NYC Comptroller Report Suggests Why Migrants Are Headed to the Big Apple

. . . and explains how few migrants are applying for asylum and the hundreds of millions in education costs they’re imposing

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 8, 2023

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) is engaged in a war of words with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) over Abbott’s purported renewal of his plan to bus migrants released by DHS at the Southwest border to the Big Apple. Among other claims, Adams contends that the governor “bussed migrants to New York against their will”. Did Abbott really do that, though? Because a recently released NYC comptroller’s report shows that the city is offering migrants major benefits to go there – and reveals a whole lot more it likely didn’t intend to disclose. 

Adams’ Tweet. Adams’ claims are summarized in the following Tweet:

Curiously not targeted is El Paso, Texas, Mayor Oscar Leeser, a Democrat elected in a non-partisan election. Leeser is himself an immigrant, having been born in Chihuahua, Mexico, but growing up in the United States where (according to Texas Tribune) “he played football to help him assimilate into American culture”.

The New York Post claims Leeser “bussed more than twice as many migrants to the Big Apple than” Abbott did, so that’s a curious omission on Adams’ part, particularly given that Leeser welcomed Adams during the latter’s trip to El Paso in January. Or perhaps that’s why the omission is not so curious.

NYC Comptroller’s Report. But did Abbott or Leeser really have to force any migrants they bused to NYC to go? Maybe, but a report from the city’s comptroller suggests that the benefits NYC is offering likely didn’t hurt.

That report, from March, is captioned “Accounting for Asylum Seekers, Overview of City Budgeting and Contracting to Provide Services for New Arrivals”. It begins by describing the scope of the migrant surge into the city, and the facilities in which they are being housed:

As of early March, the City is providing shelter to over 30,900 migrants. Ninety-two emergency hotel shelters, managed by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), have been opened since April, housing for 21,745 asylum seekers as of March 6. As of the same date, there are also seven Humanitarian Emergency Referral and Response Centers (HERCCs), managed by New York City Health + Hospitals (H+H) that are providing temporary housing and services to 9,203 individuals.

The report next admits that “The cost of this effort to scale up shelter and services is and will continue to be significant”, with NYC “on pace to spend over $4 billion during Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024”. That’s billion, with a “B”, or roughly $472.39 for each of the city’s nearly 8.5 million residents.

Why so much money? As I recently explained, that report reveals that NYC is spending $184 per day to house and care for single adults, and $339 per day to house and care for families with children.

There’s food, of course, and “transportation [including MetroCards], security services, clothing, diapers, linens, household goods, and cleaning supplies”, not to mention “basic medical services and some mental health supports” – although honestly, it is difficult to manage my way through the numerous acronyms in and the labyrinthine structure of that report to determine just who gets what and where.

Fortunately for the migrants, there’s the “Asylum Seeker Resource Navigation Center”, which the city runs “in partnership with Catholic Charities Community Services of New York”. The report explains:

The Navigation Center offers essential services to individuals and families who have arrived in New York City on or after January 1, 2022, such as healthcare services and referrals, legal immigration orientations, and enrollment in health insurance, IDNYC [a “free, municipal identification card for New York City residents, ages 10 and up” that “provides access to a wide variety of services and programs offered by the City”] and schools. Case workers typically meet with an individual or family for 1-2 hours and work to determine their needs. The case worker describes what support services the city can and cannot provide, provides food and clothing as needed, and gives referrals to satellite sites for the provision of longer-term case management.

Those in one of the seven HERRCs can access those services therein, however, without heading to the Navigation Center.

Legal Services. You will note that “legal immigration orientations” are included in that list of Navigation Center services, but that’s not all the legal services that the city plans to provide to its migrant newcomers.

Mayor Adams has “released a $5 million Request for Proposal for asylum seeker legal services in September 2022”, but that money had not – as the date of that report – been awarded because “providers felt the timing and funding levels were insufficient to increase their capacity to the levels necessary to adequately represent newcomers”.

