Secondary Navigation

Transcript: Mayor Adams Holds Virtual Media Briefing

October 7, 2023

Mayor Eric Adams: Good evening, I’m Mayor Eric Adams, and I'm joined by Commissioner Castro and Commissioner Mermelstein. Commissioner Mermelstein is from our International Affairs, and Commissioner Castro's from the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs.

And before I begin this evening, I want to say a few words about what is happening in Israel. Our hearts break at the scene we see in southern Israel and Gaza. New York City is home to the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel, and we stand side by side with Israel every day. But we do so with extra resolve today in light of Hamas' unprovoked terrorist attacks.

I was on the ground in Israel less than two months ago and personally saw members of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths living in peace side by side. Today's attack coming at the end of Jewish high holy days celebration is nothing more than a cowardly action by terrorist organizations seeking to divide us.

Back in New York City, I want to be clear that there are currently no credible or specific threats against the Jewish community in the five boroughs. But as always, we remain vigilant. The NYPD is prepared. I have been in constant communication with the NYPD leadership, deputy commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism Wiener and other members of our leadership team about the situation, and they have kept me abreast.

Our administration is also in touch with Jewish leaders across the five boroughs, and I have directed the NYPD to deploy additional resources to Jewish communities and houses of worship city wide to ensure that our communities have the resources they need to make sure everyone feels safe especially as we come out of Shabat and morph into Simchat Torah. I want to extend my sincerest condolences for all innocent lives lost in these attacks and hope that not another family has to experience the pain of losing a loved one.

Now, today we have been in Bogotá. I want to thank everyone here in Colombia for their warm welcome and hospitality. I also want to thank Ambassador Luis Gilberto Murillo for joining me today as we visit the Darién Gap. At the onset of this trip, I said this was a fact finding trip, one that was a reality check for all of us. And today we saw the reality and the scale of migration that happens here through the Darién Gap.

Colombia and the Darién Gap serves as a transit point for migrants as they flee violence, instability and poverty. I want to thank the ambassador and the Colombian government for doing their part in this international crisis. I also want to thank the men and women of the national police force providing protection as we move throughout the Darién Gap.

There's a general empathy here, and we saw how much Colombians care. They have supported and welcomed nearly three million Venezuelans with health, education, housing and social benefits as well as work opportunities. And they have been working with the United States government to open offices that offer a safe and legal pathway from Colombia to the U.S. for qualifying Cubans, Haitians and Venezuelans.

The Colombian government is working on real solutions to solve these real problems. We also met with individuals who have made the dangerous journeys here to Colombia and who hope to make it to the United States. We learned that this year alone more than 375,000 people have crossed through the Darién Gap. This is 100,000 more people crossed than last year, and 200,000 more people than in 2021, and we know that many don't make it.

The ambassador and I discussed how the United States and Colombia can work together to expand additional legal entry pathways for migrants including Colombians through labor and family reunification opportunities. So many people we have talked to here and in New York City are dedicated to solving the global asylum seeker crisis.

But as I said yesterday, in order to help, there must be honesty. We must be clear about what is happening here and how it connects to what is happening in our city and our country. We must be honest about the reality of making the dangerous journey to the United States. We want to make sure that people who come to New York City know what to expect and they have the opportunity for a safe and dignified migration, one that can lead to the American Dream.

We all want to help as many people as possible. We want to uphold our values as a city of immigrants. But to do that, we need to stabilize the situation, and the ambassador and I are committed to working together to help deter dangerous, non-legal migration through Colombia to the U.S.

The reality is that we must work together to help solve the upstream crises that are pushing people to make desperate journeys and risky decisions. We need to work across international borders to manage it in a way that protects all of us including established New Yorkers who need services and new arrivals who need support.

And it starts here, talking to the people who are most deeply affected by it. This trip has been an eye opener for me. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many people dedicated to solving the international migrant crisis. I have met with asylum seekers who risked everything for a new life. I have seen their despair, and I've seen their desire to provide for their families and live a life free of fear.

