National News

Migrant Crisis Brings Scrutiny To NY’s Status as ‘Sanctuary City’

An asylum seeker is greeted by the founder of Artists-Athletes-Activists, Power Malu, as she arrives at New York City’s Port Authority on May 3. (Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Last summer, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott started putting migrants onto buses and sending them to New York, some of the newcomers landed on the doorstep of Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens on Joralemon Street.

That’s because officials in Texas inexplicably gave those migrants papers listing the nonprofit agency’s Downtown Brooklyn address as their new home, Catholic Charities officials explained.

But all these months later, the constant flow of migrants seeking help is starting to wear down the organization. “We are overwhelmed,” said Msgr. Alfred LoPinto, president and CEO.

However, since those first buses started rolling in, Catholic Charities — through its partnerships with dozens of parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn — has assisted approximately 7,000 migrants with food, clothing, and other necessities. 

In addition, the organization has sponsored seminars to familiarize the migrants with U.S. asylum laws, held Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training sessions, and provided a total of 22,000 “service units,” meaning food, Metrocards, store gift cards, and other forms of assistance.

The influx of migrants streaming into New York — and onto Catholic Charities’ doorstep — isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. Instead, it will probably speed up. 

With the May 11 expiration of Title 42 — the Trump-era public health order the Biden administration kept in place that permits quick deportations of undocumented immigrants from COVID-19-stricken nations — the numbers of incoming migrants are expected to increase.

Abbott has cited New York’s self-proclaimed status as a “sanctuary city” as a reason for his decision to send the migrants here and for dispatching undocumented immigrants to other sanctuary cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

Besides, Abbott said in a statement responding to criticism from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, what the sanctuary cities are dealing with is “a fraction of record-high numbers we deal with in Texas on a regular basis.”

When Title 42 expires, Texas expects approximately 13,000 migrants a day to come across the border, Abbott added.

Since the busing began last summer, an estimated 60,000 migrants have come into New York, according to Mayor Eric Adams, and officials said the city’s shelter system is bursting at the seams as a result. Housing, feeding, and caring for the newcomers was costing over $5 million a day back in March, according to New York city officials.

Mayor Adams has charged that the situation is endangering New York’s future. 

“The city is being destroyed by the migrant crisis,” he said during a panel discussion at the African American Mayors Association conference in Washington, D.C., last month.

On May 5, Adams announced a busing plan of his own — taking approximately hundreds of migrants and transporting them outside New York City to Rockland and Orange counties.

Officials in those counties raised strong objections to the plan, charging they don’t have the infrastructure to handle the migrants.

Amid the migrant crisis, there have been some calls for Adams to rescind the sanctuary city policy. 

New York has officially been a sanctuary city since 2014 when the City Council enacted a law prohibiting the NYPD and other agencies from cooperating with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement in their attempts to arrest and detain undocumented immigrants.

​​Republican Councilwoman Vickie Paladino, whose Northeast Queens district is home to one of the city’s emergency migrant shelters, is among those unhappy with the policy.

“The unfortunate reality is that the largesse of our sanctuary policies is now threatening to sink our city entirely. These policies were designed to support a trickle of immigrants — not an unending flood of tens of thousands who require immediate food, housing, jobs, and money,” she told The Tablet.

“So yes, the city must reconsider its sanctuary status in light of this new reality,” Paladino added. “It was a policy designed for a different era.”  

The mayor’s office did not respond to questions from The Tablet about the sanctuary city label.

Adams has publicly stated that New York is a sanctuary city and will remain so. When asked by reporters in January if he would consider suspending or even eliminating the designation, he replied, “No, that’s not on the agenda.”

Msgr. LoPinto said “the mayor should be given credit for taking this issue on,” but added the city only has so much money in its coffers. “We’re not the richest place on earth,” he said.

In Msgr. LoPinto’s view, the problem is much bigger than whether or not New York is a sanctuary city. He contended that the federal government needs to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities officials said the agency will continue to help people. “You work in collaboration with other agencies and with the city. You do the best you can,” Msgr. LoPinto said.

Richard Slizeski, senior vice president of Catholic Charities, said that the crisis has increased the spirit of cooperation among the organization and its partners. 

“When you’re faced with something like this, you can fall apart, or you can come together to try to do the right thing,” he explained.

By The Numbers

59,000: The estimated number of migrants who have arrived in New York on buses from Texas and other border states since the summer of 2022.

$5M: What it’s costing the city each day to house the migrants in hotels and shelters.

$1.4B: The projected cost of housing and feeding the migrants and educating their children for a year.