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Transcript: Mayor Adams Holds Virtual Media Briefing with Chicago Mayor Johnson and Denver Mayor Johnston to Discuss Asylum Seeker Crisis with Coalition of Cities

December 27, 2023

Mayor Eric Adams: Hello. I am New York City Mayor Eric Adams, and I want to thank my fellow mayors, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston for joining us today. As many of you are aware, we are again seeing a record number of crossings at our southern border. What that means for us in New York City is another surge in migrants arriving at our doors.

Just a few weeks ago, Governor Abbott promised to send an additional 25,000 migrants to New York City alone. We expect the surge to intensify in the coming days and weeks. Last night, a flight chartered by the State of Texas, El Paso, the fog diverted the flight to Philadelphia, where migrants were loaded onto five buses that arrived this morning around 1:00 a.m. Just last week, 14 buses arrived in a single day, the most ever recorded by officials at our intake center. We are in close contact with other cities and state leaders across the country who are seeing a similar increase in arrivals.

To better coordinate these arrivals today, I'm announcing an executive order requiring charter buses transporting migrants, those often contracted by the State of Texas to provide 32‑hour notice in advance of their arrival into New York City. To make sure we have sufficient staffing, we are also requiring that these charter buses arrive only between 8:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and to only drop off passengers at one spot unless directed otherwise by New York City Emergency Management. Failure to do so will result in a Class B misdemeanor, possible fines, lawsuit and even buses being impounded.

We cannot allow buses with people needing our help to arrive without warning at any hour of day and night. This not only prevents us from providing assistance in an orderly way, it puts those who have already suffered so much in danger. To be clear, this is not stopping people from coming. But about ensuring the safety of migrants and making sure they can arrive in a coordinated and orderly way.

Chicago Mayor Johnson has taken similar actions to coordinate orderly bus arrivals and I'm glad our teams have been able to share lessons learned from where and what they are doing. And I want to thank him for this insight in the way of managing, assisting and managing this crisis.

New York City is part of a coalition of cities and countries and counties, and we know the importance of this moment. We are working together to address this national humanitarian crisis, and that's why I'm thankful for the partnership of both my mayors from Chicago and from Denver. I'm proud to be here with my fellow mayors to call on the federal government to do their part with one voice and to tell Texas Governor Abbott to stop the games and use of migrants as political pawns.

As temperatures drop in New York City, Chicago, Denver and other impacted cities, we are calling for the federal declaration of emergency, financial support and a national resettlement strategy. New York City's proud to have helped nearly 60 percent of the 161,000 migrants who have arrived here seeking shelter. But we need the state and federal government's help in resettling and supporting the 68,000 migrants still in our care, as well as those who are on their way and those yet to come.

Our administration has been meeting the asylum seeker crisis head on since migrants began to arrive in 2022. We have offered them food, clothing and a roof over their heads, and we've helped submit more than 23,000 work authorizations, TPS and asylum applications. But we cannot continue to do the federal government's job. We have spoken to FEMA and other federal officials who have expressed concern about the border surge but not offered additional help. We need action, and we need it now.

New York City is a city built by immigrants. We will work together to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before, but this is a national problem. This has only been exacerbated by Governor Abbott's cruel inhumane politics, and that requires additional national solutions. The federal government must take responsibility and lead on this humanitarian crisis instead of leaving it for cities and localities to handle. I'll now turn it over to my colleague, the mayor of Chicago, Mayor Johnson.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson: Thank you, Mayor Adams. Thank you for your leadership and thank you for your commitment to this issue. I'm grateful to be joined also by the mayor of Denver, Mike Johnston. Thank you for your leadership and your commitment to this mission as well. It has been articulated on multiple occasions that the lack of care that has been on display for the last year and a half has created an incredible amount of chaos. Not just in the City of Chicago, but our country.

As buses continue to arrive in the City of Chicago and all over the country, the type of chaos that has been administered, has left many of our local economies under tremendous amount of duress. Rogue buses arriving not just in the City of Chicago but surrounding communities as well. Some neighborhoods as far reaching as an hour and a half outside of the City of Chicago. Buses sent by the governor of Texas literally dropping families off in the middle of nowhere. These families have experienced a great deal of political turmoil, trekking hundreds of thousands of miles to get to the border without real care, without real processing, and without a system in place to address this crisis.

