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Transcript: Mayor Eric Adams Provides Update on Asylum Seekers

July 21, 2022

Commissioner Gary Jenkins, Department of Social Services: My name is Gary Jenkins, and I am the commissioner for the Department of Social Services. Thank you for being here. Under Mayor Adams, New York City is committed to meeting our legal and moral obligation to provide shelter to all who need it. Regardless of background and immigration status. Every night, our dedicated teams work around the clock to ensure that we meet this mandate in the city of over 8 million people. Let's be crystal clear. The city and this agency are here for people in need, but we also need our government partners to recognize the external pressures that are being placed on our shelter system.

Commissioner Jenkins: The fact is that we have seen a significant uptick in our families with children census over the past couple of months, driven in part by an increasing migrant population seeking services. We prioritize the privacy and dignity of our clients at all times. And our teams track trends and capacity needs as best we can with the self-reported information we are provided at intake. So we are better positioned to operationalize the right to shelter mandate. These families with children have already experienced considerable trauma, and we are here to help them stabilize their lives, not further alienate them.

Commissioner Jenkins: We will not be deterred by unprecedented challenges or unhelpful narratives questioning the veracity of our analysis. We remain squarely focused on delivering our mission to provide services to vulnerable families and individuals who come to us. As the mayor has said, we need federal support in every level of government to come together to ensure that we have the resources and support to proudly uphold the inclusive values of this nation and honor New York City's legacy as a safe haven for marginalized and vulnerable communities.

Commissioner Jenkins: Let me state the facts. The fact is, when a family present to our shelter, if they present by 10:00 PM, we are required by state law to house that family in a conditional placement by 4:00 AM. Because of the large increase of families coming into our system, we did not meet that mandate for four families that was going in Monday into Tuesday morning. All families were placed by no later than 11:00 AM on that Tuesday. So I want to repeat, all families were placed in a conditional placement by Tuesday. We recognized where we felt we are going to always strive for excellence because, why? Our families deserve it when they come to our doors seeking help.

Commissioner Jenkins: That's not going to change. We're going to stay focused. I commend the staff who are there day and night, being there for New Yorkers in need and for our migrants who come to us seeking shelter, seeking help, just seeking warm, loving arms around them. And we are going to continue. And we are going to always do that here in New York City. I'm going to now introduce Commissioner Castro, who is our Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. And I will say it was... Excuse me, I want to make a correction. It was Sunday into Monday. So three families were placed by 6:45 AM, and the last family was placed by 11:00 AM. Again, there were no families that had to stay in PATH 24 hours. We made sure that families were sent to their conditional placement. Commissioner Castro?

Commissioner Manuel Castro, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs: Thank you, Commissioner Jenkins. My name is Manuel Castro. I am the commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. And over the past several weeks. My office has been working closely with Commissioner Jenkins and other city agencies in the task force led by Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom to ensure asylum seekers who're arriving into our city are welcomed and they receive the support that they need. In particular, emergency shelter. As we meet this moment, I can't help to think about my experience crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with my mother.

Commissioner Castro: How challenging that was for us to then make our way to New York those first days, those first weeks, those first years. And I have to tell you that I cannot be any prouder of Mayor Eric Adams leadership and the leadership of our administration to meet this moment. This is a historic moment, not in any time, in modern history. So many asylum seekers have come to our city and we have met this moment. Almost over 3,000 asylum seekers have arrived, and we have provided emergency shelter and the support that they need.

Commissioner Castro: I have personally met with many of them in the Bronx, on Staten Island, and as they arrive in buses to Midtown. And I can tell you that they need support, that they need New Yorkers to come together and embrace them. And this administration is ready to meet this moment. So with that, thank you all. Thank you to our staff at the emergency shelters at the Department of Social Services, at Emergency Management, and everyone that has come together to serve these communities. And with that, I will welcome Mayor Eric Adams.

Mayor Eric Adams: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, commissioners, both of you for this serious moment, unprecedented moment. And the goal of our team is to make sure that we meet the moment. Four families did not meet the deadline that's required by law, not acceptable. And as the commissioner stated, they were not there for 24 hours. They immediately moved to address the issue. But I think as Commissioner Castro stated, 3,000 people needed shelter in our city. Unlike other states in their heartless manner of sending those people seeking a place to stay in our country were sent out of those bordering states and sent to other locales.

