Op-ed | Let’s fix the migrant crisis now

Photo Credit: Melanie Wesslock

New York City taxpayers should no longer foot the bill for housing and services for the migrants being bused here from the southern border.  It is time for Congress and the federal government to take financial responsibility for the mess they have created.

The Adams administration estimates that the cost of the Migrant Crisis will exceed twelve billion dollars over the next two years.  This will have a massive impact on the City’s ability to meet the social service needs of its residents.  Since March of 2021, our demand for temporary housing has more than tripled, straining the City’s shelter system to the breaking point.  

As detailed in our first report released a few weeks ago, the crisis caused by the federal government’s inability to secure our border will impact every aspect of City life.  We will see reductions in school safety, sanitation, police and fire departments, and library hours, and elimination of Pre-K programs that are widely celebrated by parents in an education system that is commonly known for its dysfunction.

While Governor Hochul announced that the State budget would supply an additional $500M to address NYC’s migrant crisis in 2024, the straining of that budget is not the only way the migrant crisis will impact day to day life for New Yorkers.  Our report reveals that the hearings to grant asylum to the current group of migrants in NYC do not begin until a decade from now.  These individuals have not been screened or vetted, and very few of them will actually qualify for asylum once they are granted a hearing.  While certain corporate interests like delivery apps will be relieved to have workers deliver food for lower pay, the influx of so many low skilled migrants are sure to have a negative impact on city wages for those at the bottom of the wage scale.

This debate isn’t solely over how immigration helps or hurts the U.S.  We have a humanitarian obligation to understand the impact allowing so many people to emigrate to the U.S. is having on the economies of Central and South American countries.  Population loss and brain drains contribute enormously to global inequities between the developed and developing world.  We need a thoughtful, sound and holistic immigration policy that takes all international needs into account.  Relying primarily on a chaotic open border system not only fails to meet our own country’s needs, but also causes harm to others in the process.  The reality of how open borders incentivize more exploitation of migrants by cartels, coyotes and mass traffickers is often too harrowing to contemplate.

New York leaders need to be responsible in every decision they make to address this crisis.  Some New York leaders, like City Comptroller Brad Lander, have called for tax increases to fund migrant housing and services.  We disagree.  Our city cannot lay the financial burden on taxpayers, many of whom are struggling themselves.  We must intelligently deal with people being sent to New York by adopting alternative, smarter and more viable solutions.  Our city has created a massive non-profit sector, which is prolonging problems rather than solving them.  We must have closer oversight over this sector, especially as costs are escalating to stratospheric levels.  This means complete scrutiny and transparency regarding all third-party contracts.  Our leaders must be held accountable for managing this unanticipated expense by controlling costs.

The best way forward in stopping this crisis from escalating further is for every leader in New York City to join together and demand the federal government and the Biden administration address the crisis at the border with real solutions to stop the enormous flow of migrants into the U.S.  This includes federal money to cover all costs for every migrant who qualifies for entry, and a decompression strategy at the point of entry to send migrants who are vetted to places that need and want migrants from the southern border.

Ellis Island was established, funded, and operated by the federal government.  If Washington is so intent on draining the populations of our southern neighbors for the benefit of our own growth, then it should at least provide some form of relief for overburdened cities by taking on the financial responsibility for processing the massive number of people entering the country.

The federal government must stop turning a blind eye when migrants are cruelly shipped to New York from warm southern states in the dead of winter expecting New Yorkers to foot the bill.  They should provide substantial monetary aid to New York to meet the needs of these migrants.  Our city must direct its own massive funding towards hard-pressed New Yorkers for housing, education, financial programs and social services, especially when for many the cost of living has skyrocketed to seemingly insurmountable heights.  New York taxpayers cannot act as the world’s ATM.   We must demand our leaders do a better job representing our interests through smart fiscal responsibility.

Mayor Adams has stepped up.  Governor Hochul has done her part.  But they need more support from every member of the NYC Council, every Albany legislator, our U.S. Senators and Congress Members, as well as leaders like Comptroller Lander to demand the federal government provide essential and life saving funding for this crisis.  It’s urgent we stop the name calling, blame shifting and excuses.  It’s time for New York to convene a summit, get all the necessary voices in a room from across the political spectrum, determine our course, and present a unified front to Washington.  Let’s fix the migrant crisis now.

Maria Danzilo is Executive Director, and Jason Curtis Anderson is Policy Director for One City Rising.