Since taking office over the last seven months, my administration has worked through collaboration with the County of Cook, with the State of Illinois, as well as my full force of my administration to address this humanitarian crisis. The reckless and quite frankly the unsafe behavior of the governor of Texas has caused a great deal of trepidation, to say the least. And as a result of that, we have done our very best to bring some structure and calm to this crisis. An orderly and humane approach is what's required in this moment. And over the past seven months, we've received hundreds of buses, some of them in the middle of the night and again some in the outskirts of the City of Chicago, with little to no coordination.

I've stood up 27 shelters. We are housing currently nearly 15,000 asylum seekers, providing mental care, healthcare, educating 4,500 students, while also creating a pathway to sustainability. But we cannot do this alone. We need more support from the federal government. And today we stand charged and committed to ensure that our respective cities do our part and we need the federal government to lean in and provide more financial assistance.

All of our cities have reached a point where we are either close to capacity or nearly out of room. Without significant intervention from the federal government, this mission will not be sustained. So make no mistake about it, the rogue buses and now chartered flights is not only unsafe, but it's inhumane. So we are calling on not just the federal government to provide support and resources to address this humanitarian crisis, but we also need better coordination at the border.

The State of Texas has a responsibility to connect with municipalities around the country to help address and to deal with this crisis. The mayor of New York, the mayor of Denver and myself were committed to that type of coordination, and that's why, over a month ago, our administration implemented an ordinance that provided some very clear guidelines around how buses must arrive in the city of Chicago in order to meet the needs of this moment.

As a result of a desire to create coordination, and as a result of bringing calm, or in an attempt to bring calm, the governor of Texas has circumvented the law in order to prove a political point. So, though that is unfortunate, we are very much committed to creating a structure that works for the country while also pushing the federal government to invest in this crisis and this mission. With that, I'm grateful that the mayor of Denver is with us, and I'll turn it over to Mayor Mike Johnston.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston: Thank you so much, mayor, for including me. Thank you so much, Mayor Adams, for all your leadership and partnership. I'll be brief, with a couple of comments. So much has been said so powerfully by our other two fantastic mayors.

I'll say that Denver finds itself right now at ground zero in trying to resolve and respond to the migrant crisis. We at this point now have had more migrant arrivals to our city than any city in America per capita. That is not because there is a thoughtful or coordinated strategy to entry, it is because we are the first big city north of El Paso and the cheapest bus ticket and the shortest trip for the governor and others trying to find places to send people.

We think that's not the best way to handle a crisis of this magnitude. Mayor Johnson has spoken eloquently before about the ways in which this country has addressed other crises of asylum seekers or refugee seekers, including when we had refugees from the Ukraine who arrived, many thousands of whom landed in Chicago. But they came with federal support. They came with work authorization. They came with a plan for coordinated entry. As a result, they were very successful.

Similar to asylees who came from Afghanistan, and we were able to create a similar coordinated entry system to help deliver success. We now have received more than 35,000 migrants over the course of the last year. We have more than 4,000 that are in shelter tonight. That's more than 10 times the number that were there when I took office just six months ago.

And we have incredibly been successful in integrating many, almost all of those migrants into the city. But as the mayor mentioned, we know this is not the right strategy by which to make newcomers be successful or make our city successful. I just want to join Mayor Adams and Mayor Johnson in saying I think there are three very clear steps that the federal government can take today that we want to see them take.

One is we do need to dramatically increase work authorization for those folks who are arriving in our cities. I think many people come to this country. They get paroled into the country with an asylum claim but they'll come to Denver. They'll have a court date for that asylum claim that's April 23rd of 2027. That's four years away. In the meantime they don't have the capacity to work or work fast enough. So what we're asking for is that folks that are arriving and are paroled in, come with work authorization so we can help them do what they want to do which is support themselves and support their families.