It is clearer than ever that we need everyone working together on this, at the local, regional, national and international levels. I have learned and seen how Colombians, Ecuadorians and Mexicans are dealing with this crisis. America has always stood for new beginnings. We would never slam the golden door in the face of those seeking to work hard and help build their country up.

But we need a united strategy when it comes to asylum seekers. The reality is people will work hard and travel far for a better life. That was evident to us on this trip. And we know that America will continue to be a place where people seek that life, so let's work together to make this reality something we can all be proud. Now, I'll open the floor to any questions.

Moderator: All right, and just a reminder that anybody that wants to ask a question, just use the raised hand function. We'll go to Katie Honan first.

Question: Oh, hey. Hi, Mayor Adams and everyone on the call.

Mayor Adams: How are you?

Question: I'm great, thanks. I wanted to ask if you could just give us some more details about your trip to the Darién Gap. How long were you there? How many people did you speak to and meet with? And just since I know reporters couldn't go, but just describe a little bit about what you saw and what the reaction was. And I don't know if you...from some of the people who are making that dangerous crossing when, you know, I don't know if you spoke with them or introduced yourself and got a little in that way.

Mayor Adams: Prior to getting to the Gap we went to two levels of briefing. We're under the complete control of the Colombian National Police. There was a level of reluctancy of allowing us to go in in the first place because of severe security concerns. We told them we would follow their guidelines and make sure that we adhere to the procedures they put in place.

They had a large number of National Police personnel that was there. They wanted us to go in to do an observation. They did not want us to go in and interact with the people who were there. After we did the observation, we made a statement to the media, the local press was there. And we exited the location based on their guidelines.

Commissioner Castro was able to communicate with a family there, and it really showed the level of humanitarian response that we must have. They were there with their child and it was an extremely impactful interaction that he had with them. And if you would like to share with it, he can. But we were under strict orders by the National Police on how they wanted us to respond and how they wanted us to interact, and we adhered to what they stated because they were responsible for ensuring the safety of the delegation.

Commissioner Manuel Castro, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs: Yes, thank you so much, mayor. I did speak with a family who was sitting on a ledge. It was a family of about four children, one of them very small. And I asked them what they were there for. They were there waiting for a spot in one of the boats that would take them across the river to the Darién...the entrance to the Darién Gap.

And it struck me, you know, very emotional. I myself was a migrant child, and I couldn't help to talk to them. And I want to be clear, we were first of all here to observe and learn from this experience, but we wanted to od it in a humane and sensitive way, because these individuals are going through some of the most difficult periods in their lives. Many of them are suffering, this is what led them to migrate in the first place.

And so again, many of these families are the same families we have met with and spoke with in New York, and on that first bus that the mayor and I welcomed last year, we also met a family with children similar to this family. And again, this is the kind of experience you will never forget.

Mayor Adams: And there were a large number of people who were sleeping [inaudible] that entire area has changed based on information from the ambassador, people were sleeping on the beach front, there was a large number of people waiting on lines to get on boats to go across. Some people could not afford to get on the boat, so they had to remain in the area. It was an unsettling visual of how this issue is just overwhelming on the people of Colombia.

We also were able to fly over several parts of the Darién Gap to get an observation and watch the boats drop off individuals. It is clear that we must have a uniform response not only nationally but here in this region.

Moderator: Next, we'll go to Kelly.

Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor. My question to you, now that you've been to the Gap with the commissioner, it sounds a little bit like your messaging is changing. I'm wondering, after seeing those families there, is your message still that New York isn't the appropriate place for them to come?

What is the type of messaging that you're giving to them now that you've seen the realities of what's on the ground and what families are risking to come all the way to the United States. And if they don't come to New York City, where should they go instead? Should they stay in Central America? Are you telling them to go somewhere else in the United States?

Mayor Adams: This trip was extremely informative, and I cannot thank the heads of the various countries as they peeled back the many layers that we are facing. And we're going to give an official report that is going to go indepth on what we walked away with. But I want to be clear: my message is a consistent one. New York City and America has always been a welcome place for immigrants. Our city is built on immigration.

