New York City will immediately begin discouraging asylum seekers from seeking refuge here, distributing fliers at the southern border that warn migrants there is “no guarantee” they will receive shelter or services, Mayor Eric Adams announced on Wednesday.
The city’s move is a sharp and somewhat unexpected departure from its long-held status as a sanctuary city, and as a place that guarantees a right to shelter.
“We have no more room in the city,” Mr. Adams said during a news conference at City Hall.
As part of the city’s shift in strategy, it will now require single adult migrants to reapply for shelter after 60 days, a move that the mayor said was designed to make room for families with children. Mr. Adams said the city would intensify efforts to help the migrants connect with family, friends or outside networks in order to find alternative housing arrangements.
If alternative housing arrangements are not available, single adult asylum seekers will have to return to the intake center and reapply for housing. It is unclear what would happen if there is not housing available at the intake centers.
Immigrant and housing advocates questioned whether the changes were legal and would lead to increased street homelessness.
“I have worked with thousands of people over the years whose lives were saved because of the right to shelter,” said Craig Hughes, a social worker with Mobilization for Justice, a nonprofit legal services group. “The idea that there’s some imaginary place that people are going to go off to besides city streets is just false.”
More than 90,000 migrants have arrived in the city since the spring of 2022 and close to 55,000 are still in the city’s care. Combined with the city’s existing homeless population, more than 105,800 people are being sheltered by the city, a record.
The city has opened more than 188 sites to house migrants, including 18 humanitarian relief centers. From July 10-16, 2,800 new migrants arrived, according to Anne Williams-Isom, the deputy mayor for health and human services.
“Our compassion is infinite,” said Dr. Ted Long, senior vice president at NYC Health + Hospitals, the agency that operates much of the emergency housing for migrants. “Our space is not.”
The fliers, however, do not convey much compassion. Available in English and Spanish, they describe New York City’s high cost of housing, food and transportation. An accompanying illustration shows arrows pointing north from the border to South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and three other states — but not New York.
“There is no guarantee we will be able to provide shelter and services to new arrivals,” the flier reads. “Please consider another city as you make your decision about where to settle in the U.S.,” it concludes.
The city, however, remains under a decades-old court order that requires it to provide shelter to anyone who needs a bed.
Brad Lander, the city comptroller, said the announcement undermines the right to shelter and “the defining role of New York as a beacon of promise inscribed at the base of the Statute of Liberty.”
Advocates have called on city officials to make room in the city shelter system by more quickly moving those experiencing homelessness from shelter to permanent housing. Mr. Adams and the City Council recently sparred over legislation that would eliminate a rule requiring a 90-day stay in shelter before becoming eligible for a city housing voucher.
The mayor vetoed a package of legislation and temporarily revoked the 90-day rule. The City Council easily overrode the mayor’s veto last week.
“I think that the real solution here is not continuously doing half measures and short cuts,” said Murad Awawdeh, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “It’s actually doing the work of getting people out of the shelter system and into permanent housing.”
The mayor and city officials continued to criticize the federal government for not providing expedited work authorizations and for not forcing other jurisdictions to help absorb the influx of migrants. The city has estimated that it would spend $4 billion through the next fiscal year to house and feed the asylum seekers.
Mr. Adams said the city has had to shift its strategy as the number of migrants overwhelms the city’s ability to house them.
One strategy has involved sending migrants outside the city, which has sued municipalities that have tried to block those efforts. Mr. Adams also asked a judge to relieve the city of its unique right to shelter obligations.
Hildalyn Colon-Hernandez, deputy director of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, a nonprofit that supports immigrant workers, said she understands the pressure the city is facing, but that the challenge of finding housing would be extraordinarily difficult for new arrivals who are struggling to learn English, find work and obtain basic documents needed to attain housing.
“Even regular New Yorkers that have been here and have jobs have not been able to get affordable housing,” Ms. Colon-Hernandez said. “One hundred percent of the migrants who come here will tell you that their priority is to get a job and get out of shelter.”
Andy Newman contributed reporting.