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Transcript: Mayor Adams Appears on WABC's "Up Close With Bill Ritter"

September 24, 2023

Bill Ritter: A major development this past week in New York City's migrant crisis: the Biden Administration clearing the way for immigrants to work immediately if they're from Venezuela or Afghanistan. How much will this really ease, however, the crisis, and what about all the other migrants?  We get answers from the man who more than any other official is at the center of the migrant crisis, New York Mayor Eric Adams.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Up Close. Our first guest this morning, the 110th mayor of New York, Mr. Eric Adams; and mayor, thank you for joining us once again on Up Close.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you, Bill. Good to speak with you.

Ritter: Let's get your first reaction to when Mr. Biden made these moves. First it was Venezuelans and now it's Afghans.

Mayor Adams: Well, "thank you," that is what I can say. I want to thank the president, I want to thank his team. We have been speaking about this for several months now meeting with the White House team, several conversations with the White House Chief of Staff. And we were very clear. The unions, the congressional delegation, we all came together and stated that this could be one of the methods used to address this crisis. And we just want to say thanks to president for hearing us and moving this forward. And you know, thank the governor for even adding her voice to it.

You know, but we want to be clear: we cannot spike the ball, because this is not going to deal with all of the migrants and asylum seekers who are in this city. We have about 60,000 in our care, 10,000 a month, and many of those new arrivals won't be able to apply for the TPS and for the other benefits of this initiative.

Ritter: So, this is about people who did not cross the border into the United States via Mexico, basically, via the southern border. Correct?

Mayor Adams: Well, it's for those Venezuelans who came through prior to January 31st. And when we do a rough analysis, there's approximate number, we think about 15,000, it could be more because this is a moving target, we know that. But we're still getting in a large number, about 10,000 a month who would not qualified for this unless they're coming from another state or city where they were already here but just coming to New York City and they were here before July 31st.

Ritter: Right. The key here is that people got the ability to get jobs quickly.

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Ritter: And that is what you've been pushing since the very beginning.

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Ritter: What happens if no other group is going to get that same benefit; and, why did they limit it?

Mayor Adams: I don't know the answer, the limitation. I know that there was a real push because we had TPS already for Venezuelans, so I'm not sure of why we just limited [it] to that group. I'm hoping we can expand it because it will solve two problems: number one, we have a great deal of jobs that we need to fill; and number two, we will be able to have those workers fill these jobs that we need.

And so the goal is to really come up with, as you know, I've been stating real immigration reform at our southern border is something Republicans have been holding and fighting against. And then we need to make sure we have a real decompression strategy in this city, the country and in the state.

Ritter: And [if] he just gives some money for more security. Millions of dollars. [Crosstalk.]

Millions of dollars for more security on the southern borders. Well, you have a lot of Republicans who want to do this, get, you know, immigration reform. You have a lot of Democrats who want to do it. You want to do it. You've called for this.

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Ritter: Why isn't it happening?

Mayor Adams: That's a good question. I know we came close to it several years ago; and the last minute, it fell apart. But really when you look at what's happening to some of the major cities in America, four of the largest cities are being impacted: Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City.

This is very important because we are the economic engine for our entire country, and we cannot see this taking place. And it's unfair to taxpayers and it's unfair to the migrant and asylum seekers that we cannot provide the necessary care due to the fiscal restraints that we have.

Ritter: So, how bad is it going to be if we don't get more help like this, and if the president doesn't extend it to other people who come into the country?  For us as New Yorkers.

Mayor Adams: I've been extremely clear, and I am not going to attempt to sugar coat what New Yorkers must know: this is going to be extremely devastating for our city. Think about it. We have $106 billion budget, $76 billion is basically almost accounted for. So, we have just know, the remaining $30 billion...I'm sorry, $30 billion. Out of that $30 billion, we already spent $2 billion, $5 billion by the end of this fiscal year and then we move it to the next budgetary cycle.

We think the accumulation of this can be $12 billion just based on what we have, and we're still getting 10,000 a month. It's going to hurt, and those dollars have to come from somewhere, and it's going to hurt those low income New Yorkers and those who are in real need of city services.

Ritter: You have already called for more cuts in the city budget than the current budget: five percent in November, five percent in January; and if they need it, another five percent in April. That's a big cut for agencies...

Mayor Adams: It is. It really is.

Ritter: Right, and that's going to hurt this city even more at a time, when you know, let's face it, Mr. Mayor. The city's economy is not what you wanted it to be. It's not what anyone wanted to be.

Mayor Adams: No, so true. And you're right, and there are other are dynamics that are going to play out. We're going to start losing some of the stimulus dollars that came from the pandemic. You know, and the city was and continues to really recover, we need to really examine that. We had a AA bond rating by the bond raters, by Fitch. You're seeing New Yorkers are coming back into our central business district, the numbers have increased back on our subway system, we're seeing peaks at four millon riders on some of the days, last week was probably one of the largest days since the pandemic.

