, started cooking meals at the height of the pandemic.

Mahmoodi: In this tiny kitchen, between seven hours, we do prepare 1,800 meals. No one believes that, but it always comes through. Every week we are like, "This is the week that is not going to work," but it always does.

Ramos: But now, with the help of around 40 volunteers, their focus has shifted to delivering meals to the thousands of migrants living in shelters around the city.

Sasha Allenby: Around about a year ago when the buses started arriving to Port Authority, we got a call to ask to start bringing the food in the morning, before the buses. So, we've been involved since pretty much the start of it.

Mahmoodi: I genuinely feel that we are in the most prosperous city in the world. There are enough resources to provide for everyone. If you look at it at the grand scheme of things, we have total of what? 107,000 people so far. That is less than 1.5 percent of the population of New York City that have come.

Ramos: They've been swamped with requests. Something we witnessed firsthand, as we were speaking to Mammad, he actually got a call.

Allenby: What's the matter?

Mahmoodi: Okay. I got you, brother. We just got a call that they brought some asylum seekers to Sunset Park.

Allenby: Oh.

Ramos: Mammad and his team spring into action, and we follow them as they deliver food to Sunset Park. What we find? A park divided. In one area, a line of people just trying to use the community pool on a hot summer day. Across from them, aid groups and residents who showed up to welcome the migrants with food, water, and signs of encouragement.

Resident: The city has the resources to do amazing things, and it's a false choice to not provide services for the migrants who are arriving now, to not provide adequate resources to the folks who have been struggling with homelessness already. The city has the ability, the resources to do better.

Marcela Mitanyes: Sunset Park has always been a multicultural immigrant community. And so, with everything that's happening, we want to make sure that we're out here supporting our members.

Ramos: And right across from them, those who are angry, angry that their park is being used to house migrants.

William Colton: We do not oppose them, we do not want to fight them. We want to welcome them, but we cannot do it by taking resources away from the rest of the community.

Resident: The president, the mayor, they've all failed us. And they never told us.

Resident: They have to tell the resident of the community ahead of time. And then, we have to negotiate how to deal with this, and we have to protect the community first.

Ramos: We also meet Jesus, a 24-year-old Colombian who made the journey through the jungle of the Darién Gap, and later through Mexico on top of a train to make it to Ciudad Juárez.

Jesus: [Speaking in Spanish] I want to apply for asylum, so that I can get a work permit. But I haven't been able to go through the asylum process because I have no way of paying for a lawyer right now, you know.

Ramos: The motivation behind it all: sending money to his nine nieces and nephews.

Jesus: [Speaking in Spanish] They have the same childhood that I had. You know what I mean, it was painful. Because I would go to school with no money. Sometimes I would go without eating. So I would like to change their story. I don’t want them to live what I lived.

Ramos: Jesus is focusing on taking English classes.

Jesus: [Speaking in Spanish] I see myself here, working. I like music. I like music. I wrote a song that I would like to record here in New York. 

Ramos: But it's here, in New York, where he thinks he will achieve his dream of being an artist.

Jesus: [Singing in Spanish] A minimum wage won’t be enough for all I’ve always wanted. In reality, it depends on limits and challenges. I defied them and never stopped. I told myself I would get far, and I made it. I’m not in Malta anymore, I’m in New York enjoying the summer, the beach, and the sun. 


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