Consequently, the comptroller recommends that the city double that amount to help “support community-based legal organizations, including those co-located at the Asylum Seeker Resource Navigation Center, its satellite sites and local schools through ActionNYC, to hold pro se clinics, conduct outreach to shelters, HERRCs, and neighborhoods, where asylum seekers currently reside”.

That said, the comptroller also suggests that the funding should be more like $60 million (a figure proposed by “New York Immigration Coalition and legal service providers”), which would “enable service providers to effectively help asylum seekers and other immigrants obtain legal status and work authorization in New York and put them on the path of safety and economic stability.”

“Very Few” Seeking Asylum. Much of that effort appears to be focused on getting those migrants to file asylum applications so they can receive that referenced work authorization (which they can apply for 150 days after submitting their asylum applications and receive 30 days later).

The report indicates it’s in NYC’s best interests for those aliens to receive work permits so that they can get out of government housing, but by law those aliens must file their asylum applications within a year of arrival in the United States to be eligible, and as the comptroller notes:

Given that the upsurge in immigration to New York began in the late spring of 2022, that [one-year] deadline is quickly approaching for many. While the City does not maintain records, advocates report that very few migrants have filed their applications.

Which, of course, raises the question of why, if they are all “asylum seekers”, so “few migrants” have taken the time to apply for asylum.

Long-Term Housing. Those migrants’ failure to apply for asylum and seek work authorization, however, may explain why, according to the comptroller’s report, “the majority of families and approximately half of single adults have settled into the HERRC or shelter system”.

Those long-term stays are creating even more headaches for NYC, because as the comptroller explains, the migrants are joining “individuals and families in a system where the average length of stay had stretched to 500 days even before the current crisis”. That’s not a track record for success, and it suggests that NYC may want to pare back benefits across the board.

Education Costs. Not included in the comptroller’s tally are the costs associated with the education of those migrants, and migrant children in particular.

With respect to those costs, the comptroller references an earlier report it published in October (when fewer migrants had arrived), titled “Students from Families Seeking Asylum, Update on the City’s Response”. It begins:

Over the past several months, more than 19,000 asylum seekers have arrived in New York City, including more than 5,500 students who have entered the public school system. These children – who have little English proficiency, varying degrees of grade level readiness, possible special education needs, and extreme trauma to overcome – need extensive academic and social-emotional support.

If you do the math, that means nearly 29 percent of the migrants who had arrived in NYC as of the time that report was issued were “students”, presumably minors.

An outlet called “Chalkbeat”, which describes itself as “Essential education reporting in New York”, reports that NYC “is slated to spend about $38,000 per student” during the next school year, “the most in recent history”.

Assuming on the low side that there are 40,000 new migrants in NYC next year, and that 29 percent of them are students, that’s 11,579 new students, at a cost of $440 million.

Of course, perhaps part of the reason why the costs per pupil in NYC are at historic highs is the fact that so many new students “have little English proficiency, varying degrees of grade level readiness, possible special education needs, and extreme trauma to overcome”.

I’m not blaming the kids, and at least part of that trauma was associated with the illegal trek their parents dragged them on to come here. As a bipartisan April 2019 federal report concluded:

Migrant children are traumatized during their journey to and into the U.S. The journey from Central America through Mexico to remote regions of the U.S. border is a dangerous one for the children involved, as well as for their parent. There are credible reports that female parents of minor children have been raped, that many migrants are robbed, and that they and their child are held hostage and extorted for money.

The United States government should be actively deterring migrant entries to eliminate or at least mitigate that trauma. Instead, the Biden administration is encouraging them to come, and cities like New York that offer substantial migrant benefits should bear some of that blame, too.

Who’s to Blame, Again? Mayor Eric Adams blames the Texas governor for forcing migrants to head to New York City, but given the benefits Adams is offering, those migrants likely needed little coaxing. And, while NYC deems them all “asylum seekers”, the city’s own reports suggest few migrants are seeking asylum. They are spending extended stays in city housing, however, and filling the school rolls – at a cost of hundreds of millions to taxpayers.