And so you're saying that energy from tourism to public safety. This is a city that has recovered, and it is not right for taxpayers now to have to take upon the course of a national issue. This is a national issue, and New York City taxpayers should not have the pick that cost, and migrants and asylum seekers should not be placed in an undignified setting.

Ritter: It's a national issue, to be sure. But let me offer this. I'm just a country reporter, I don't know much about, you know, as politics as you do and I don't know much about immigration. But I do sense that the president does not want to get in the middle of this and open the floodgates— that's what he would say— because other people in America with an election year coming up might take it the wrong way and get really ticked off at him for doing this and bailing out New York. Do you think that's accurate?

Mayor Adams: And we understand the challenges. Listen, this is a very emotional issue. We saw that play out on Staten Island where a small number of Staten Islanders were really doing some hateful things and using rhetoric that is really unfortunate. It's not who we are as a city. This is a city of immigrants, it's a city that immigrants built, and we know the challenge not only with the president but throughout the entire country.

But we cannot have a policy of ignoring a crisis that's playing out in America's biggest city. That is just not acceptable. We are in office to tackle these difficult times. This administration has done that. When you think about it, Bill, not one child or family slept on the streets of this city with over 110,000 arriving here. We already had a homeless population that already existed, and we managed it. We need help, and we have to be honest about this city deserves help based on what we have done.

Ritter: Two real quick questions: what happened to the other people that were here and are not included in the 60,000 that you're now taking care?  That's about 60,000 more. What happened to them?

Mayor Adams: Help me understand. Are you talking about those who are coming in?

Ritter: They have already came in.


Mayor Adams: I'm sorry?

Ritter: They came in last year. What happened to the people who came in last year?  What happened to them?  There was 120,000 total, you now have taken care of 60,000 right now, you still are. What happened to the other people?

Mayor Adams: That's an important question, Bill. A large number of people have cycled out of the system. And one would applaud that, but we have to be extremely careful because it creates a black market of employment. It could exploit women. It could exploit people who are being paid under minimum wage.
So, we need to be extremely helpful. It's celebratory that people are finding their way, but at the same time, it could create a real dangerous environment if it's not managed correctly.

Ritter: I want to move on to another subject that has nothing to do with this but a lot to do with the future of the city. And I had never seen you as passionate, as hurt, as just really heartbroken when you were talking and had a news conference after that horrible death of a one‑year‑old boy in a daycare center in the Bronx and the hospitalization of three others because they were exposed to fentanyl.

What kind big is this problem, Mr. Mayor?  What can you do about it?  You talked about, you know, how sad you were and how hard it was, and it was clearly affecting you and all of us. But what can we do about it, really?

Mayor Adams: Yes. No, it was heartbreaking. And I remember sitting outside in my car knowing I had to go into the hospital to speak with the mom and dad and then the next day speaking with one of the fathers who lost his child. You know, this job, you know, there's many joyful moments but there are some extremely painful moments that you have to experience that I cannot ignore it and I have to deal with it as the mayor of this city. It's my obligation to make sure that children and families of the city are safe.

I've stated this. These are some global issues that we must face globally and nationally. Just as we talk about migration is happening all over the globe, so, too, is fentanyl. Fentanyl is a dangerous substance, almost 100 times more dangerous than opium. We must make sure that families know, you bring this into your household, you are endangering the lives of your children, and these individuals had it in sleeping areas with their children.

Just a few grains can take down an adult. And it doesn't mean you smoke it or taste it or eat it, it can just be on a substance and if you're exposed to it, you can lose your life. And that's what we saw that happened in the Bronx. Thank God because of Narcan we were able to save three other children, but we lost one, and that's one too many.

Ritter: This was a daycare center that was sort of informal, and you know, they were doing a business, and they were also dealing drugs. And the drugs were right by these kids. Where's the enforcement of all that?  Where's the enforcement of safety?

Mayor Adams: Well said, and you know, the inspectors, as I continue to say, did their job. They went in. They even did a surprise inspection. They looked around, they looked in closets. As you saw some of the photos, there was a hidden trap door where some of the drugs were being sort of taken out of public view. And so it wasn't that there was a failure in the role of the inspectors, it was a failure in the role of those who are supposed to protect our children.

And we have to become extremely more vigilant, because bad people are becoming creative and more vigilant to continue to create a harmful environment for our children and family. This was a terrible moment, and I hope it's a real loud message and wake up call for anyone who brings fentanyl in their household.

This is not marijuana. This is not cocaine or heroin. This is a dangerous substance that the mere being in the proximity of it and somehow inhaling it...even if these babies were just lying on their bed. This is a substance that's extremely dangerous.

Ritter: Yes, no question. Well, you sounded the clarion call. Mayor Adams, thank you, sir. I appreciate it. Good luck to you.

Mayor Adams: Thank you. Good to see you, Bill.


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