Mayor Adams declares state of emergency for asylum seeker crisis

Migrants waiting outside the shelter.
Photo by Dean Moses

Mayor Eric Adams declared a city State of Emergency Friday over the more than 17,000 migrants who have come to the Big Apple seeking shelter since April, calling on Washington and Albany to provide the city with additional resources to handle the influx.

During a live streamed speech at City Hall Friday morning, Adams said the city has been doing all it possibly can to handle the thousands of asylum seekers who are getting bussed here by southern states like Texas after coming from South and Central America across the southern border. This includes stretching the shelter system to nearly 100 percent capacity, opening 42 emergency hotel shelters and building a tent-like shelter on Randall’s Island – first cited for Orchard Beach in the Bronx – he’s dubbed a Humanitarian Response and Relief Center (HERRC).

The emergency declaration, the mayor said, is coupled with an executive order intended to expedite construction of the HERRC.

“New York City is doing all we can, but we are reaching the outer limit of our ability to help,” Adams said. “Today I’m declaring a state of emergency in the city of New York and issuing an executive order. This executive order will direct all agencies to coordinate their efforts to construct the humanitarian relief centers. We are also suspending certain land use requirements to expedite this process.”

Mayor Eric Adams delivers an address at City Hall on asylum seekers in New York City. Friday, October 7, 2022. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.

Without mentioning them by name, Hizzoner blasted southern elected officials like Texas Governor Greg Abbott for bussing thousands of asylum seekers to the five boroughs every day without coordinating with his administration or so much as a heads up of when and how many buses will be arriving. Adams repeated what has become a common refrain that Abbott and others are exploiting the city’s “right to shelter” law – that requires it to house anyone seeking shelter – for “political gain.”

“Our right to shelter laws, our social services, and our values are being exploited by others for political gain,” he said. “New Yorkers are angry. I am angry too. We have not asked for this. There was never any agreement to take on the job of supporting thousands of asylum seekers. This responsibility was simply handed to us without warning as buses began showing up. There’s no playbook for this, no precedent.”

And the responsibility of accepting 17,000 asylum seekers and counting comes with a hefty price tag. The mayor said his administration expects to spend at least $1 billion on handling this crisis alone by the end of the current fiscal year next June.

Mayor Eric Adams takes questions from reporters following speech declaration of emergency for migrant crisis. Firday, Oct. 7, 2022. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.

That’s why during his address, Adams also pleaded for both the federal and state governments to step-in and lend the city a hand with the crisis. On the federal level, Adams called on Congress to pass emergency financial support for the city. 

In addition, he requested that legislation be passed to allow asylum seekers to immediately be able to work. Plus, what he called a “realistic decompression strategy” at the border to stem the flow of migrants into the U.S. and a plan to move some portion of the migrants in New York to other cities to “ensure everyone is doing their part.”

“This is going to take a national coordination and it should be handled at the border,” Adams told reporters following his address. “And ensure that when people come in, number one, they should be allowed to go to the destinations that they desire and not just incentivized to go to New York, Washington or Chicago as it is currently being put in place. And then we should ensure that the entire country absorbs this influx of asylum seekers, so that we’re not leaning on three cities in the northern part of the country.”

When it comes to Albany, the mayor asked the state legislature to send additional financial assistance to the city and said he’s been working with Governor Kathy Hochul’s office to find additional locations for the HERRCs.

“There are plenty of locations that are under state control that I believe we should look at,” Adams told reporters. “Right now, I’m not going to disclose exact locations, where they are, we want them to materialize. And as they do, I’ll announce them. Just as I announced Randall’s Island.”

City begins work on Randalls Island tent city for migrants
City agencies gathered on Randall’s Island to survey the area for the relocation of the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers on Oct. 4, Photo by Dean Moses/File.

Adams’ plan to open the HERRC’s has been widely criticized by both advocates for immigrants and the homeless and several City Council members who say an outdoor facility isn’t the best place to house migrants – even temporarily – as the city heads into the winter months. The administration also believes the facilities don’t have to comply with the city’s right to shelter regulations, as New York City Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol stated in a council hearing last week.

The city began construction on the Randal’s Island facility this week after abandoning building a tent shelter at its first chosen site in the Orchard Beach parking lot because the site is prone to flooding.

In a joint statement, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless again called on Adams to abandon his plan to open the Randall’s Island facility.

“We reaffirm our call on the City to abandon its plan to construct tent cities, and to instead focus on high-quality indoor shelter options and permanent housing,” they said.

“It’s not about money lost,” the mayor told amNewYork Metro in response to funds spent to relocate the Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers. Photo by Dean Moses/File.

Additionally, they commended the mayor for acknowledging in his speech that the city will be announcing plans to “fast-track” those staying in shelters into long-term housing – something both groups have long called for. 

They also called on Adams to reform the CityFHEPS housing voucher program.

“It was heartening to hear that City Hall will soon announce measures to more quickly transition homeless New Yorkers from shelters to permanent housing,” they said. “We have been pressing the city to prioritize these moves for years as the average lengths of stay in shelter continue to rise to unacceptable levels. Most importantly, these forthcoming measures should include an overhaul of CityFHEPS, such as streamlining administrative issues and expanding access.”