A prominent New York progressive is warning that mayor Eric Adams’s hostile comments about the rising number of migrants in the city are “dangerous” and risk inciting violence against the new arrivals and other immigrants.
Tiffany Cabán, aiming for re-election to the city council this November and long endorsed by leading leftwing figures, including US senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, attacked as “irresponsible” the mayor’s remarks last week that the sharp increase in migration to New York would “destroy” the city.
“The idea that new arrivals would destroy New York City is absurd to me. New arrivals, immigrants, made our city,” Cabán told the Guardian.
“I think there’s a real possibility of his rhetoric fomenting violence, and that’s the last thing we need,” Cabán, a former public defender, added.
New York and other Democratic-led cities have received hundreds of thousands of people who crossed the US-Mexico border to request asylum since last year.
More than 110,000 migrants have arrived in New York, most making their own way but many also bussed by Texas authorities, without liaison. Officials say they are struggling to provide for nearly 60,000 migrants currently in the city’s care.
In escalating remarks, Adams last week said: “Never in my life have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to … This issue will destroy New York City.”
Cabán told the Guardian: “It’s not a migrant crisis, it’s a humanitarian crisis. It’s a crisis of policy. But the people themselves, [those] fleeing really dangerous situations, they are not the crisis.”
Migrants have struggled to secure housing, employment and other necessities in New York. Scores slept outside a Manhattan hotel last month as facilities overflowed. Restrictions on legal employment hamper efforts to move into permanent housing, also amid city rent prices surging and restrictions on rental assistance.
Advocates want the Biden administration to fast-track work permits for asylum seekers dealing with the backlogged legal system. Michael Bloomberg, the former Republican and independent New York city mayor, writing in the New York Times, also supported work opportunities.
New York governor Kathy Hochul said the state was considering ways to issue work permits to asylum seekers in a bid to circumvent the long wait for permits at the federal level, which could trigger a fierce legal battle, the New York Times reported.
Cabán accepted that the situation is challenging, but said, at the same time, Adams has “gutted” funding for social services.
Adams announced last Saturday that city agencies must slash their budgets by up to 15% without increased federal and state support for arriving migrants.
Cabán noted that such cuts come as the city spends record amounts on the New York police department (NYPD), including settlements for brutality against those protesting against the 2020 police murder of George Floyd, and overtime payments.
NYPD officers were criticized for rough treatment and arrest of migrants in raids on Brooklyn shelters last week as police cracked down on unregistered mopeds, commonly used in food delivery work.
Adams has blamed shortcomings on a lack of federal and state support, but he is increasingly criticized by fellow Democrats.
A representative of Hochul sent Adams a letter, lambasting him for not collaborating with state officials on managing migration, the New York Times reported. The US homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also faulted Adams following a week-long survey of the city’s migrant response, Politico reported.
“I know that he likes to lay blame at other people’s feet in the political ecosystem, but the fact of the matter is that the mayor has the most power in directing localities’ response,” Cabán said.
She warned the mayor risked playing into Republican hands, stoking anti-immigration efforts and their attacks on Joe Biden’s handling of border issues.
Mike Pence, the former vice-president, applauded Adams for “[calling] out President Joe Biden … for their absolute failure to secure the southern border”. The mayor received similar praise from Republican House speaker Kevin McCarthy.
“It’s our responsibility to not fall into that trap,” Cabán warned Democrats. “To regurgitate those talking points creates a lot of tension between already disinvested communities and newly arrived migrants. That kind of thing is foundational to rightwing political agendas.”
Cabán said municipal leaders need to prioritize bolstering infrastructure that can support arriving migrants on a long-term basis.
She praised Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson’s more measured approach. Johnson, a progressive, also criticized Adams last week.
“It really does mean shifting our priorities away from policing, prosecution, punishment and towards community, compassion, care, access to housing,” Cabán said.
She said: “Because of climate change … US politics … the nature of certain global politics, refugees are going to continue to come.”
Migrants have already faced overt discrimination in public, even as Cabán warned about violence.
Migrants arriving at a Staten Island shelter were bombarded with xenophobic audio messages, warning them to leave as they were “not safe” there.
Neighbor Scott Herkert played messages nonstop from a loudspeaker on his front lawn after people arrived at a long-vacant Roman Catholic high school on his block being used as temporary housing.
The audio recording blasted out in six languages: “The community wants you to go back to New York City. Immigrants are not safe here.”
Staten Island is the most Republican-leaning of the five New York City boroughs, and has the highest percentage of white residents. Protesters held a rally nearby demanding that officials house migrants elsewhere.
“We have to close our eyes and close our ears,” Aminetou El Alewai, a 39-year-old woman from Mauritania who moved into the shelter last week, told the Associated Press. “We are good people. We are not criminals. We came because we have problems in our country.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting