NYC Mayor Offers the Wrong Answers to His City’s Migrant Crisis

Adams should seek common cause, not hurl epithets and offer poorly reasoned ‘solutions’ that will just make things worse

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 24, 2023

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post last week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams detailed his city’s recent struggles in dealing with an influx of migrants who entered the United States illegally over the Southwest border. After Adams aptly identified the problems associated with illegal immigration, he then veered into name-calling, but most problematically, the solutions he offered are not only wrong — some don’t even make sense. Seeking common cause with those on the other side of the border issue would better serve his residents, and his office.

“Biden’s Border Fiasco”, in Brief. When he first entered office, Joe Biden inherited what his first Border Patrol chief, Rodney Scott, described in September 2021 as “arguably the most effective border security in” U.S. history. As Scott explained, however, control rapidly disintegrated as “border security recommendations from experienced career professionals” were “ignored and stymied by inexperienced political employees”.

The results were quickly apparent as agents at the Southwest border set a new yearly record for apprehensions in FY 2021 (when nearly 1.66 million illegal entrants were caught by the Border Patrol, most in the months following the inauguration), a record they easily broke in FY 2022, when agents made more than 2.2 million migrant apprehensions.

FY 2023 could be worse, with agents catching more than 633,000 illegal entrants there between just October and December.

Those apprehension statistics only tell part of the story, however. Border Patrol agents have been so busy processing and caring for (and often releasing) tens of thousands of illegal entrants monthly that their ability to secure the border has rapidly diminished.

An estimated 389,000 “got-aways” — migrants who entered illegally with no intention of being caught — successfully evaded overwhelmed agents and proceeded into the United States in FY 2021, a figure that rose to nearly 600,000 in FY 2022. In just the first three months of FY 2023, more than 200,000 additional got-aways have entered illegally and proceeded into the interior.

The rapid deterioration in border security under the current administration prompted the left-leaning editorial board at Bloomberg Opinion in August to term the situation “Biden’s border fiasco”.

The Strain Placed on Cities. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) mandates that DHS detain all aliens who have entered the United States illegally — from the moment they are apprehended until they are either granted asylum or removed.

Despite that mandate, however, the Biden administration has released — by my estimates because neither DHS nor the White House has been forthcoming with clear numbers — more than 1.8 million illegal Southwest border migrants into the country.

When you add in 1.195 million got-aways who have entered and remained since FY 2021, the number of new unauthorized migrants who are now here thanks to Biden is close to three million. They all go somewhere, and given that most have low levels of education, little if no money, and few job skills, nearly all are likely to create a severe drain on municipal and humanitarian resources.

Which brings me back to Adams, who explained:

New York is ... at a breaking point. The region is already annually the largest recipient of immigrants of any local government in the United States, but the total breakdown in immigration planning and policy over the past decade has now not only increased the number of migrants we absorb, but also the speed at which we must try to absorb them.

It has thus become far more difficult for New York to guarantee the health and safety of new arrivals while providing for existing New Yorkers, nearly 40 percent of whom are themselves immigrants. Now we need billions of additional dollars from the federal and state governments to do both.

The Mayor’s Plan — In “Six Simple Steps”. Curiously, however, Adams’ answer to this massive wave of migrants to his city is not to call on the Biden administration to comply with the INA and detain migrants who have entered the United States illegally.

Instead, he’s proposing what he terms “six simple steps ... to address the migrant crisis”, as follows.

Step One: The Tip of the Spear. In step one, Adams proposes having “a government official solely focused on overseeing the migrant response and coordinating all relevant agencies and government entities, including the U.S. Border Patrol”.

That’s the only step that makes sense, although — logically — DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the head of the department that oversees Border Patrol, CBP, ICE, and USCIS, would already be “overseeing the migrant response and coordinating all relevant agencies and government entities”.

That said, securing the U.S.-Mexico line was supposed to be in Vice President Kamala Harris’ portfolio in her role as quasi-border czar, though she has shown neither interest nor acuity in the position.

