Public Advocate Calls for Renewed Commitment to Compassion in New Review of Migrant Response

February 28th, 2024

Press Release

NEW YORK: As both national and local leaders escalate an environment of anti-migrant sentiment and actions, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams released a review of the response to the arrival of migrants in the city from all levels of government, including the Office of Public Advocate. In the review, he calls on New Yorkers to reject the false assertions and attacks about the migrant population in the city and instead extend the compassion that is at our city’s core and history, and which has persisted even as elected officials and editorials have fanned falsehoods and resentment.

“Since the first buses arrived in our city, we have worked to welcome our newest New Yorkers. At the same time, over the last eighteen months, we have seen many missteps in management and a rising tide of resentment, exacerbated by fear mongering and a failure of the federal and state government to provide adequate support,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “This review documents the city’s journey to help those who have journeyed so far in search of support – spotlighting shortcomings, highlighting recommendations, and appealing to both the shared compassion of our city and the leaders who can provide vital resources. We have to learn from the last year and a half of struggle to better aid the people struggling the most.”

The review, Welcoming Our Newest New Yorkers, highlights the timeline of city, state, and federal action to address the arrival of asylum seekers, from the arrival of the first bus at Port Authority through to the final weeks of 2023. It particularly notes the actions of the Public Advocate’s office and of the mayoral administration as the city’s response has changed in both policy and in tone. Policy changes are in large part due to the enormity of the issue and lack of adequate federal action, but changes in approach are still glaring.

Throughout the crisis, the Public Advocate and his team have been engaged in both pushing policy – including pushing back on bad policy –  and providing direct humanitarian connection and support: visiting shelters, providing supplies, and bringing the challenges of migrants not only to City Hall, but to Washington, D.C. The office has twice traveled to the capitol to meet with the White House, agencies, and legislators to advance an agenda of support, some of which has since been enacted. 

The review makes clear that this is an inflection point in response – with Donald Trump, Curtis Sliwa, and some city officials blaming migrants for crime, and the administration using the crisis as justification for budget cuts and harmful policies, it is clear that there is a risk of rising tide of resentment against asylum seekers. While frustrations are understandable, particularly among longtime New Yorkers in long-neglected Black and Brown communities, falsehoods cannot guide our city’s policy decisions or moral compass. It is vital to reject the notion that, if asylum seekers were not arriving in the city, these longstanding systemic issues would not persist. At the same time, this can be a moment to fundamentally address those systemic issues, including by helping people who have long been in city shelters to access permanent housing, which would alleviate strain on the shelter system. 

The Public Advocate urges a continued commitment to doing all we can, with all we have, to support migrants rather than impose suffering on people who have already come through danger – while pushing for the federal and state aid needed to do so effectively. The recommendations in the review for moving forward include:

Federal Asks:

  • Increased support in clearing the backlog and wait times for asylum cases in order to expedite work authorization for asylum seekers
  • Additional designations of Temporary Protected Status
  • Comprehensive immigration reform, especially in regards to pathways to permanent residency and citizenship 
  • Increased capacity and funding at the federal level for local providers to continue immigrant empowerment programs and legal services

City Legislation:

  • Int. 0780-2022: Public Advocate Williams introduced legislation which would establish a commission to develop a citywide shelter siting plan for implementation
  • LSR 4113-2022: Public Advocate Williams submitted a legislative request for a local law to mandate that all homeless shelters perform an “out-take” process whenever individuals and families are transitioning from one shelter location to another housing location.
  • LSR 4667-2022: Public Advocate Williams submitted a legislative request for a local law requiring HPD to identify buildings, including hotels, that can quickly be repurposed into permanent housing for families with children and homeless youth through rehabilitation and construction for conversion.

Individual Actions:

  • Donating items, including food, clothing, toiletries, school supplies and other
  • Volunteering as interpreters, for legal aid, case management, and workforce training 
  • Collaborating with local community -based organizations, elected officials, and houses of worship

The review argues that while the situation is untenable without federal action, the vilification and otherization of migrant populations is unacceptable, especially in a city of immigrants. This can be a moment of renewed compassion for our newest New Yorkers and commitment to avoiding the mistakes, missteps, and misguided attacks that have occurred throughout this time.  Read the full review and recommendations here.

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