What we stated clearly, and I hope that...this seems to be misquoted over and over again. We're stating we are out of room in our city. We need to stabilize this situation. We are not doing a service to anyone that goes through the nightmarish journey of going through the Darién Gap, coming to our borders, then coming to New York City and have to live in the conditions that we are compelled to place them in.

The congregate settings, our children are being taken care of. We are using all the tools and services that we have, but we're at a tipping point. We're out of room. That message has been clear on every station that I've communicated with, every local media. As I've stated, these were the methods that I wanted to use to reach the masses. That message is the same message: we don't want people to take this dangerous trek to come to New York City that is out of room.

We don't have unlimited supplies, and we're very clear on what we need done. We need a decompression strategy that would ensure this is done across the entire country and we need to control this at our borders. That is what I stated and I'm continuing to state that. And I believe more so in that now after going through this journey and hearing from various countries.

And when you ask where should they go instead, one, we need to look at why people are leaving their countries in the first place, and then we need to support places like Colombia who has...they are doing an amazing job of incorporating people into their societies at the beginning level of this. And I think we need to strengthen what they're doing to prevent this long trek.

Commissioner Castro: Mayor, if I can add, I was very moved by the mayor's comments at the various locations we visited around family, and you know, the way we need to see this as a family. And the mayor can go into that, but in particular, protecting children. It is, at the end of the day, you know, Doctors Without Borders I think this week said that about 40 percent of the people they have been serving on the Panama side of the journey are children. They're suffering. And after today it's just clear that we need to do more to protect these children.

Moderator: And our last question will go to Joe Anuta.

Question: Just two quick questions for you to follow up on what Katie asked. I was wondering if you could go into a little more detail and set the scene for us about what you saw in the Gap. It sounds like you were at a beach. Could you tell us, were you on foot, in a car, how many people, you know, would you estimate were there? And were you in a helicopter or a plane when you were looking overhead?

And then I was also wondering, now you've witnessed the enormity of the problem in Colombia, I'm curious if it gave you any perspective, if you think, oh, we can do more in New York, or maybe there's a particular policy you came away with and said, we want to do this when we get back.

Mayor Adams: Yes. Well, first I'll deal with the visual. We took a helicopter over the Darién Gap up until the Panamanian border. We remained within Colombia. And it gave us a good visual of the type of movement, the type of locations, the boats that was flowing. And once we got to the Gap we saw a few hundred people were lined up across the beach waiting on lines with tents that were on the beach area where people were actually sleeping on the beach area. No place of any real hygiene, really not a condition that children should be in. We saw the area wasn't a place that was properly sanitized. It was just an unkept environment.

And so there's several policies and initiatives that we walked away with and the team is going to do a deep dive on that. Many of them is collaborating...with the United Nations, UNICEF, because as the commissioner stated, this is a real issue that's about children and the future of children.

With also some of the NGOs and CBOs that we met with, there's a real place here for mayors that are impacted across the entire region, should come together that we're looking at. And I'm going to have some conversation with former President Clinton when I come back, I'm going to reach out to him because of some of the things he did in Colombia. So, we're walking away with a large amount of notes and information that we're going to put into proposals and policies once we return.

What I don't want is what I saw on the beach area in Colombia to play out on the streets of New York City. That is where we are right now. And for some reason, I'm not sure if everyone is understanding that we're dealing with a global crisis. This is not the time for us to play politically correct word games and continue to attempt to nitpick on small parts of this.

This is a global crisis that we are experiencing, and coming down to the Darién Gap and going through this experience is because we want to get a better understanding of it and we want to properly implement ways to make sure that we can stop this dangerous trek that women, children and adults are taking. And that is the focus that we have. We are at a global crisis is playing out on the stage of our region right now at a level that we have not witnessed.

The human mobility that is sweeping this region is something we have to take seriously, and that is what this administration is doing.


Media Contact
(212) 788-2958