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NYC doesn’t need pols squabbling on migrants, it needs concrete action

After the city and state exchanged pointed letters about each’s response to the migrant situation, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas jumped into the fray with his own letters this week, faulting the city for vague operational failures. For his part, Mayor Adams has laced into Gov. Hochul for ducking, which she has.

What does it matter to a public concerned about possible cuts to services who’s writing the checks to provide housing and basic assistance, including the legal services that might allow asylum seekers to more quickly apply for and obtain work authorization? What does it matter to the desperate migrant whether the shelter they’re taking refuge in is on state or federal land? It doesn’t, because below the politicking and spin and recriminations is an issue that has to be dealt with, somehow, by someone, and passing the buck around has left us in a circumstance that’s much worse and more chaotic than it ever had to be.

Least at fault here — though certainly not faultless — is NYC, which wasn’t set up to and never asked for the responsibility to be one of the sole practicable landing places for tens of thousands of people fleeing multiple continents. Getting lost in a lot of the recent back-and-forth is a simple fact: the number of people successfully entering through the southern border and applying for asylum collapsed in the weeks after the end of the Title 42 policy, as the Biden administration implemented the so-called transit ban 2.0 policy, before climbing back up in recent weeks.

Yet instead of nosediving and then climbing again proportionally with this shift, the number of migrant arrivals here has been stable and even increased as border numbers went down. Why is that? Because New York City is one of the only places in the entire country where migrants can expect anything but a swift kick to the curb.

States like Texas and Florida have made abundantly clear that they view migrants not as a population to serve, or even as people at all, but political chips to be used in a grand ploy to drive divisions among Democrats and turn public opinion against humanitarian immigration. Even Democratic states and cities have largely shrugged their shoulders, fearful that taking a welcoming stance will throw open the floodgates.

It’s a Catch-22. NYC’s status as the default destination and the significant challenges that poses is not a failure of NYC but a failure of everywhere else to do their part, and a failure of superseding authorities to step in and help. To state the obvious, if there were dozens of municipalities providing shelter and assistance with an underpinning of significant federal financial and logistical support, NYC wouldn’t have received more than 100,000 asylum seekers.

Yet Albany seems in no rush to clarify and even less to enforce the reality that the state Constitution’s right to shelter mandate applies statewide, and we probably won’t see many localities lining up to volunteer when it’s clear that the federal government is intent on keeping a remove from the issue altogether instead of utilizing its vast resources to underwrite support. Could the city be doing some things better? Sure enough. But it has been set up for failure by broader inaction.

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