New York is a city of immigrants – but its mayor says migration crisis may ‘destroy’ it | US News

If it wasn’t for the soldiers on the door, you’d walk on by, oblivious to the people behind the window. 

Just off Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, between the midtown skyscrapers, a shuttered bar is now the impromptu overflow for New York’s central migrant registration centre. And through the steamed-up windows is a room full of stories.

Each person has a long journey behind them, from Africa, the Middle East and South America to the southern border of the United States and now here.

Some flee persecution, some escape war. Some have had lives upturned by climate change. All need work. All seek a better life.

“It wasn’t going well for us in Venezuela,” mother of two Danieles tells me.

“Most of all it was for the two of them.” She points to her toddlers.

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Migrants waiting in a shuttered bar

Nearby, Omar, damp and with no belongings and no bed for the night, says: “We’re finding a way to get a future, a good economy to try to help us and our families back in Venezuela to be able to live.”

Fear and hope; the push and pull of humanity. They are familiar stories that I’ve heard over and over on the migration trail, from Lebanon to Turkey, from Greece to France, from Texas to New York.

The Big Apple is, proudly, a city of immigrants. Nearly 40% of people here were born in another country. And its Statue of Liberty is a symbol of a nation built on immigration.

Yet now New York is the test for a nation divided by migration.

It’s not entirely clear why Britain’s home secretary has chosen America to raise, some say grandstand, her proposals to tackle global migration.

If Suella Braverman thinks America is a migration showcase, she will be bitterly disappointed.

If she wants to use it as an example of a failing system then it’s an awkward message diplomatically, and she’ll find a government here that would rather not talk about it.

Just as in Britain and Europe, migration is a bitterly divisive issue here.

America’s southern border is a perfect example of an asylum system that is neither firm nor fair. On that, she will find common ground with Britain’s own system.

New York is a snapshot of a nationwide challenge. More than 100,000 people have arrived on Manhattan Island over the past year.

The city authorities recently signed a $275m contract with the Hotel Association of New York to set aside 5,000 rooms for migrants. Yet more than that arrive most weeks.

Read more:
Where do US migrants come from and how do they get there?
Migrant surge at border pushes Texas city to ‘breaking point’

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There are currently more than 60,000 people housed in 200 different sites across the city.

Most arrive via the southern border with Mexico after a journey through Central America. In August, 82,000 people entered Panama overland from South America.

The numbers for this year are looking set to be double the number in 2022.

As they pass into America to claim asylum they immediately become pawns in the politics, most pushed north to be someone else’s problem. And if that sounds familiar it’s because it’s what’s happening in Europe too, from Italy, to France, to the UK.

For a sense of America’s broken system, consider this: more than two million immigration cases are pending nationwide. That is up from about 100,000 a decade ago and the average time to determine a case is now four years.

US soldiers watch over a group of migrants waiting near El Paso, Texas, to process their immigration claim as the United States prepares to lift Title 42 restrictions
US soldiers watch over a group of migrants waiting near El Paso, Texas

This month the city’s mayor issued a stark assessment of the challenge as he sees it.

“We’re getting no support on this national crisis. We’re receiving no support,” Eric Adams said.

“And let me tell you something New Yorkers: never in my life, have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to. I don’t see an ending to this. I don’t see an ending to this. This issue will destroy New York City, destroy New York City.”

Mr Adams is a Democrat, the party of President Biden with whom he is now clashing over the issue of migration.

Mr Adams blames the president. Mr Biden, on the occasions that he acknowledges the issue, blames it on a system he can’t change without bipartisan agreement, which he will never get.

And that’s the nub of it. Whether it’s in the villages of Kent, the islands of Greece, the towns of Texas or the streets of Manhattan there is no common ground on migration. Politicians represent divided societies. It’s “we can do it” up against “we really can’t”.

Between the hard line and the compassion is a reality. This is a time of unprecedented migration. The movement we are seeing represents a new normal that is testing open societies globally.

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