The second is we need more federal support to be able to manage this amount of inflow. It will crush city budgets around the country as we know. We're looking at about $160 million of potential cost going into next year's budget. That's almost 10 percent of our entire city budget. That's a massive impact for us.

And the third is we think if we have federal resources and we have work authorization, we also ought to be able to have a coordinated entry plan by which the country as a whole sets a strategy for where newcomers arrive and be welcomed in a way we know cities can successfully support.

When asylees from Ukraine landed, if they landed at JFK, that didn't mean that Mayor Adams made the decision where every single asylee in the country went, just because they landed at a port in New York. The same way, it shouldn't be true that any asylum seekers that land in Texas are at the whim of Texas deciding where people ought to go.

We think cities and the federal government can have a coordinated plan for admitting and serving people across the country to make sure no one city is overtaxed, but that every newcomer arrives in a neighborhood that has the resources and the support to make them successful.

There is a common sense practical way to address this crisis, and we believe that we three mayors and other mayors around the country could help partner with the federal government to make sure those criteria are met. Work authorization for those that are here that need to work; federal resources to support their success and a coordinated plan of entry so that no one city bears a disproportionate amount of burden.

With that, I'm happy to stop and give it back to you, Mayor Adams on how you want to proceed on questions.

Mayor Adams: Thanks so much, both mayors, for joining us today. We will open the floor for any questions, if there are any.

Question: Going back to the executive order about the buses, if a bus arrives outside of the times you identified and the city then issues a summons or impounds the bus, doesn't that punish the asylum seekers, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Doesn't it end up having a negative effect on the folks coming here?

Mayor Adams: No, it does not. And we really are saying to bus operators and companies, do not participate in Governor Abbott's actions, and we want them to take the appropriate actions of being responsible by taking those actions during the hours that we are laying out.

And those asylum seekers that are on the buses, they would not be penalized in any way at all. So, no, this does not in any way impact those passengers who are on the buses.

Question: I'm with WGN in Chicago if the mayors of both New York and Denver could give us a bit of an idea of the breakdown in the landscape of your shelter space. Here in Chicago, we've seen a variety of warehouse buildings, some hotels that have been used, and there was a plan to have winter tent-based camps here that did not come to fruition. I was just curious how both your cities have handled that influx and what the shelter space looks like.

Mayor Adams: Mayor Johnston, and then I'll follow you.

Denver Mayor Johnston: Yes. Thank you. Thanks for the question. Most of our response so far has been non‑congregate shelter has been hotel units that we've been acquiring to keep families for about 37 days, and we have individuals for 14 days. We have limits to those stays, but we have been using mostly hotel sites. We have just about maxed out all the hotel capacity in the city and county right now.

So, we are bringing on more congregate‑based sites. That could be churches, could be commercial office space, could be other city facilities, to try to deal with the overflow. But that's been our two primary strategies for sheltering so far.

Mayor Adams: Mayor, Johnson, would you like to give an overview of some of the things you're seeing in your city? I know the reporter's from Chicago, but I think the entire country needs to hear what you have been doing there.

Chicago Mayor Johnson: Thank you. Look, we have exhausted public spaces as well as private spaces. There was an incredible influx for several months from Texas. We were receiving 25, 30 buses a day, and at which point, whether it was park districts or buildings, anywhere possible, we were looking for space to deal with this crisis.

We've also worked — and many people in the city of Chicago, of course, are aware of this — but for the nation to hear, we've worked with our faith community as well as our philanthropic community to meet this demand. We have mutual aid support on the ground where we have volunteers. But we've had churches step up and lean in to provide temporary shelter for migrants as well as, again, public and private spaces.

We've reached a point now, of course, where we're getting really close to our capacity and that's why the impetus of this joint effort to speak directly to the federal government, as well as the State of Texas, that as Americans coming together to come up with a sophisticated approach that's coordinated. That's the response of the people of Chicago and I know people around the country want to see.

Mayor Adams: Thank you. And I believe it was very important when Mayor Johnston from Denver pointed out the capacity based on the number of people that are in his city, because I'm respectful of that. New York has 8.3 million people, and we received over 161,000 migrants and asylum seekers. But this is impacting each one of our cities based on the proportion of the size of the city. The same impact we're feeling here, they're feeling as well.

And it's reached full capacity. We have everything from using outdoor tents to outdoor restroom facilities. Some of our warehouse spaces have been converted. We have maximized our hotels, which is coming at a great cost to our city.

We've used spaces in formerly used psychiatric centers that are now converted to outside tent areas. Randalls Island has a tent as well. We've opened over 200 hotels and we opened up several what we call HERRC, humanitarian relief centers. This is a weight on our capacity here. This is a $5 billion budget for this fiscal year and an additional $7 billion for the next two years and the outgoing years.

So, not only is it a financial burden, it has also placed great strain on delivery of services in our city. And I'm sure both mayors will share the same how it's impacted their cities.

Question: This question is for Mayor Johnston. I'm wondering if Denver is planning to do something similar to Chicago and New York in terms of when you'll be accepting buses and whether there will be any type of executive order kind of restricting the arrivals.

Denver Mayor Johnston: Thank you, Saja, good to hear your voice again. Thanks for joining. We are already putting in place regulatory changes here at the city to restrict the arrival times and arrival locations in similar ways. So we do have regulatory changes we put in place already to restrict similar. Eight to five weekdays and to either approved bus locations so we don't have buses arriving in the middle of the night at one or two in the morning with buses full of kids and families coming off in the freezing cold. So, we've currently put those in place. We'll be in conversations with the City Council and may want to expand or enhance additional penalties or consequences of those regulations, but they are in place currently.

Question: To sort out these restrictions that the different cities have. So, it sounds like there will be sort of different schedules in each of your cities. I don't know if I have this right, but I have 8:30 to noon in New York and eight to five in Denver, and then for Mayor Johnson, I don't know what they are in Chicago. I was wondering if you could all give what your restrictions, respective restrictions are for migrant buses coming into your city.

Mayor Adams: Each mayor can share what their restrictions are. Again, I cannot thank Mayor Johnson of Chicago for his leadership on this, it just shows why this coalition is important because his best practices and based on observations we saw in Chicago, we are duplicating some of the best practices we're seeing in our other municipalities. But here in New York, it's from 8:30 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. And we expect everyone to comply with the operation order.

Chicago Mayor Johnson: Again, just for context, that the whole motivation behind this ordinance was not to stop buses from coming to the City of Chicago. I sent a delegation to the border to see firsthand what our bordering cities and bordering states are experiencing.

Look, this is an international crisis of global population shift that is taking place all over the world. And coming up with a coordinated approach, it's incumbent upon us as a nation to do that because policies have had a tremendous impact on the global economy. And so sovereign states are under a great amount of duress, and those economies are being squeezed, and we are impacted by these international policies that has had a profound impact on the people across the world.

And what we've simply articulated is this. Sending buses to Chicago, there has to be coordination. And our ordinance is pretty straightforward. It's Monday through Friday, 8:30 to five, and you have to give us a 48‑hour notice. Anything short of that you will be working outside of the law. And unfortunately what the governor of Texas has done is that he has seen our desire to come up with a coordinated effort and he has been propagated to retaliate against us establishing structure and calm.

Sending planes to Chicago or anywhere else that are funded by the government, the government of Texas, these private planes without a manifest, without knowing who is on the plane, without knowing what's on the plane. It's not just reckless, it's dangerous. That's why you're seeing all of us working together in constant conversations about how we can actually provide some structure and some calm to this humanitarian mission. And so a 48‑hour notice, apply for a permit. One location that you can drop people off at, that's a reasonable set of expectations. And it's no different than any other form of transportation that happens in our country.

Anything short of coming up with a structure that actually works, that benefits what the bordering cities are experiencing and what the rest of the country is impacted by, anything short of that, quite frankly, is reckless and dangerous, and the motivation again is to bring structure and calm. And again to call on the federal government to lean in more to provide the type of resources that are needed.

The last thing I'll say, Mayor Johnston alluded to this earlier. 30,000 refugees from Ukraine are in the city of Chicago right now. That's more than the amount of asylum seekers primarily from Venezuela. The difference was they had federal resources attached to each of those individuals for them to integrate into our local economy. And again to make sure that there's a real pathway to sustainability.