Mayor Adams: If it's New York, if it's Washington. The mere fact is, we are responsive and we responded. And when you look at 3,000 people hitting our shelter system, an immediate response from the infrastructure of our system to address their concerns is what we are talking about. So any comment or insinuation that we did not respond the way New Yorkers expect us to do so is just not true. And this is not a moment of saying, "Hey, we got you, we caught you." No, this is a moment our administration is saying to them, "We've got you. This is who we are as New Yorkers. We got you. We're going to provide the services you need and many complex services."

Mayor Adams: Because when you're here without proper documentation, you have to navigate so many of the resources that we need to find ways to address. But we don't have people in our shelters who are not being fed, who are not spending days on the floor, sleeping with children. That is not who we are. That is not who we are going to be as a city. And we're asking all to be a part of this initiative. Our faith-based institutions, our legal advisors are those who want to volunteer. We were just here with Norman Siegel the other day.

Mayor Adams: We are all in this together to deal with this influx of innocent people who are seeking asylum or fleeing wars, who are fleeing crises in their own country. New York is one of the few states where you have right to shelter. One of the few. We're not like those who are sending people away during their time and needs. We are representative of what this country stands for, and we will always continue. Five families or four families that did not receive services within the timeframe that the law calls for is four families too many. But those over 3,000 individuals that we were able to provide services for, I want to say a job well done for those families that we provided services for. And we're going to continue to provide services as a transition into normalizing their lives and not having to live within the shelter system.

Mayor Adams: So that is the reason we wanted to be clear today. This press conference was called because we wanted to push back on that narrative that any entity is stating that this administration is not doing its job. So job well done, Commissioner Jenkins, a job well done, Commissioner Castro, and the deputy mayor and our entire team as we deal with this unprecedented historical level of children and families that we are going to have to provide services for.

Mayor Adams: So we'll answer any question. You have any questions for the commissioner or questions for me?


Question: Mr. Mayor, what type of communications have there been with the federal government on this topic? What do you plan to do with any help that may be offered?

Mayor Adams: Well, we want to be extremely specific on what we need from the federal government in resources. We have been communicating with the White House. They have been partners with us to help us navigate this moment. Our team has been in constant contact with the White House. We announced earlier this week when we realized the influx of people seeking assistance, and so our goal is to have our teams specify what we need, as in emergency cash assistance, to be able to provide for these families so that they can have to normalize and stabilize their environment.

Mayor Adams: Keep in mind it's not only Latin America. You are finding people from all over the globe that are coming here, coming to the borders, using the borders to come across. We have organizations throughout this city that have stepped up and stated they want to help. We will continue to meet that challenge, but we do need help from the federal government through FEMA to assist us. This city was already dealing with a shelter population, and we are going to need help to deal with this unprecedented surge that we are experiencing right now.

Question: [Inaudible] that you cited on that?

Mayor Adams: Yeah, and they need to let us know. I say to my advocates, I say to everyone that's in this, "How about us working together?" If there's a particular area that they believe someone was there for a long period of time that we're not aware of that, share it with us. They don't have to. We don't have to save families, homeless families, through press releases and through letters. We want to communicate, and so if there's something you see that we are not seeing, you have a person that crossed the border that's running my Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, how about talking to him?

Mayor Adams: You have a person that lived in the homeless shelter. How about talking to him? Let's stop trying to solve our problems through press releases and Twitter. Let's solve it by communicating with each other. So those advocates have cases that we have not done correctly outside, the four families that I'm aware of, then how about just talking to us directly? They speak with us all the time when they want something. How about speaking to us when they need to do something?

Question: Mr. Mayor, have you talked to the Biden administration or the governments of Texas and Arizona and asked them why they're sending people to New York, if in some cases they have no relatives, no family members here, and no connections? Also if New York City's shelter system is already overburdened, why is New York City the best place to send these individuals?

