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Transcript: Mayor Adams Delivers Remarks at Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs' C4A Convening

December 4, 2023

Commissioner Manuel Castro, Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs: Hi, everyone. You know, we're wrapping up our first day, so I want to hear it: give it up for Cities for Action!
I'm just going to briefly wrap up our day and introduce our mayor, but I also want to introduce Deputy Mayor Anne Williams‑Isom who's here with us today.

You may have already heard me speak about the amazing leadership that we have in the city, and I know I spoke with deputy mayor from Chicago about the amazing deputy mayor that we have here leading a response to the asylum seeker crisis. We really couldn't have done anything we've been doing without the leadership of Deputy Mayor Williams‑Isom.

Many of you visited both the arrival center and our asylum application center and have gotten to know many of the people behind the response, all of whom have been working closely with our office and Deputy Mayor Anne Williams‑Isom in the response to the asylum seeker crisis.

So, mayor, today, the first day we're focusing on asylum seekers; the following day, we're going to be focusing on other issues impacting immigrant communities. And here in this room you have cities from all over the country, our co‑chairs for Cities for Action: San Diego and Chicago, of course along with New York City. But you also have folks from Miami, Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, you name it, all who have been working in support of immigrant communities and have also been working on this asylum seeker humanitarian crisis.

And what's clear from our conversations here today and our work together leading up to this conference is that we are stronger together. And we need to continue to do this work. The follow up will be critical, will be important. We need to continue to bring in cities and counties from around the country into our coalition to continue to advocate for the well being of immigrants and also our cities.

I shared earlier today, mayor, that I came here as an immigrant. I came here as a five‑year‑old, crossed the border and grew up here in New York City. And I love New York City because New York City allowed me to go from an undocumented child to a commissioner in the City of New York.

This is why I love this city, and I only want the best for our city. And I am incredibly proud to work under the leadership of Mayor Eric Adams, who from the beginning has made sure to uplift this issue and looked out for the well being of immigrants. Mayor Adams joined me the first week buses began to arrive at Port Authority. Then we visited the border and we visited the Darién Gap in Latin America and visited with folks who are also trying to meet the challenge.

And like I said earlier today with Errol Louis, we do not have the luxury to wait. We do not have the luxury to not speak up. And because of Mayor Adams' leadership, this issue has become front and center — not just the support that we need as cities but also the support that immigrants need and the right to work that so many have desperately waited for.

So, with that, I introduce to you the mayor of the City of New York, Mayor Eric Adams.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you. Thank you so much. And our commissioner has not only been a substantive leader around this, he has been a symbolic leader around this. And we have traveled together as we deal with this very real issue. I thought for sure you were going to say you love New York because I'm the mayor.

But you know, welcome to the city, and as I ask of everyone who comes here to visit, we just want you to spend as much money as possible.
Get to One Vanderbilt. It's one of our highlights, it's one of the buildings that really I think it personifies the greatness of the city.

This crisis brings opportunities, and we have been on the front line from our trip to El Paso to seeing and learning from those who are on the bordering states and they're dealing with this crisis, to the recent trip that the commissioner and our team took down to the Darién Gap, to Colombia, Mexico and… Ecuador. 

And just really learning firsthand and speaking with those who are on the ground who are actually dealing with this issue. On the coldest day of the year in January of this year, we didn't sit on the sideline. We went and spent the night in one of our Humanitarian Relief Centers so I could talk one on one with the migrants and asylum seekers.

I think too many people are in the sterilized environments of their chambers trying to make decisions that are impacting the lives of real people, and that is not what I want to do. I spent my childhood with the uncertainty of having a place to stay and to sleep and to lay my head. Mommy raised six of us. It was a very challenging moment, and every day we used to hold our breath wondering when we turned the corner were the sheriffs or the marshals were going to be there to throw us out.

And we knew the uncertainty of that. And not having a place to live. A home is more than just four walls, it's the precursor to sleep that allows you to experience the American dream. And the nightmarish reality that we are watching right now in the greatest country on the globe is an indictment that we're not true to who we say we are.

And we refuse to remain silent and just be good elected officials and not ignore the reality of what is needed and what this is doing not only to cities but what it is doing to the countless number of leaders of tomorrow and how it dramatizes them.

Some of the stories we heard of going through the Darién Gap, some of these children and what they're going through, and some of the women, some of the actions that are happening, and now not allowing people to provide for themselves. We are seeing direct correlations to when you don't allow people to provide for themselves how it impacts not only short term but long term.

There are long‑term implications that are going to impact all of our cities that are directly impacted by this and those who are indirectly impacted by this. We will all feel it in the long term. And if we're not careful, it's going to turn human beings against human beings. It is only going to add to the climate that we're feeling with so much tension that you're seeing globally is playing out in our cities.

I always say there are three types of parties in America, the Democrat, Republican and mayors and county leaders, those who are on the ground dealing with the crises every day.
I know what Chicago is going through when you have to put migrant and asylum seekers inside police precincts. I know what Boston is going through. I know what Los Angeles and Houston and Chicago, Washington D.C., these major cities that are being actually allowing those who are trying to politicize this issue.

We are committed to this. We are committed. And it is a very challenging moment for our city. We have $106 billion budget, but $76 billion of that budget is already accounted for. It keeps the lights on and pays for the salaries to run this complex city.

We have about $30‑something billion that we can move around. Out of that $30‑something billion, $12 billion must go to this crisis. During this year, $5 billion, during this fiscal year, and $7 billion in the next two years. $12 billion out of $30‑something billion, something is going to have to give and it's going to be painful to the communities who are in need.

So, think about it for a moment. If you're a multibillionaire, you don't have to worry about your Department of Education. You don't have to worry about homeless services. You don't have to worry about all of those services that low- and moderate-income New Yorkers depend on.

And so when you look at the law that we have that we have to balance our budget two years out — that's the law — and we must look at where those dollars are going to come from, and it is hitting every service we have. It's hitting police, fire, Department of Sanitation, Department of Education. Every service of our city is feeling the impact of this national crisis that the national government could resolve.

We have 108,000 cities, towns and villages. We want a decompression strategy that allows the entire country to play a role in living up to the dream that we say we are about. We believe that the national government should be funding this. It should not be on the backs of taxpayers and it should not put our migrant and asylum seekers in conditions that are just not conducive to raising healthy children and families.

And then we must have a pathway to citizenship that can't be an antiquated method using an 8‑Track mindset in an iPhone age. We've got to get it better. We are far better than what we're seeing, and it needs to be done.
And what could be more American than the right to work? I mean, this is unimaginable. We have 100… What are we, 140,000 now?

140,000‑something people that have come to our city. And no matter who I speak with, when I go to the HERRCs, when I go to the shelters, they say, man, we only want one thing: we want a job. We want to work. And let me tell you what the real tragedy is: we have jobs. We have thousands of jobs that people are ready to fill.

We needed lifeguards, we have a lifeguard shortage. We had to close our beaches because of the lack of lifeguards. And we have people who can pass the lifeguard test that we can't hire. Our food service workers, our backstretch workers, our nurses — we have a nursing shortage — our construction industry, we have a construction shortage.

You pick the job and I would tell you how much we need employees. We have 14,000 available jobs in city government right now that we couldn't fill. And we have available people that want to do the same thing — as I look around this room — all of our ancestors wanted to do, all of them, all of them.

We're guests in America from our indigenous people, and all of us came here and the reason you're sitting in this room right now is because your parents or your grandparents had the opportunity to be employed. No matter how menial the job was, it was the steppingstone to move you into the American experience.

And here in this city where immigration rights are crucial because we have the largest population of just about every group on a global scale, largest population of Russian speaking, South American, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Koreans. You list a group, for the most part, we have the largest population.

So, we know better than anyone on the globe the power of the immigrant experience and the contribution that immigrants have played in the city. And all you've got to do is look at my administration. First Trinidadian to be a deputy mayor, first Indian American, East Indian to be a deputy mayor, first Dominican to be a deputy mayor, first dreamer, Mexican American to be a head of of Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, first Korean to be a commissioner of Small Business Services, first Puerto Rican to be a police commissioner, first Spanish speaking to be in charge of Department of Correction.

You go look across my administration and you see the immigrant experience, and that's why they don't bring this detached mindset from this struggle. When we walk into those HERRCs, we are looking at children that one day are going to define their experience in how we treated them in a humane way, because they're going to sit here and say they are the so‑and‑so of the city of New York because we treated them with compassion and care and we understood what they were going to become.

That's what this is about. This is our commitment and dedication. But we need each other. It can't be the New York City show. We have to have a united front of telling the national government no city should experience this, Brownsville, El Paso, Chicago, New York, Boston. No city should be handling a national problem of this magnitude and this scale. And so… 

Almost 20 years ago, I think was 2014 when Cities [For] Action came to place, little did we know when you plant seeds that it will bear fruit and harvest in a future generation. This is the moment that Cities [For] Action was really made for. We need real action.

And then we need to learn from each other, cross pollinate ideas, help us see what you're doing that's successful so that we can duplicate it. But also, let us have a unified front and voice on this issue and then other issues: environmental issues, public safety issues, fentanyl devastating our cities. I'm not sure what's happening in your city, but fentanyl is 80 percent of our overdose deaths, fentanyl is present.

Mental health. We all came out of Covid hurting. None of us are all right. Everyone is experiencing something after Covid. We have a mental health crisis that people are trying to self medicate themselves with so many different ways. So, we need ideas of what you're doing. Homeless services — our homeless issue is a real issue.

All of these issues, as cities we need each other's help to come up with real solutions and problems. We may be the largest city in America but we don't have all the answers. We've learned so much from small cities and municipalities that you were able to give us those case studies that we were able to duplicate. We just want to get it right. That is our goal. And we have the right team and the right mindset.

So, again, thank you so much for coming to our city, for spending some time. And you know, please leave some of those dead presidents here — Washington, Grant and all the rest of them.
Spend some money. Enjoy our night life. And if you are single, we have, you know, some great attractive single people in the city, you know, so hook up and get married in New York. Thank you very much.

Commissioner Castro: Thank you, mayor. Give it up for Mayor Eric Adams!

Give it up for all the amazing Cities For Action leaders out here today!

And give it up for our amazing MOIA staff!


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