Someone in the massive federal bureaucracy should be the “tip of the spear” on the administration’s border response, if for no other reason than to make one individual answerable to Congress for the causes of this fiasco. Biden would do well to listen to Adams on this step.

Step Two: Current Law and Forced Relocation. Adams starts out well in his second step, but quickly veers into the illogical. The mayor proposes the creation of “a decompression strategy at the border that evaluates asylum claims, establishes a plan for each migrant’s arrival — before entry into the United States — and a system to fairly distribute newcomers regionally”.

I honestly have no idea what “decompression strategy” means in this context, but if he’s alluding to a process by which migrants are apprehended and processed for immediate removal unless they have asylum claims, we already have one, known as “expedited removal”.

For whatever reason, however, Biden has been loath to employ this tool, which Congress gave the executive for the express purpose of controlling the border. In December, for example, just 3.8 percent of all the illegal entrants apprehended by Border Patrol were subject to expedited removal.

By comparison, Biden administration policies forced agents to turn nearly 81 percent of those processed under the INA — more than 140,000 individuals in just one month — out onto the streets.

That said, expedited removal only works when the alien is detained (as again, the law requires), but Adams says nothing — nothing — about limiting the strain on NYC by expanding DHS detention.

Nor is it clear how the federal government could craft tens of thousands of plans for every migrant who arrives monthly before they arrive, unless it is along the line of the president’s (illegal) plan to rechristen illegal entrants as “parolees” who pre-announce their arrival via an app (CBP One).

For those who are unfamiliar, CBP One is akin to Open Table, only for foreign nationals without status seeking entry and resettlement and not diners reserving a table for Saturday night.

As for the “system to fairly distribute newcomers regionally”, that’s unworkable and the mayor should know as much. The reasons why so many illegal migrants want to head to NYC are: (1) they know people there (Adams proclaims that “nearly 40 percent ... of existing New Yorkers are immigrants”); and (2) low wage, entry-level jobs are plentiful in a city where the cost of living is astronomical.

Does Adams really want the migrants whom he claims to care so much about to be sent to places where the unemployment rate is high and they don’t know anybody? Better to place them in detention, where room and board is already paid for and medical care readily available.

Step Three: More Federal Cash. In step three, Adams calls for “additional congressionally allocated funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] to implement that strategy at the border and in the localities where the migrants end up” — that is, papering over the problem with real and endless federal cash.

In its December “omnibus” spending bill, Congress has already shoveled some $785 million on FEMA to reimburse states, localities, and NGOs for the costs associated with feeding, housing, clothing, and transporting (including to NYC) illegal migrants. How much more does Adams want?

The answer is he doesn’t know because no one does. Unless the administration takes steps — fast — to reduce the number of aliens coming across the border with no right to live and work in the United States, the final tally would be limited only by the imaginations of D.C. bureaucrats and big-city mayors who want to provide “culturally appropriate” meals, “fluff-and-fold laundry”, and Xboxes to newcomers.

Step Four: More Work Permits for “Asylum Seekers”. For his fourth step, Adams demands “expedited right-to-work status for asylum seekers who are allowed to enter the country”.

Currently, aliens who are seeking asylum must wait 180 days after they have filed their applications to receive work authorization. Congress added that “180-day” requirement to the INA in 1996 because, it concluded, “The asylum system has been abused by those who seek to use it as a means of ‘backdoor’ immigration.”

Even with that requirement in place, the asylum system is still being abused by those who enter illegally and file weak and/or bogus applications to live and work in the United States, safe in the knowledge that it will take years for their claims to be denied — time they can use to make money in this country.

I seriously doubt that Adams understands the connection, but if he thinks his city is “at a breaking point” now, just wait until Biden starts handing out work permits at the border.

Step Five: A Path to Citizenship. Adams’ lack of understanding about how the immigration system works is really on display in his fifth proposed step, however: “a clear, congressionally passed pathway to residency or citizenship for those who enter this country legally”.

There’s already a pathway to citizenship for legal immigrants and, in fact, according to USCIS, more than 809,000 of them naturalized in FY 2021, even as the agency was “recovering from pandemic-related closures”.