Mayor Adams: Well, first let's deal with the first level. People want to come to New York because this is the most diverse city in our country, for the most part. So if you're coming from a particular place in Africa, there is a population here to assist you. If you're coming from Central America, if you're coming from Asia, there are places here. We have communities, and very few places on the globe there are communities that are here to help you transition here.

Mayor Adams: So there's a natural desire because of our reputation that you want to come to New York. There's a natural desire, just about everybody, I'm pretty sure, no matter what country you in, has a reflection of how we are as a city.

Mayor Adams: Second, we are one in a few cities, states, with right to shelter. The other places, just the opposite, those bordering states that are forcing people out, they don't have right to shelter. I don't think people realize how compassionate we are as a state that's stating we are not going to turn you away, no matter where you came from.

Mayor Adams: I think that is probably why people want to come here. Our conversations with Biden's administration is that we think FEMA should kick in right now, allow us to take this issue that this country is facing, and we are hoping they're doing so, and we're optimistic that they are. We have not communicated with the other bordering states on why they're doing it. It's wrong to send people out of your state.

Question: Right, so practically right now, if there's not enough space and you guys are overburdened in the shelter system, why add more people to an already stressed system? What's the idea?

Mayor Adams: We're going to follow the law. The law states that we're a right to shelter state, and we're going to follow the law. Those 3,000 individuals, no matter how challenging it was, no matter that we are overburdened, everyone knows the struggles we're having around homelessness in our city. No matter what the challenge was, this administration of DSS, they stood up. When you think about an overburdened system, 3,000 surge, and still responding and then the four families that stayed a few hours longer, which should not have happened, we’re saying, "Listen, we're going to move to do better."

Mayor Adams: This is what New York is expecting of us, and I'm just really proud of this administration for doing their job.

Question: Yes.

Mayor Adams: Yes. How are you?

Question: Mr. Mayor, I have a question. At what level is the shelter system… What's the capacity right now level-wise? How much of the asylum seekers are representing that capacity level, and where are these families being… Where are the shelters at? You mentioned that they're coming into the Bronx, but where are they being located?

Mayor Adams: Okay, well, and the commissioner would say this, but let me tell you this. We are not allowed to say we don't have room. We're not allowed to say that. Right to shelter means we have to keep expanding and be creative in our expansion. That means if we have to get hotel rooms, we get hotel rooms. If that means that we have to find other spaces, we'll find other spaces. There's no such thing as this state saying, "We're turning you away." We're going to have to keep expanding based on the needs, and we're going to have to keep finding the funding based on the needs.

Mayor Adams: This is the hand we are dealt and we're going to play that hand. It means moving throughout the five boroughs, wherever we have to place people in a humane environment, we're going to do so, but we're not going to allow people to believe they must sleep on our streets because we're not going to be there to provide them the bedding that they deserve in the housing that they deserve. We're going to keep accommodating whomever's coming to our state, and we're going to continue to do that.

Mayor Adams: You want to talk about the numbers?

Commissioner Jenkins: Thank you, mayor. So as the mayor… I was going to reiterate what the mayor said. We are a right to shelter city, and we are going to always build capacity so that individuals who present to us, we are legally mandated to provide temporary housing for them. That work has not stopped, and we continue to work with individuals in our system to provide the services that they deserve as far as housing, getting individuals to temp to permanent housing, supportive housing. That work has not stopped because we've seen an influx of individuals in our system. Our current census for DSS is approximately 48,000 right now, and that includes families with children, single adults, and adult families.

Question: What capacity DHS…. What is the capacity level you have left? What portion are asylum seekers taking up of that capacity? What portion are New York City residents?

Commissioner Jenkins: So we are still digging. As you know, we don't ask for an individual's immigration status because they have a right to come into our shelter system. We have that conversation with them during the assessment. And we are going to continue to build capacity. We don't have that luxury to say, "No, you can't come in." We're going to always find a way and find a bed for those families to come in.

Question: Commissioner, if you don't ask their immigration status, and if that's the reason why you don't know how many of these asylum seekers are currently in the system, then how did you use that very same information or acquire it to come up with the number 2,800?

Commissioner Jenkins: Well, that's just looking at the trends and looking at having those discussions with families that come in and doing that assessment. But we are not going to ask for immigration status for individuals that come in.

