Governor Kathy Hochul on Thursday formally called on President Biden to use his executive authority to address the migrant crisis in a letter to the White House, marking a clear pivot from her arm’s length approach since the influx began last year.
Hochul highlighted the contents of the missive in a roughly 10-minute live streamed address on Aug. 24 — her first formal speech devoted to the crisis since it began in April 2022. In contrast, Mayor Eric Adams has delivered several such addresses on the tide of newcomers over the past year and speaks about it at many of his public appearances.
“I’m fully aware that New Yorkers are concerned that over the past year, more than 100,000 asylum seekers have arrived in our state requiring a historic humanitarian response,” Hochul said at the start of her address. “Moments ago, I issued a letter to the Biden administration, formally requesting that it take executive action to address York’s migrant crisis.”
The governor also used the speech to defend her administration’s response to the influx thus far, noting it has deployed “enormous resources” to assist the city, which appeared to come in response to criticism from the Adams administration that the governor hasn’t done enough to help the city.
Hochul pointed to $1.5 billion the state has so far awarded the city to shoulder migrant shelter expenses—a small fraction of its estimated $12 billion price tag for the crisis—as well as 2,000 National Guard troops she deployed downstate to assist the five boroughs. She has also approved state funding for two recently opened large-scale asylum seeker shelters: at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens and on Randall’s Island.
The mayor, however, said he’s “disappointed” the governor didn’t go further in her address, in a statement released Thursday afternoon. He said she should have called on Biden to declare a state of emergency and must use her own executive powers to force counties outside the city to house migrants.
“Although we’re disappointed that the state today appears to minimize the role that they can — and must — play in responding to this crisis, the state must fulfil its duty to more than 8 million of the state’s residents who call New York City home,” Adams said. “Leaving New York City alone to manage this crisis — and abdicating the state’s responsibility to coordinate a statewide response — is unfair to New York City residents who also didn’t ask to be left almost entirely on their own in the middle of a national crisis.”
During her speech, Hochul took aim squarely at the White House and Congress for largely leaving the city and state to fend for themselves in managing the influx over the past year.
“The reality is we’ve managed thus far without substantive support from Washington,” Hochul said. “And despite the fact that this is a national, indeed an inherently federal issue. But New York has shouldered this burden for far too long.”
The governor’s letter asked Biden to take four executive actions she said would greatly help the city and state. These measures include expediting work permits for migrants — an action she and Adams have repeatedly asked for; boosting reimbursements to both the city and state for their spending on the crisis so far; granting authorization to use federal land for housing newcomers; and providing funds to cover the use of National Guard troops assisting the city.
The state’s top executive said both she and the mayor have been requesting the White House let new arrivals work immediately, instead of after the legally mandated 180-day waiting period after filing for asylum, for over a year now.
“The mayor and I said that in countless meetings with Congress, the White House cabinet members, at rallies with labor, press conferences and talking with business,” she said. “What we’ve said all along is: just let them work and help us out financially.”
But a White House official, in an emailed statement, denied there’s anything Biden can do to expedite work authorizations and provide more funding, claiming it is solely the responsibility of the Republican-controlled Congress to take such actions. Republicans in Congress have shown no appetite to do so.
“The Administration is committed to working to identify ways to improve efficiencies and maximize the resources the federal government can provide to communities across the country,” the official said. “Only Congress can provide additional funding for these efforts, which this Administration has already requested, and only Congress can fix the broken immigration system.”
Additionally, Hochul is launching a state Department of Labor program in September designed to place migrants in jobs as soon as they become legally eligible to work. The initiative also seeks to help connect asylum applicants not yet legally able to work with employment ahead of time, so they can begin working once they become eligible.
“We want to be able to have matches made before the work authorization comes in, so that when that paper arrives, the minute they get their authorization, we can begin to make those introductions so that employers can pull the lever and employ those people as quickly as possible,” DOL Commissioner Roberta Reardon told reporters following Hochul’s address.
However, according to Hochul administration officials, only 10% of migrants being sheltered in the city had applied for asylum as of May. Since then, Adams’ office has opened an “Asylum Application Help Center” that has assisted about 2,600 families in filing asylum claims.
Hochul’s letter and address follows her clash with the Adams administration in recent weeks that surfaced via a series of letters, where the city accused the state of not providing enough support for migrants. The state defended its actions in terms of the crisis and accused the city of bad communication.
The letters were ordered by a Manhattan Supreme Court judge who determined in a court conference earlier this month that the state needed to do more to assist the city.
In City Hall’s latest letter to Hochul administration on Wednesday, it demanded the governor issue an executive order to force upstate counties resistant to accepting migrants to start housing some in their localities.
Hochul threw cold water on the idea that she’d be willing to take such an action during her speech, noting she believes the city’s right-to-shelter law — requiring it to provide a shelter bed to any person seeking one — doesn’t apply statewide. She argued that’s because the 1981 consent decree that established the law, Callahan v. Carey, was just between the city and the Coalition for the Homeless.
“This is an agreement that does not apply to the state’s other 57 counties, which is one of the reasons we cannot and will not force other parts of our state to shelter migrants,” Hochul said. “Nor are we going to be asking these migrants to move to other parts of the state against their will.”
But Adams, in his statement, argued the right to shelter does apply statewide.
“Whatever differences we all may have about how to handle this crisis, we believe what is crystal clear is that whatever obligations apply under state law to the City of New York apply with equal force to every county across New York state,” he said.
The Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless, in a joint statement, echoed the mayor’s point.
“We agree with Governor Hochul’s call on the Biden Administration to immediately address the need for new arrivals to secure work authorization, and for additional resources in the form of funding and sites for emergency shelters,” the groups said. “However, given the political gridlock in Washington stymieing a national solution, more State support is urgently needed now to prevent people from being left to languish on local streets as the constitutional provisions on which the right to shelter is based apply to the State as well as the City.”
This report was updated to include a statement from Mayor Adams.