If the mayor is proposing residency or citizenship for those who have (or will) enter illegally, however, this step suffers from the same clear and yet “unintended” consequence as faster work permits for asylum seekers: It will simply encourage them to come, and in even greater numbers.

Green-card holders can petition for their spouses and minor children to join them here, and can also file to immigrate their unmarried older sons and daughters after a longer wait. Citizens can bring their parents (assuming those citizens are at least 21), spouses, and unmarried minor children in right away, and their older and married children and siblings after a wait.

Expanding residency and citizenship for those who are unlawfully present will do nothing more than increase the number of new immigrants who will be eligible to enter legally and provide an impetus for foreign nationals abroad to send a family member here illegally to immigrate the rest of the family.

That said, it’s unclear what Adams means by “those who enter this country legally”. Only aliens who come to the United States with a visa (or who are exempt from this visa requirement) enter in a legal manner.

Step Six: Sharing the Wealth. Finally, in step six, Adams calls for “leadership that takes an all-hands-on-deck approach by bringing together nonprofits, the faith-based community and the private sector, alongside state and local government, to meet this challenge”.

Leadership to effectively respond to and ameliorate the humanitarian and national-security disaster that Biden has wrought at the Southwest border is sorely needed, but that’s not what Adams apparently has in mind.

And I have no issue with (and laud) NGOs — both private and religiously affiliated — who want to take at least some of the load off of cities and communities that are struggling to deal with the migrants the administration is ushering into the United States, provided that they don’t rely on government funding or turn their altruistic endeavors into a funding scheme.

As the Heritage Foundation and Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) have recently revealed, however, “The Biden administration has contracted and collaborated with non-profit organizations and corporations to plan and carry out the largest border crisis in American history.”

In a December 5 paper, Heritage explained: “These organizations apply for, and receive, taxpayer money to provide processing and transportation services and infrastructure to facilitate the migration of illegal aliens into the interior of the country.” Charity’s not charity when you’re getting paid, and Adams’ proposal to “share the wealth” spent responding to this crisis should be a non-starter.

Name-Calling and Strawmen. I suppose that I should cut Adams a break, given that he is a naïf when it comes to immigration law and policy, and that his city is truly suffering under its migrant load.

The mayor, however, is not making any friends when he veers into name-calling and conjures up strawmen, as when he complains that “the immigration explosion has provided a dark opportunity for the xenophobic and callous in our country who say the crisis proves we should close our borders completely.”

Unlike him, I have been doing immigration for a living for more than 30 years, and I haven’t heard anyone calling for the “borders to be closed completely” — only for the laws, as written, to be enforced.

And, unlike Adams, I understand that the only way to preserve our nation’s interest in legal immigration is to bring the Southwest border under control. As civil-rights icon and then-chairwoman of President Clinton’s Commission on Immigration Reform, Barbara Jordan, explained nearly three decades ago:

If we cannot control illegal immigration, we cannot sustain our national interest in legal immigration. Those who come here illegally, and those who hire them, will destroy the credibility of our immigration policies and their implementation. In the course of that, I fear, they will destroy our commitment to immigration itself.

Jordan’s fears are quickly becoming reality. In its most recent polling on immigration, Gallup found that a larger proportion (38 percent) of Americans want legal immigration to be cut than for it to be increased (27 percent) or remain the same (31 percent) — a reversal from similar polling in 2021.

As for the aspersions Adams casts with respect to the intentions of those who oppose the president’s feckless border policies, I would direct his honor to testimony Jordan gave before Congress in February 1995, when she stated:

To make sense about the national interest in immigration, it is necessary to make distinctions between those who obey the law, and those who violate it. Therefore, we disagree, also, with those who label our efforts to control illegal immigration as somehow inherently anti-immigrant. Unlawful immigration is unacceptable.

I understand the position he finds himself in, but Adams lessens himself and his office when he bandies about adjectives like “xenophobic” and “callous”. If he wants to relieve the migrant pressure on his residents and municipal coffers, the mayor should seek common cause with those on the other side of the border issue, instead of hurling epithets and offering poorly reasoned “solutions” that will just make things worse, for everybody.