‘It represents freedom’: Volunteers tear Texas tags off arriving migrants as tents rise in Randall’s Island

Volunteer Power Malu rips the Texas tags off of arriving migrants in Port Authority on Oct. 10.
Photo by Dean Moses

Five buses carrying asylum seekers pulled into Port Authority before 7 a.m. on Oct. 10 as the mayor’s tent city begins to take shape on Randall’s Island.

Fatigued, hungry and frightened, a wave of humanity flooded out of the buses and into the city. Mothers and fathers swaddled small, bleary-eyed children in Red Cross blankets as they both symbolically and figuratively stepped out of the darkness and into the light. 

Treated like cattle at the Texas border, the migrants are tagged with paper bracelets which removes their identity and replaces it with a number. Volunteer Power Malu chose to rip the emblematic shackle from the wrist of every man, woman and child.

The busses arrive from Texas to Port Authority. Photo by Dean Moses
A mother carries her child. Photo by Dean Moses

“It represents freedom. When they come here with the bracelets on, it is a sense that they are detained. For me taking them off is symbolism. It is like you have arrived, you have made it here,” Malu told amNewYork Metro. “When I started doing the removal of the bracelets, people felt a sense of relief.”

Malu volunteers as a part of his non-profit Artists Athletes Activists, which he says, despite being underfunded, pours all of his resources and time into helping the arrivals, leaving him only to sleep a few hours each night. Even though the group is suffering financially, Malu says he won’t stop.

“So, we’re not just handing them off to the city and then just leaving them. We’re actually advocating for them and following up with them. I give them my number. We exchange information. We reunite families on a daily basis. Like today we have two families coming from Texas that was separated. And we have babies that are involved in this and there’s so many things that happen on the other side that when they arrive to New York, we want to do everything that we can to make this a little easier for them,” Malu said.

An MTA bus transports migrants to a city shelter. Photo by Dean Moses
An MTA bus transports migrants to a city shelter. Photo by Dean Moses

With five buses pulling in at daybreak and three more expected throughout the day, this comes as two tents have been erected on Randall’s Island, which once complete is set to serve as a temporary intake shelter to help deal with the influx of humanity the mayor has publicly deemed a state of emergency. 

“This situation is so complex, and it was being defined through sound bites,” Mayor Adams said Monday afternoon, dissatisfied with how the media has portrayed the way the city is handling the crisis.

Many homeless rights advocates are also criticizing the mayor for separating the homeless crisis from the asylum seeker influx when both parties are suffering from the same plight.

Tents rise on Randall’s Island. Photo by Adrian Childress
Tents rise on Randall’s Island. Photo by Adrian Childress

Shams DaBaron, a formerly unhoused man turned homeless rights advocate disagrees, however. He also spent the morning greeting new arrivals and says he supports City Hall’s decision by making the categorization.

“After talking with volunteers and engaging with asylum seekers myself, I’m convinced that the mayor’s decision to draw a distinction between asylum seekers and our city’s current homeless population is the right decision,” DaBaron told amNewYork Metro. “Simply ushering this population into homeless shelters is not in their best interest, nor is it going to be sustainable considering our already overburdened shelter system. That pathway will further traumatize those seeking a better life in America in ways that only a person with lived experience would understand.”

The mayor’s office continues to call for federal funding.

Photo by Dean Moses