Question: Did you actually count, go back through your records and say, "We have now counted 2,800 asylum seekers who've come from Central and South America in recent months," in the past six weeks? Did you do a count or is it an estimate?

Commissioner Jenkins: It is definitely an estimate.


Question: What's the average number of residents. 3,000 is a huge number. What's the average daily number, irregardless of this [inaudible]. Meaning, how many people normally come to the shelter looking for assistance?

Commissioner Jenkins: So I don't have that statistic right now on me, but I will get back to you. I'll have my team get back to you.

Mayor Adams: Wait, hold on. Hold on. You just said something that's very important. 3,000 is a large number. We process 3,000. That's a large number. Four, we have to do a better job. But 3,000 this team processed. This commissioner went out to speak to families, went to bus terminals, interacted with people. 3,000.

Question: Thank you Mr.-

Mayor Adams: Hold on, we are going to go to Chris.


Question: Anyway. So Mr. Mayor, Legal Aid Society was saying that you've been covering up the fact that the law was broken earlier this week by not letting the public know right away. Why did you not let the public know right away that the law had been broken? And what's your response to the accusation on the cover?

Mayor Adams: 8.8 million people, 30 million opinions of... We don't have to cover up. This is an organization of transparency. This is an administration of transparency. There's no reason to cover up when you house 3,000 people and four, four families, which we should have done the correct job based on a law, you house within a period of time.

Mayor Adams: There are two concepts to law. There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. This administration operated in the spirit of the law. And this administration is made up of human beings. Human beings drop the ball sometimes. Those who are perfect are not part of my administration. Those who are dedicated are part of my administration. This commissioner and this commissioner and this deputy mayor, they operated in the spirit of the law. We got housing for families. If those families were sleeping on floors for days, like were done before, I could understand the Legal Aid's critique. But to critique an administration that is compassionate to house 3000 people, four families that should not have been there, there was no reason for us to cover up. We did a great job and we're going to continue to do better every day.

Question: When did you actually find out that the law had been broken? What was the actual timeline?

Mayor Adams: I found out today when I…

Question: [Inaudible] the administration-

Mayor Adams: The administration has been talking with Legal Aid. They sat down with Legal Aid. They laid out on Tuesday, I believe it was. They communicated with Legal Aid on Tuesday. Today is Thursday. They communicated with Legal Aid on Tuesday, "Hey, Legal Aid. We had a surge. We had a surge. Four families, we should have done better. The law requires such and such. We violated the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, we got people housing."

Mayor Adams: We talked to Legal Aid. This was no feeling of trying to cover up anything. No, just the opposite. We said, "Hey Washington, hey bordering states, New York needs help to address this humanitarian crisis." So we didn't cover up. We came very public facing. So I'm not sure where people believe housing 3,000 people, and four families that we're saying we got to do better. Because we don't want any family sleeping on the floor. But people were not there for days, Chris, don't let the... That's why it's important to do this press conference, because people are trying to give this signal that this was an inhumane administration, an inhumane city. That is not the facts. 3,000 people got housed because of this surge.

Question: In light of the surge... Just one more. In light of the surge, you mentioned earlier that since New York is a right to shelter state you have to sometimes look for other alternatives in order to abide by that law. Are there any plans to rent hotel space, find other type of spaces to house homeless people in?

Mayor Adams: Yes. We-

Question: Is it actively being...

Mayor Adams: When you say actively-

Question: I'm wondering, is there any plans to buy up more hotel space in order to-

Mayor Adams: This is the job of the deputy commissioner, deputy mayor. This is the job of the commissioner. This is the job of our team. The deputy mayor communicated with me the other day because of the surge. "Eric, we're going to have to look into new locations. We have to do some different things." And I just have full belief and confidence in the deputy commissioner of navigating all of these pieces. 'Cause it's not only housing, we have to deal with the education piece. We have to deal with the medical piece. We have a lot of pieces here, and this is under her portfolio. And I just have the utmost confidence in her ability to do so. And thanks for reminding me. We had a call last night when we first learned of the four families. When I heard of it it was last night. Thanks a lot.

Question: So I remember a couple days ago in the same location you were blaming Texas and Arizona for putting people on buses and sending them here.