We are asking for what has already occurred. So, this ordinance is an attempt to actually bring some calm and some structure to a very chaotic situation.

Denver Mayor Johnston: …Monday through Friday. No weekends. No holidays. For the same purpose. We have staff already working around the clock. We don't want people dropped off at 2:00 in the morning in the cold or need to have staff to be on call in the morning to greet and welcome people. We're happy to manage the welcoming and supporting, but they have to be able to come at civil times to the destinations we know about so we can support them successfully.

Question: Brandon Johnson, I wanted to ask about your conversation you had with other neighboring communities, suburbs, that have been receiving migrants. Speak a little bit to what you established during that meeting. Was it productive? Are there moves to coordinate with them in addition to the mayors on this call?

Chicago Mayor Johnson: Look, it was productive. Thank you for that question. It's indicative of, quite frankly, what the entire country is looking for in this moment. And that's real leadership.

And what Mayor Johnston and Mayor Adams are doing and what we're doing collectively is really the response that's necessary for this moment. Last Friday, I convened about 80 mayors from surrounding villages and towns around Chicago because as a result of our ordinance — this is something that Mayor Johnston and Mayor Adams have a preview to — is that as a result of our ordinance, the governor of Texas, looking to circumvent law, has sent buses to surrounding villages towns and cities. It's creating a very chaotic situation.

And many of you are aware there's a town, Peotone, Illinois, well outside the city of Chicago. The bus driver dropped off these families and told them they were in Chicago. And they were literally dropped off on the side of the road. It's unconscionable to think that a governor would do such a thing. Particularly, as Mayor Adams has already articulated, whether it's New York, Chicago or Denver, this entire country, between descendants of slaves and immigrants, this is how the nation was formed and built.

As a nation that's built on laws for the governor of Texas to circumvent law is quite disturbing. So, what these mayors are looking for is a coordinated effort, much like what you're seeing right now, and they're prepared to pass similar ordinances to not just to maintain the sanctity of our nation, but to make sure that we're responding responsibly to this humanitarian crisis. So, as you know that there are many mayors around the Chicagoland area who have followed our lead and they have already implemented similar ordinances, and I anticipate that county governments will also follow this lead because many of these individual cities and towns do not have a home rule authority. We have to make sure we're encompassing all surrounding towns and villages to create the type of structure and calm that's needed in this crisis.

Question: Quick question. I know that the previous mayor in Denver was talking back when the sums were just a couple million dollars. But now that humanitarian response in Denver is more than $36 million, that it was a breaking point then. And I know it seems that these Democratic mayors have all wanted to take more of a compassionate perspective on the humanitarian response, but what does the breaking point look like? What does it look like?

Denver Mayor Johnston: I'll be happy to start, other mayors will jump in. What we're looking at is we are waiting on and relying on and pushing on the federal government right now to take action as they're debating this budget bill because there are three major opportunities for us there.

One is the federal resources to support this effort as it currently exists. The second is the ability to expand work authorization for folks that arrive in the country so they need less support from us when they do arrive. If they can work, they don't need shelter. They can earn their own money, pay for their own places to live and their own food. The third is a coordinated entry system that would be able to allow each of the cities and states to be able to share in that support. We think that's what's possible here.

We think those all give us a path to success. If all three of those fail, there's no federal support, there's no coordinated entry, there's no work authorization, I think cities will have to look at dramatically reducing the services we offer or dramatically cutting our city budgets, which has impacts on other parts of city services.

Those are the hard scenarios we know our city would face, other cities would face, but we think there's a common sense path to avoid that. That's why we're pushing the Congress and the White House for action on these topics to avoid that crisis. That's our take in Denver, but I'll defer to what Mayor Adams and Mayor Johnson are seeing in their cities.

Mayor Adams: Thank you, Mayor Johnston. What does the breaking point look like? I could not put in a police class into my police academy with all the success we've had in decreasing crime, decreasing shootings, taking 13,000 guns off our streets. My public safety is now being challenged because of that.

