Op-ed | New York City volunteers will continue to greet migrants with open arms

Adama Bah personally helps a migrant.
Photo by Dean Moses

This past Sunday, New York City staff arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 4:30 a.m. to greet a bus of 50 new migrants who had unexpectedly arrived an hour earlier from Texas. 

Over the past 6 weeks, staff from the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit (PEU) have been at Port Authority every day — often from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. — waiting for buses to arrive from Texas and Florida. The hours are long because the arrivals are unpredictable. The Republican governors sending these buses have no intention of helping to create a smooth process — in fact, they seem determined to undermine our ability to meet these families as they enter our City.

Our dedicated staff have volunteered to work 15-hour days, so now buses have now started arriving in the middle of the night. 

It is essential that no one arrives in NYC to an empty bus terminal. If migrants leave the Port Authority without someone there to greet them, it will be much harder to ensure they are connected to critical City services. 

And as New Yorkers, this welcome is also part of who we are. The Mayor’s PEU operates on a foundational belief that the government has an obligation to provide services to those in need, and to do so while preserving their dignity. In our City, we believe that no one should have to ask for help. 

Every day, my team pounds the pavement to connect New Yorkers to a range of public resources and financial benefits — from healthcare to housing. We make calls, send text messages, table at community events, and even knock on doors. Our obligation to proactively supporting those in need is not qualified by how long they have been here or where they have come from. Our City is built on the hard work and determination of immigrants from every part of the world — today’s arrivals will continue in that tradition. 

When Governor Abbott started sending migrants to New York, PEU staff were some of the first on the ground. We joined together with our sister agencies and community-based partners to provide shelter, food, and other resources to every new arrival. Our goal wasn’t just to connect the new arrivals to resources; we were determined to counter the dehumanizing experiences many of them faced before arriving in NYC. 

Last week, a young migrant pulled into Port Authority with his family on his 13th birthday. PEU staff realized that 26 hours on a bus was not a great way to celebrate, so they rushed around the corner to buy him a cupcake before the City transported his family to a shelter for the night.

The welcome migrants receive at Port Authority stands in direct contrast to the one they received in the states that sent them. Many of these families have been held in detention centers for months. Republican Governors in Texas and Florida then shuffled thousands onto buses, manipulating them with false promises that free cell phones, apartments, and jobs await them in New York. 

These are the tactics of Republican leaders who have no qualms about using vulnerable people as political pawns in their midterm election strategy. Their intention is not to “spread the burden” of immigration; instead, it is to engineer a crisis and write a false political narrative about the chaos of progressive immigration policies. And they’re doing so with human lives at stake. 

I am incredibly proud of my team at PEU, my colleagues across the City, and our nonprofit partners for the passionate response to this crisis. However, resources are strained and our social support system is still struggling to catch up. Every day the number of bus arrivals is increasing, and there seems to be no end in sight. 

NYC is determined to welcome everyone to our City, but we can’t do this effectively alone. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation and while the entire City works to find comprehensive solutions, PEU will continue to show up at Port Authority to greet our new arrivals with the grace and respect they deserve. 

Adrienne Lever is director of the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit.

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