USNew York Letter

New York politicians argue over where to accommodate new arrivals as US faces rise in people crossing border

Expiry of Title 42 rule expected to prompt a further increase in numbers seeking asylum

The statue in the bay symbolises New York City’s history as a refuge for the poor and persecuted from across the world fleeing tyranny or seeking a better life.

However, as the US faces an expected significant surge in the number of people seeking to cross the border from Mexico following the ending of Covid-era restrictions, New York is already struggling to cope.

Mayor Eric Adams last week said that since last spring 60,800 asylum seekers had come through New York City and been offered a place to stay.

He said about 37,500 asylum seekers were in the care of the city.


New York was always a magnet for people looking for a better life. However, last year the governor of Texas Greg Abbott announced a policy that would see his state actively bus migrants from there to New York City.

The move added to the pressure on New York which has sought to use facilities such as a former psychiatric hospital and even hangars at JFK airport to accommodate those arriving in the city.

The mayor last week signalled that he wanted other areas in New York state to share the load.

Authorities maintained the city had “largely on its own taken fast and urgent action, managing the arrival of a rapidly increasing number of buses across New York with virtually no co-ordination from states sending them”.

They said the city opened 122 hotels as emergency shelters and had eight humanitarian relief centres in operation. The authorities also pointed out that the city has put in place a navigation centre to connect asylum seekers with critical resources and had enrolled children in state schools.

The mayor announced a programme which essentially would see single adult men seeking asylum moved from their accommodation in New York City to hotels in nearby counties.

The initiative would begin by using two hotels located in Orange Lake and Orangeburg “with the potential to expand” and planned to provide asylum seekers with shelter for up to four months.

The announcement came just days before the scheduled end of a controversial US government policy which is known as Title 42.

Introduced as a health measure during the Covid-19 pandemic, Title 42 allowed US officials to turn back people at the border – on the grounds of preventing the spread of Covid-19 – before they could exercise a right to seek asylum.

With this policy being discontinued it was perhaps inevitable that a significant number of people would seek to cross the border.

Even before the Title 42 policy formally ended on Thursday, authorities in New York maintained they had seen the number of asylum seekers rapidly increase and they forecast this would rise further.

“The hotels in Orange Lake and Orangeburg will free up additional space in New York City for the hundreds of asylum seekers continuing to arrive in the five boroughs every day,” the city authorities said.

The mayor said the city had no choice but to take its own initiative.

“Despite calling on the federal government for a national decompression strategy since last year, and for a decompression strategy across the state, New York City has been left without the necessary support to manage this crisis. With a vacuum of leadership, we are now being forced to undertake our own decompression strategy.”

However, the mayor’s announcement provoked outrage in the surrounding counties where officials maintained they were already dealing with people arriving independently in their areas and that Adams’s plan would put more pressure on their communities.

The top official of Rockland County, which is about 65km from New York City, declared a state of emergency on Saturday in response to plans to send 340 men to live at an Armoni Inn and Suites in Orangeburg.

The New York Times reported that in Orangetown in Rockland County, police officers had earlier in the week been ordered by local political leaders to park their official cars near the entrance to a nearby hotel and to physically block and search any bus of migrants that might arrive.

A couple of buses carrying migrants did arrive on Thursday at a hotel in Orange County.

Perhaps inevitably, the whole issue of the mayor’s initiative has ended up in court.

A New York state supreme court judge granted Rockland County’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop New York City authorities from creating a shelter outside of its jurisdiction.

The case is back in court again next week.

With the ending of Title 42 migration the US is likely to see thousands of people seeking to enter the country, potentially placing pressure on cities and states to accommodate them. The New York rows are likely to be replicated elsewhere.