It isn’t often that the mayor of New York travels to El Paso. But our cities are dealing with the same humanitarian crisis, about 2,000 miles apart: migrants pouring in from countries, many with failing governments, in Central and South America and the Caribbean. So I went down to the southern border this week to see for myself why this emergency has become so challenging.
What I found in El Paso was exactly what I feared. The national crisis has left local governments and grass-roots organizations along the border struggling to adequately care for the migrants coming into their communities.
Unfortunately, the immigration explosion has provided a dark opportunity for the xenophobic and callous in our country who say the crisis proves we should close our borders completely, abandoning the nation’s history of welcoming the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The governors of Texas and Florida are even making a political game of vulnerable people’s lives, by sending them north with no coordination or care for their well-being – instead of urging lawmakers to take action.
The governors of those states say they cannot handle the flow of migrants and maintain local services for existing residents, and that is true. New York is also at a breaking point. The region is already annually the largest recipient of immigrants of any local government in the United States, but the total breakdown in immigration planning and policy over the past decade has now not only increased the number of migrants we absorb, but also the speed at which we must try to absorb them.
It has thus become far more difficult for New York to guarantee the health and safety of new arrivals while providing for existing New Yorkers, nearly 40 percent of whom are themselves immigrants. Now we need billions of additional dollars from the federal and state governments to do both.
But that is where the similarities between cynics such as the governors of Texas and Florida and the people of New York end. In a crisis, New Yorkers don’t ship their problems off to become someone else’s burden. We tackle challenges head-on.
That is why I’m proposing six simple steps about what’s needed to address the migrant crisis:
1. A government official solely focused on overseeing the migrant response and coordinating all relevant agencies and government entities, including the U.S. Border Patrol.
2. A decompression strategy at the border that evaluates asylum claims, establishes a plan for each migrant’s arrival – before entry into the United States – and a system to fairly distribute newcomers regionally.
3. Additional congressionally allocated funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to implement that strategy at the border and in the localities where the migrants end up.
4. Expedited right-to-work status for asylum seekers who are allowed to enter the country.
5. A clear, congressionally passed pathway to residency or citizenship for those who enter this country legally.
6. Leadership that takes an all-hands-on-deck approach by bringing together nonprofits, the faith-based community and the private sector, alongside state and local government, to meet this challenge.
It’s important to note that for over a decade, Democratic leadership has worked to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and last year it was able to allocate $800 million for this crisis. The Biden-Harris administration, in addition to putting forward its own immigration plan, has provided support to cities facing the crisis, and put in place border measures providing some needed relief. But given the growing scope of the problem, more needs to be done.
Taking a straightforward approach is essential to addressing the crisis in a way that members of both parties – and the American people – can support. Doing so could turn the crisis into an opportunity for the United States. By providing a fair start and foundation for migrants who are coming here to work and thrive, we will strengthen our country.
Look at New York. For nearly 400 years, the city has taken in all kinds of people from everywhere, and it has more wealth than any other city in the world. This city of immigrants and their descendants is, to this day, an economic engine that provides far more in tax dollars for the federal government than it receives in spending.
Fixing the migrant crisis is not only the right thing to do, it is smart public policy for the United States. For those of us – especially my fellow Democrats – who believe that a well-run government can solve intractable problems and care adequately for all people, this is a fight we absolutely cannot afford to lose.
The status quo rewards only those who seek to pit people against one another for political gain. And I’m confident that there is a critical mass of Republicans who would support a sensible and fair-minded approach to finally ending a crisis that has been decades in the making. It’s time to restore America as a beacon of hope and prosperity, and a model of government and leadership.
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Eric Adams, a Democrat, is the mayor of New York.