Op-Ed | New York will always welcome immigrants, but we can’t do it alone

Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro shakes hands as migrants step off the bus.
Photo by Dean Moses

New York has always been home to those who seek better opportunities, a place to pursue their dreams and build a better life for themselves and their loved ones. It’s this draw that has made us the most innovative and multicultural city in the world. To continue to represent hope and drive progress, however, we need to expand the social safety net so that we can provide the additional support to provide resources and safety for our newest residents and continue taking care of those in need.

New York is proud to continue to welcome the recent influx of asylum-seekers and set an example for the rest of the country. It’s who we are. Since the summer, we have been doing everything we can to support our new neighbors, but there are additional resources we need. Local efforts and donations can only get us so far, which is why it is crucial that the federal government step up to ensure easier access to jobs, housing, food, and quality education.

Since April, around 22,000 people17,000 of whom are now in shelters, have arrived in New York City by bus from Texas – a cruel move by Texas Governor Abbott, who is using migrants as political pawns with no regard for their well-being or the trauma they have lived through. Look no further than the diminished number of new arrivals since the election. New York City has stepped up to tackle this influx on all fronts — not because of political gain, but out of moral obligation.

The reality is that asylum seekers are here to escape unlivable situations, which is why we have organized donation drives, connected them with food and housing options, and enrolled children who arrive into our public schools. We have joined hands with the national #ChooseWelcome campaign launched last month to amplify what it means to be welcoming at a policy level, in the streets, and in how we talk about the immigration issue. New Yorkers have shown up in ways that are touching and inspiring. The support from organizations and individuals, young, old, and from all walks of life, has been overwhelming.

But we still have a long way to go, and we need help from the federal government. Washington must deliver increased legal aid, streamlined work authorization processes, FEMA funding, and education resources to hire bilingual staff. Without these resources, we cannot provide adequate support to folks who want to help our city flourish.

Access to jobs, food and housing security, and education are vital to immigrants building new lives in our city. Those who we have spoken to are eager to work and contribute to our economy, but they are struggling. Food and housing is scarce – increased FEMA funds would help to navigate this. And on our part, we must do everything we can to build more affordable housing in order to help our asylum seekers transition into stable and, eventually, permanent homes. Building better would mean a mitigation of both our homelessness and our human migration crises. Whether you’ve lived here your whole life or arrived here with your family just yesterday, you deserve a city that can do more than just shelter you, but ensure you have a stable, affordable home to call your own. Legal support is extremely limited: the current backlog for legal counsel is March, yet many asylum-seekers have trial dates set well before then. We have received about 6,000 kids who are now public school students. Their stories are harrowing. We need funding for more bilingual social workers and staff who can support and guide these kids to succeed.

Much like the immigrants who came here two hundred, one hundred, or fifty years ago, they are escaping oppression in the hope of a better life. Let’s ensure they have a fighting chance to get it.

Mark Levine is the Manhattan Borough President. Donovan Richards is the Queens Borough President.