Structural Issues in New York City Highlighted Amid Mass Migration : A Social Justice Concern

Written by: Cait Morrone

As analyzed and reported by the New York Post, New York City has taken in 95,000 migrants this year – which is double the amount than the next two top sanctuary cities – and across 210 sites, over 60,400 migrants remain under city care. Following the Biden Administration’s decision to lift Title 42, a steady surge of persons entering NYC, Gov. Kathy Hochul stated the city is now ‘at capacity’ and has converted several hotels into temporary shelters. Furthermore, the New York Post published that this situation was exacerbated by the Administration’s implementation of Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 472,000 Venezuelans – 40% of which are in NYC. According to ABC News who spoke with city officials, the number of migrants arriving in NYC each day has recently increased from 400 to an estimated 600 persons.

Asylum seeking persons who have been sent to New York, whether it is their final destination or not, face myriad issues. NYC has a well-established housing crisis. Unfortunately, there are several injustices involved in the assimilation process – such as shelter policies, language barriers, and educational difficulties. This article will explore these conditions as well as the underlying issues which are (1) why the migration is likely to continue (2) the zoning laws in NYC which limit affordable housing opportunities, (3) the NYC government’s plan for action.

NYC Colleges Paid to House Migrants

Around the United States, public and private universities have been asked to aid in the mass migration during a nationwide housing crisis. USA Today acquired contracts and a report from key informants which showed contracts between the New York City Health and Hospitals and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), where the college was paid $2.7 million in non-refundable ‘transition fees’ in June. These contracts moved students out of AMDA housing on West 70th street and West 85th street and relocated 600 single adults in June, who were moved yet again, this month, to another shelter so that 50 families could take their place – in single-room occupancy dorms – for the remainder of the school year.

What Conditions are Migrants Facing?

Condition of Roosevelt Hotel Acting as Ellis Island

Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan has been referred to as the “new Ellis Island” by city officials, as reported by the New York Times, since it has been utilized as the city’s main intake center for homeless migrants. In the hotel lobby, migrants are able to register with city officials; however, it was not long before the number of people registering was larger than the capacity of their services. Moreover, the conditions there – requiring that registrants undergo unclothed physical examinations, and wait for hours, before being assigned a living space, either within the hotel in a shared room, or at shelters, some without showers – are “heartbreaking and maddening.” Another New York Post article dictated that, in late July, nearly 200 people slept on the sidewalk with their heads resting on book bags, and their belongings in trash bags. At this ‘modern-day Ellis Island’, single adults and families alike wait in the gloomy, packed Roosevelt Hotel in fear of their future. 

Limited shelter stay times

Furthermore, during the week of September 22nd, 2023, several news outlets began reporting on the injustices migrants face from new shelter policies. Janaki Chadha from Politico reported on Mayor Eric Adams’ policy which would evict thousands of people from shelters, leaving them with nowhere to sleep and nowhere to work. Chagha identified informants who found that City Hall believes that, with a shelter guarantee, the city has become a magnet for migrants, and a shelter stay-limit will cause migrants to choose other sanctuary cities for refuge. When Chadha’s published last week, the shelter limit had led to the distribution of more than 10,800 60-day notices so far. This policy implementation will result in families and single adults on the streets of an expensive city, with limited knowledge of available resources that are already strained, with possible vulnerability to the acts of violence or anti-immigrant bias. Unfortunately, ABC7 stated that this policy led to the September 26th ruling that a closed school which was turned into a shelter for about 60 asylum seekers, is to be dismantled. As an attempt to expedite the process of removing migrants from shelters, Dan Rivoli of Spectrum News reported on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s deployment of over 2,000 National Guard members to migrant services – mostly in case management. Rivoli’s interview with Staff Sgt. Jelani Parjohn explored their purpose as case managers, which includes assessing their future destination, documenting family sizes, and collecting names and some biometrics. Lastly, Time Magazine provided an update on the shelter limits, stating that anyone who received a notice must leave and reapply for shelter. Then, if another shelter accepts them, they are provided with 30 additional days, supported by ‘“intensified casework services” to find alternative accommodation. 

Overall, NYC governance is employing the tactic of shelter-stay limits in order to deter migrants from listing New York City as their asylum destination; however, the implicated effects that displaced migrants will face with homelessness are numerous. According to the University of Washington, some of the consequences include: 

  • Health: cold injury, cardio-respiratory diseases, tuberculosis, skin diseases, nutritional deficiencies, sleep deprivation, mentall illness, physical and sexual assault, drug dependency, mortality, and HIV.
  • Personal: Loss of self-esteem, becoming institutionalized, increase in substance misuse, loss of ability to will and care for oneself, increased danger of abuse and violence, increased chance of entering the criminal justice system, and development of behavioral problems.

Fears about Migrant Children’s Educational Future

Another consideration when looking at the experience of migrants is education: Where will migrant children receive their education? Can the school systems in NYC handle the large number of new students? What are the implications for language barriers? National Public Radio (NPR) investigated these very questions, and found that the migrant families waited outside the Department of Education offices in Queens with these same concerns. Among a nationwide teacher shortage, according to NPR, New York City only has around 3,500 English as a New Language (ENL) teachers on staff, which is relatively small in comparison to the estimated 20,000 new students from migrant families. 

Underlying Issues in Migration

Ariel Ruiz Soto, senior policy analyst at the Washington nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, identified three main reasons why the number of border crossings is continuously increasing. First, due to the socio-economic crisis in Venezuela, the number of migrants is continuing to rise, with 25% of Venezuelans migrating since 2015 – and data from the Darien Gap implies there will be another wave of Venezuelan migrants in about 2 months. Secondly, Soto recognized many migrants had been waiting in Mexico for months for U.S. policies on border crossing to be settled, before adjusting their plans. Lastly, Soto stated there is also a rise in the number for Mexican migrants who are seeking shelter from community violence and explained there is a complicated mix of factors which compel migrants to make the difficult journey over the U.S.-Mexico border. Along with Venezuelan migrants, any person who has crossed the U.S.-Mexico border has faced adversity throughout their journey, both on and off U.S. soil. 

Conditions Causing Migration in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua

To better understand the migration crisis in NYC, it is important to look at the underlying issues which are forcing people to leave their homes in the first place. According to the National Immigration Forum (NIF), almost 25% of the number of border encounters in 2021 were Venezuelan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan. Each of these countries’ communities are feeling the unjust effects of economic and political turmoil which were stressed by COVID-19. 

As stated by NIF, the economic crisis in Venezuela was caused by reduced oil prices, which represent 95% of export earnings, and 25% of their gross domestic product (GDP). A combination of a poor government response, loss of access to U.S. financial markets, and COVID-19, resulted in further decreases of GDP. Subsequently, citizens dealt with conditions of hyperinflation, lack of basic health necessities during the pandemic, extrajudicial killings, and community violence. 

While the main reason for Cuban migration was health concerns during the pandemic – as a tourism-reliant economy, Cuba was also financially affected by the pandemic with travel restrictions. According to NIF, this, along with other factors lead to an inflationary spiral which tripled in 2021 – challenges Cubans faced included lack of food and medications during the pandemic, regular blackouts, and protests with violent government responses. Lastly, a Category 4 hurricane just last year, impacted more than 3.2 million people, depleting and restricting access to remaining resources; flooding affected many who relied on agricultural and livestock production. 

Lastly, in Nicaragua, a dictatorship which values power – not people – created turmoil within communities and consequently people are being victimized by human rights violations. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2018 President Daniel Ortega reduced social security benefits, closed hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, and held more than 200 political prisoners. Finally, NIF dictated that Nicaragua faced problems similar to those in Cuba amid two consecutive hurricanes during the pandemic, which resulted in poor accessibility of water, housing, electricity, health services, and educational institutions. 

Due to the political unrest and economic challenges, the National Immigration Forum reported that, in fiscal year 2022, U.S.-Mexico border authorities encountered:

  • Nearly 188,000 Venezuelan migrants
  • Over 160,000 Nicaraguan migrants
  • More than 220,000 Cuban migrants

Call to Action

Why does all of this matter? There are over 95,000 and counting single adults and families who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in search of asylum, arriving after enduring what are often long and treacherous journeys, only to be offered poor housing services, and given no clear idea of what their future in NYC will hold. Will they find affordable housing, stable jobs, proper health care, education, and other basic human necessities? These human beings deserve the right to a sustainable future, but they cannot get there without our help. Right now there are several donation outlets online, including the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is seeking monetary and item donations. Item donations include new clothing in all sizes, new or used bikes, and toiletries and hygiene products such as diapers, deodorants, menstrual products, and baby wipes. The City reporters posted how citizens of NYC can also volunteer through offering legal help, driving, and translation for migrants with organizations such as Artists Athletes Activists, Coalicion Mexicana, and Make the Road New York

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