My services of trash cleanup. My services of children services in schools, library hours, how do we move forward with our care for our older adults. All these services, every agency in our city must go and look at a 5 percent, what we call a PEG, 5 percent finding savings and efficiencies.

It's going to impact every delivery of services in this city. We now have a hiring freeze that we cannot bring on additional employees to deal with everything from social services to actually cleaning our city. So we're seeing the fallout of what it looks like.

We have large groups of people who are not allowed to work, who are assembling around our shelters in our humanitarian relief centers. We're seeing them walk in the street, knocking on doors, asking those who live in the community for different items and different things.

We're seeing the erosion of the quality of life that we've improved on in such a short period of time of this administration. We've been impacted… For many months, we were able to keep the visualization of this crisis from hitting our streets, but we have reached the breaking point. We no longer are able to do that because of the volume in numbers.

Just last week we had 3,900 people that arrived here. We are averaging anywhere from 2,500 to close to 4,000 a week, and if you do the math, you see that's 8,000 every two weeks, potentially 16,000 a month that we must feed, clothes, house, educate children and all the services that you would give a normal adult. And we're seeing that play out on our streets of New York, and that is what the breaking point looks like, what we are experiencing right now.

Chicago Mayor Johnson: It's not that much different here in Chicago or anywhere else in the country. The public good is already stressed. Whether it's our transportation system, our healthcare system, our education system. All of these systems are already stretched to meet the demands of families who have been here. Over the past seven months, it's been an incredible strain on every aspect of city services.

And to the best of our ability, we have put forth the full force of government forward in order to address this crisis. This is why it's imperative that the federal government organize their leadership and actually pass a bill that provides the resources that are needed in this moment.

If Denver, New York and Chicago and other municipalities can organize collectively to come up with some structure and some calm to this crisis, we're not ignoring that it exists. We're saying that we have to approach it as a team, not divided. And 4,500 children are being educated who just arrived in the City of Chicago. Our county healthcare system has leaned in and provided support for our asylum seekers. Again, the State of Illinois has worked to provide resources to meet this demand.

But we have reached a critical point in this mission that absent real significant intervention immediately, our local economies are not designed and built to respond to this type of crisis. We are literally building a system as we go along. I commend Mayor Johnston and Mayor Adams and mayors around the country who have stepped up in this moment to demonstrate compassion as we build an operation around the humanitarian crisis that we're facing.

What we don't need is a reckless, rogue elected official that is not only pointing the finger everywhere else, but is not working to bring people together. This is the United States of America, for crying out loud. We have experienced tremendous challenges over the course of our history. This is not something that should affect our country especially if we stand and work together.

Unfortunately, you have individuals that their only currency is chaos, and that's why we're looking to bring some structure and calm around this moment because the people of America require it. But also as global residents of this entire world, it is incumbent upon all of us to recognize the global population shift that is happening is not going to end because someone is sending buses irresponsibly throughout the entire country. It's going to require Congress to organize, to come together, to do its part, but we need the federal government to invest.

We also need to make sure that the governor of Texas does not take its animosity out on the rest of the country. We are working together to come up with a structure to provide some calm and some order to a very chaotic situation. Don't exacerbate it by circumventing the law, sending airplanes or buses without a clear understanding who is on the bus and how we should anticipate and expect those individuals to arrive here.

Yes, we have reached a point without really significant coordination. This is something that's going to cause tremendous strain. As leaders of this country, it is incumbent upon us to do what is best for this moment, not for one political party.

Mayor Adams: Well said, mayor. Well said. And I really thank you and Mayor Johnston, Mayor Johnson of Chicago, Mayor Johnston in Denver. And as you have highlighted, we want to thank all those Americans right here in the city as you indicated, Mayor Johnson, our faith‑based community, they have played a vital role in opening their doors. This is a moment for all Americans to step up, and that is what we want to do with the coalition you're speaking of.

History is going to look back on this moment and ask where were we during this time. I'm glad I have a coalition of you two mayors and others who realize the importance of us stepping up. Again, thank you so much. And together we will address this issue that's in front of us. Thank you.

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