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Question: Many reporters have spoken to the governments of Texas and Arizona. They deny it. They say, "Oh, we've been sending people to D.C., for sure, but not New York." Were you mistaken there? Or how do you justify that?

Mayor Adams: Now the people who are sending people away, they tell you they did something differently and automatically you believe them. I wish you'd treat me that way. You believe them? The mere fact that they sent people out of their state, people who were seeking refuge in our country, they sent them away. Did they deny that?

Question: No, they said they sent them to D.C. and-

Mayor Adams: They should never have sent them away.

Question: Some of the migrants themselves. And they said, "It wasn't the government that sent us here." It was nonprofit.

Mayor Adams: Okay. Okay. They sent them away. They sent them out of this state. Our country's home of the free, land of the brave. We do not become callous and send people away that are looking for help. All of us came from somewhere, even from Texas, they came from somewhere. And so they should not have sent people away that was seeking refuge. So if they want to justify that in their own little way of saying, "Well, we sent them to Washington so they can do a layover then come to New York." They can say what they want. They were wrong. They ended up here because they didn't get the support there.

Question: Mr. Mayor.

Mayor Adams: Yes.

Question: You said that you feel that people are trying to create an impression that people are sleeping there for days at a time, 24/7. I can tell you that, first of all, just with all due respect, because of my reporting and my interviews with some of the family members up there that disclosed that people said they were sleeping inside the PATH. When I went up there to interview those families, the furthest thing from my mind was that they were going to tell me they were sleeping there. So these are people who have hiked through the Panama jungle and survived without food. Right? They had no idea that it was a violation of local law. But they tell me, one father in particular who I have on camera, and watch the interview yourself tonight, tells me that there were 80 people sleeping on the floor. He was there for five days, 24 hours straight. And that he has zero reason to lie about it or make it up. How do you square that?

Mayor Adams: We do not have any documented or reported cases. And this was something that I was very clear, speaking with my team. Do we have cases of people sleeping for days? Do we have cases of people denied services, not being fed? The team said we don't have cases of that. Now if there are cases of that we need to know about it. We can't correct what we don't know.

Question: [Inaudible] we were doing interviews and that's what the families have been telling us. And then we informed Legal Aid and your agency. And then the families told us that they were not being fed regularly and then Legal Aid people tell us that they've confirmed it with their clients, and some of them have sent us pictures.

Mayor Adams: Okay. I could only tell you that my conversations with the agencies... Because we're not going to be an administration where we're not going to be humane, that's not going to happen. Do we have people that have been in our shelters in our PATH, our holding facilities? No, mayor, we do not. Do we have people we have not fed and we're not feeding? No mayor, we do not. Now we're going to go out and continue to do our inspections. That's what the commissioner does. That's what I do. We're going to continue to do that. We're not aware of those cases. You're an excellent reporter. So if you see cases like that, please let us know, because that is not who we are, and that is not what this administration is about. Yes. Hold on, hold on, hold on.

Commissioner Jenkins: And I would say last night I visited PATH, spoke with families, watched the operation. I did see families going to get food and it wasn't like a ration of food. It was, if they wanted extra, they were provided with extra food. Some families, overnight, once we place them, they have to return the next day to finish out the intake. So if they're in by 10, we are mandated to have them in a conditional placement by 4:00 AM. They return the following day to finish up. So they do return to the location and we provide transportation.

Question: Can I just follow up on just two points? One... Forgive me if you've already talked about this, then just skip over it. But is there a system that you're putting in place to try to help these families with emergency cash assistance since they're not entitled to food stamps? I know you do move them back and forth from the PATH to other temporary overnight placements. And in some of those placements, like hotels, for instance, they don't serve meals. So maybe those are some of the families that are telling us that they're hungry. I believed them. I mean, my sense was that I believed. They don't understand the local laws and the history of this controversial issue. So what are you doing to put a system in place that families like these have diapers, food, et cetera?

Question: And then the other question is can you, just to the best of your ability, walk us through when you saw the uptick reflected in the census? Because the numbers appear sort of flat, and so if the numbers are flat, then that means you've been moving people out at the same rate as you're moving people in. And a lot of our homeless advocates are saying that they just don't think people are moving out the back door of the shelter system that quickly.

Commissioner Jenkins: So just the supplies, Melissa. I mean, the mayor said earlier that we are working with the federal government, working with the White House, really understanding what support they can provide to us. At PATH, we have supplies as far as Pampers, milk, formula, food for the families. We do provide that to them. We do that each night at PATH. And what was the other question?

Question: It was about also what you do for food when they're going back and forth, they can't get emergency cash assistance. One family told us, "We have to get to the Saratoga Inn in two hours to get our room, but we don't have a MetroCard and we don't have any cash."

Commissioner Jenkins: So we provide MetroCards. But first, we provide transportation to that location. Some families select... and I witnessed it last night. When I asked the family, I was like, "Ma'am, why don't you allow us to take you?" And she said, "No, I'd rather take an Uber." And I was like, "But Uber's going to cost you." She said, "My preference is to take an Uber." So I was like, "Okay." But we do provide transportation to the conditional placement.

Question: And then when did you see the uptick and how is it reflected in the census numbers? Can you point us to where this influx of migrants has actually impacted the census?

Commissioner Jenkins: So that was, I believe it was June when we started seeing... Late May, early June, when we started recognizing that the numbers were going up. So speaking with the staff, saying, "What are you seeing?" That's when it was revealed that, oh, these are families from out of state, from other countries, that's starting to show up.

Mayor Adams: Hold on, hold on. Because it's so important for us to just wrap our head around what we're dealing with. Because the questions you ask are so important. You're from another country, you come here to America, you're sent away, you end up in the city, you're trying to navigate all of this. I can only imagine what those families are going through. You're trying to navigate. And you say, "Well here, I'm going to give you a MetroCard." "What's a MetroCard?" You know? So we're not even trying to place people on trains and try to navigate the system. It takes a while before you are able to navigate this new environment. We're providing them transportation. We are dealing with, "Okay, I need Pampers." We're providing them with Pampers. "I need to get something to eat. We don't even know the streets where to go get something to eat."

Mayor Adams: We're providing them with food. I mean, this city is so humane. If anyone has dropped in a city that they don't know or a country they don't know or speak a different language, then all of a sudden you come here to a city that is not sending you away like other states, that's saying, "We're going to provide you what you need to stabilize your life." That's what we're doing. And for anyone to say that this city is not being humane, that's just not accurate. That's not accurate. Now, are there going to be some that feels as though, well, it wasn't 100% perfect? Yes. Yes. But I mean, look at this service that these guys and ladies are handling. The city should be commended that we are not Texas, that we are New York, and I'm proud of this city. And I'm proud of the people that are working into dealing with this problem.

Question: Yes. Mr. Mayor, I want to go back to the talks to the White House. Have you provided them specific dollar amounts that you need from them, a specific timeline, or when you need these supplies? Where are the specifics with those talks? What are they saying back to you? What can you expect from them in the coming days?

Mayor Adams: That's the job of Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom and her team. We're going to need dollars in areas of… You know, Pampers cost money. We're going to need food. Right now we're using our emergency funds, but we also got to deal with some medical issues. There's some real medical issues that we need, and then education. We're going to deal with... These young people are going to have to find housing and education. We got to place them in schools. Translation services. And so we are working out the numbers and we're going to sit down with FEMA and state that we need help to stabilize what we're doing.

Mayor Adams: And we're going to have the exact dollars amount. Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom, the chief of staff, they're all in communication with the White House. Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom is part of this task force we put together to specifically look at this issue of how we're going to address this influx, this surge. This is a historical surge. The last time I remember, I think we had 2,000 children that came to the city, but these numbers are not numbers that we've witnessed before.

Mayor Adams: This is a historical surge that this administration adjusted to in a short period of time, while already dealing with the housing crisis. We adjusted to it. We lived up to the spirit of the law, and we're going to continue to live up to the spirit of the law, and we're going to stay on top of the letter of the law. Those four families, with the letter of the law, we should have abided by it, but we were there with the spirit of the law and of my knowledge we don't have families that are living overnight. And if you know that, please let us know, because that's unacceptable to us. We're not going to allow that to happen. Thank you very much.


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