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Cities alone can’t handle immigration

Daily News (subscription required)

Apr 29, 2024

Americans have always taken pride in our history as a nation of immigrants. Every one of us has a connection to someone who sought opportunity, safety, or freedom on our shores. And while time has changed many things, it has not dimmed the desire to live in the freedom and safety that America has long cherished.

The thousands of asylum seekers and immigrants arriving at our Southern border are proof that the American dream remains as strong as ever — but the road toward legal, safe, and humane immigration has fallen into serious disrepair.

As longtime advocates for reforming our nation’s broken immigration system, we recently convened in New York City to observe the well-run asylum seeker operations led by Mayor Adams and his administration.

Despite a lack of coordination from those who have bussed migrants in from the border regions, the mayor and his team have done a commendable job housing and helping those in need, at great expense to the city itself. To date, New York City has helped in excess of 65% of the more than 190,000 migrants who have sought services from them move toward self-sufficiency.

We spent a full day meeting with leadership, staff, and migrants in the city’s care, and touring different sites across New York City, all of which are doing their best to take care of the thousands seeking assistance. The city’s main intake site for new arrivals has become nothing less than a modern-day Ellis Island. Professional and caring staff provide medical care, mental health screenings, vaccinations, and other support services around the clock as people arrive.

These new arrivals face considerable headwinds compared to those who sailed into our harbor a century ago. In 1907, during the peak of European migration, more than 1 million individuals were processed swiftly, with most completing screening in just a couple of hours and immediately commencing their lives in their adopted country. With swift and legal work status, these new arrivals were not wards of the state, but a valuable working bloc that helped power the greatest economic expansion in our nation’s history.

By contrast, today’s newcomers face serious bureaucratic and legal challenges from the moment they arrive on our border. They are unable to work legally without Department of Homeland Security-granted authorization, leaving parents without the means to feed their children, provide shelter, and secure employment.

To help migrants navigate this slow and bureaucratic federal system, New York City has set up a first-in-the-nation model to help migrants submit their applications for Temporary Protected Status, work authorization, and asylum. Since launching, they have helped submit more than 40,000 applications, a staggering number.

At some locations, the federal and state governments are present, showing what is possible when all levels of government work together. This model should be replicated in cities across the country and in border cities and towns. Migrants, like any other Americans, contribute to the growth of our local and national economies.

But it should not be up to cities to set up workarounds like this. For too long, comprehensive immigration reform has stalled in Congress, and the resulting chaos and gridlock have strained cities across America. In addition to hearing from Mayor Adams, we also heard from Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston about their experiences leading the response to this issue.

It is difficult to see how cities are forced to manage a national crisis alone. This moment demands decisive action at the federal level. We must reiterate our steadfast commitment to advocating for meaningful changes to our nation’s long broken and obsolete immigration system, which must enable humane and orderly processes.

In addition, we call for immediate action on three vital national fronts: expediting work authorization for recently arrived and long-term immigrants, allocating sufficient federal funding to support cities dealing with this challenge, and establishing a unified national resettlement strategy to address the underlying complexities.

It’s time for our nation to rise to the occasion, to stand as a beacon of compassion and efficiency in welcoming those who seek refuge and opportunity on our shores.

Let us not falter in the face of challenge but instead seize this opportunity to enact meaningful change, to uphold our values, and to lead by example on the global stage. By addressing these issues, we can transform what is often framed as a crisis into an unparalleled opportunity for our nation and set a global example.

We, the undersigned, come together to express our unified stance on the urgent need for compassionate and efficient support for cities grappling with the influx of recent migrants.
Oscar Chacon, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Alianza Americas
Adelys Ferro, Executive Director, Venezuelan American Caucus
Michelle Minguez, New York City leader and convener
Abel Nuñez, Executive Director, CARECEN
Maria Gabriela "Gaby" Pacheco, Immigrant and Educational Rights Leader
Sister Norma Pimentel, Executive Director, Catholic Charities, Rio Grande Valley
Juan Proaño, CEO, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

Raul Raymundo, CEO, The Resurrection Project

Hector Sanchez Barba, President & CEO, Mi Familia Vota
Rebecca Shi, Founder and President, American Business Immigration Coalition

Sergio Suarez, Founder and President, NAIMA