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Catholic Charities, Migrants in NYC Struggling Due to ‘Chaotic Approach’

Asylum-seeking migrants wait to be transported by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, after crossing the Rio Grande into the U.S. from Mexico, in Eagle Pass, Texas, July 26, 2022. (Photo: CNS/Go Nakamura, Reuters)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — In more than 20 years working for the immigration arm of Catholic Charities of New York, Mario Russell has never seen a situation like the one today — what he described as a forcible transfer of people from the U.S.-Mexico border to the city. 

“We’ve had crises before, but really never just the wholesale dumping of people in a place and disregarding their needs, their preferences, and their plans,” Russell told The Tablet.

New York City has had an influx of about 2,800 migrants from Latin America that has strained shelters. Mayor Eric Adams even admitted on July 21 that the city had “violated the letter of the law” by not providing same-day housing for any adult who arrives by 10 p.m. at a homeless shelter because of the demand. New York is required to do so by law as a “right-to-shelter” state. 

The comments came at a time when record migration continues at the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered about 207,000 migrants at the southwest land border in June, according to agency data. The number is a decrease from the approximate 240,000 migrants encountered in May, and 235,000 in April, but it marks four consecutive months of more than 200,000 encounters.

Russell said that Catholic Charities is meeting 30-40 people a day. And while that is an increase in volume from earlier this year, he noted the real issue is the disorganized manner in which it’s all happening. 

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities New York, echoed the sentiment in a July 22 statement, saying, “the current chaotic approach is not in the best interest of those seeking protection from violence and other crises in their own countries, nor the good of our own country.” 

Russell said people are being dropped off at either the Catholic Charities New York offices, local parishes, or the west side of the city near the Port Authority bus station at random hours of the day. 

It’s often unclear where exactly they come from — though it’s usually directly from Texas or Arizona by way of Washington D.C. 

He added that many of the migrants are equally confused and may not have ever intended to end up in New York City. 

Russell said he thinks, on some level, the federal government is playing a role in this “because there are court notices which are produced by government agents at the border that indicate our Catholic Charities administrative offices, and in some cases our parishes, as residence of the family, the individual, or others.”

“It’s created a level of confusion, anxiety, and … frankly. suffering for many, many people,” Russell said. “We are prepared to help and support … but I think this needs to be done differently, frankly, because it’s quite messy.” 

Adams recently blamed the Texas and Arizona state governments for the migrant influx, alleging that both states were busing the migrants to the city. Both those states’ governors denied doing so, though each state is currently busing migrants to Washington D.C. in an attempt to bring the border crisis to the federal government’s doorstep.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began sending the buses to D.C. in response to the burgeoning number of migrants entering the country at the Texas-Mexico border, which he attributes to President Joe Biden’s border policies. To date, there have been over 5,100 migrants bused to the nation’s capital on over 135 buses, according to Abbott’s press office, and in recent weeks about three to four buses have made the trip each day.

Migrants board the buses voluntarily after they are processed by U.S. immigration officials. In response to Bowser’s claim that migrants are tricked, Abbott’s press secretary put the onus back on Biden and the federal government.

“The only lie is the Biden administration telling the American people that our border is closed,” Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary told The Tablet in a statement. 

She said that what the nation’s capital and sanctuary states are experiencing is “a fraction of the disaster created by President Biden’s reckless open border policies that our state faces every single day.

“Maybe he’ll finally do his job and secure the border.”

Abel Nunez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), said the migrants aren’t tricked the migrants aren’t tricked onto the buses, and are being told honestly that this is what puts them closer to their next destination. 

What has happened, however, is the practice has burdened the local non-governmental organizations (NGO) in the nation’s capital that have been forced to respond, absent virtually any assistance from the city or federal government. 

In New York, Russell said a citywide emergency level response is “crucial” at this point. He noted that Catholic Charities New York is having ongoing discussions with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the city’s Department of Homeless Services on any next steps. 

At a July 25 news conference, Adams painted a bleak picture for the city in light of the migrant influx, saying, “Our schools are going to be impacted. Our healthcare system is going to be impacted. Our infrastructure is going to be impacted.” 

Russell reiterated that what’s creating the present crisis is that people are being “dumped” in New York City, where they might not have any connections or intentions to be, which forces the city to get involved to help people find shelter. 

Over the years, in Russell’s experience, more often than not, migrants used to arrive in New York with a specific local destination in mind — where some had friends or family — and getting back to that system will be key to resolving the issues of today. 

“But I don’t think we’re looking at a disaster over the long term because I think eventually people will find their way to where they need to go,” Russell said.