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Joe Biden Heads to NYC With a Massive Elephant in the Room

Newsweek 1/31/2023 Nick Reynolds

President Joe Biden is headed to New York City today to tout approximately $23 billion in funding for a massive rail tunnel project underneath the Hudson River that local and state officials believe will be transformative for the commuting class of New Jersey which currently enjoys few options to reach their jobs in middle Manhattan.

Infrastructure, however, seems to be the last thing on New York City Mayor Eric Adams' mind as his city endures an unprecedented influx of undocumented migrants that has overwhelmed city resources.

Earlier this month, Adams unequivocally stated there was "no room" in the city for migrants as Republican-led border states continued bussing migrants into New York and other blue states in an ongoing pressure campaign on the Biden administration to address its issues at the southern border, which they argue has done too little to assuage the stream of migrants from Latin America traveling through Mexico to the U.S.

"The need to address this crisis is not the job of border states like Texas," the state's Republican Governor, Greg Abbott, wrote in a letter to the Biden administration in December. "Instead, the U.S. Constitution dictates that it is your job, Mr. President, to defend the borders of our country, regulate our nation's immigration, and manage those who seek refuge here."

The recent influx of undocumented migrants has only helped exacerbate the city's housing crisis as New York City officials have had to apply existing resources toward accommodating the new arrivals, potentially putting local officials afoul of human rights law. One report from WNBC New York earlier this month highlighted allegations New York City was violating the right to shelter for women entering its homeless system amid long processing delays attributable to the migrant crisis that has caused some to choose life on the streets instead.

Efforts by the Adams administration to address those challenges have also resulted in pushback from local migrant rights groups as well as residents, who have described the city's temporary accommodations for incoming migrants as inhumane and have accused the mayor of overspending in other areas of the budget, like policing.

Over the weekend, New York City officials reportedly locked several hundred migrant families out of a midtown Manhattan hotel where they were staying and ordered them to relocate to a mass housing facility in Brooklyn previously intended only to house single men. Migrants and migrants' rights groups claim those facilities are comparable to those run by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and are inappropriate alternatives for the single-family shelter they were previously given.

"NYC, the home of 'Give me your tired, your poor,' has displaced asylum seekers from the hotel-with-integrated-services where they were staying to what is essentially a refugee camp in Red Hook," Corinne Low, cofounder of a homeless advocacy group, the Open Hearts Coalition, wrote on Twitter Sunday. "The Adams admin @NYCMayor continues to persecute instead of help those in need."

Southern Border Apprehensions at All-Time High Statista © Statista Southern Border Apprehensions at All-Time High Statista

This chart, provided by Statista, shows the number of apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the U.S. Southwestern border, by national origin between 1999 and 2022.

Meanwhile, Adams—who has accused Republicans of stalling Biden's proposals to fix the problem—has traveled to cities like El Paso, Texas, amid estimates the migrant crisis could cost the city as much as $2 billion at a time the city is already facing a sizeable budget shortfall. Appearing on CNN the day before Biden's visit, Adams put renewed pressure on the Biden administration to provide additional financial resources to the city in an effort to reduce some of the burden.

"I think we must do more," Adams told CNN's Don Lemon Monday morning.

Adams acknowledged a recent bipartisan spending bill that included more than $800 million in funding for cities involved in refugee resettlement initiatives as well as an additional $8 million in emergency relief from FEMA. However, those solutions, Adams said, were little more than band-aids to address a crisis that was only going to grow more expensive.

"We have to go to the source," he said. "The source is real, comprehensive immigration reform that Republicans have been holding on and blocking for too many years. We must get this resolved. But there's a crisis right now, and that crisis should be coordinated by the national government."

Some members of Biden's own party, however, are seeking a different tack as the Biden administration has continued to fight in court for the expansion of Title 42, a divisive pandemic-era policy imposed by the Trump Administration that allows border officials to deny asylum seekers under the guise of limiting the spread of COVID-19 in what some critics have described as a "catch and release" program.

In the days leading up to Biden's visit, more than 70 House and Senate Democrats—including several members from New York—wrote a letter urging the president to re-evaluate his asylum restrictions and repeal Title 42 in an effort to increase the number of migrants entering the country legally. However, the letter also lacked a signature from anyone in party leadership, apparently indicating disagreements over how best for Biden to address the issue.

"It is unconscionable that asylum seekers have no option but to sleep in the streets of El Paso, in overcrowded shelters in Juarez, or in tents in Reynosa, but new asylum restrictions against migrants will not solve this problem," the letter read. "We believe that your administration can and must continue to expand legal pathways for migrants and refugees into the United States—without further dismantling the right to seek asylum at our border."

Newsweek has reached out to the White House for comment.

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