NYC Squeezing Migrants Out of Waiting Rooms, Effectively Forcing Them on to the Streets

Yves here. The Biden border policy is an abject disgrace and if Trump wins in 2024, the mishandling of the intended increase in migrants will be a big reason why. In the early 1900s immigration surge, Americans were worried about competition for jobs (the young labor movement was starting to get some clout) and furriners threatening American culture (xenophobia about people who did not speak English well or at all). Business lobbyists, in particular the National Association of Manufacturers, made a big push to increase assimilation and citizenship.

Here, the New York City case shows the lack of anything other than reactive measures, with no Federal assistance or guidance in sight. Moreover, as most Americans know, economic migration is not officially a permitted basis for long-term entry, even though those who have interviewed migrants on the other side of the border say that that is overwhelmingly the motivation. There are also accounts, but I have no idea how cherry-picked they are, that migrants who don’t have family or close contacts already in the US express regret for coming to the US, that the system is hostile and their ability to obtain regular employment iffy.

By Gwynne Hogan. Originally published at THE CITY on Feb. 14, 2024

Dozens of migrants waited in the cold outside the St. Brigid re-ticketing site in the East Village, Nov. 28, 2023. Credit: Gwynne Hogan/THE CITY

The Adams administration intends to close by Feb. 26 the five overnight waiting rooms where hundreds of adult migrants have spent nights on the floor or in chairs while waiting for another 30 days in a city shelter, according to an internal memo obtained by THE CITY.

To do that, a city official told staffers she was “channeling Leslie Knope,” the devout public servant played by Amy Poehler in the sitcom Parks and Recreation, to try to “generate concepts and ideas” in order to deny people seeking shelter a cot.

“I apologies [sic] because this is a lot. Channeling Leslie Knope this AM,” Emily Ashton, the senior advisor of asylum seeker operations at the Office of Emergency Management, which runs the overflow sites, wrote staffers on Saturday, Feb. 10.

“Reflecting on ways to reduce overflow sites….Goal from [City Hall] is to reduce occupancy 100% by 2/26.”

The advisor wrote that she is seeking ideas from staffers on how to “improve placement process to help reduce occupancy,” and says City Hall is “open to implementing shorter term solutions and will work with us on resource needs” for the roughly 3,500 people currently waiting for shelter, about 850 of whom spent the night in an overnight waiting room.  Many others ended up in trains, on the streets or in other informal settings.The policy changes she then lists would give the city broader latitude to deny migrants access to shelters and waiting rooms.

“Self discharge will mean no future placements,” the advisor wrote, meaning if someone leaves their prior shelter cot before their 30 days are up they won’t be able to access city shelters after that, with some exceptions for medical situations.

It’s unclear what policies, if any, had gone into effect since Saturday memo, or if the city still intends to close all the waiting rooms by the last week of February.

The city has already set into action other new policies to restrict access to shelter for those waiting.

One new rule, posted in recent days around the East Village “reticketing” site the city opened in October, which offers migrants who have been evicted from their shelter tickets out of the city before they can apply for a new cot here, that if they turn down that placement they can never seek another one.

“Your rejection of a cot is final,” the sign warns, translated in nine languages.

Sources said that new rule had been implemented because people had been refusing cots in remotely located shelters like a warehouse by JFK airport, instead opting to stay in waiting rooms hoping for a better placement.

Asked about the memo and the proposed policy shifts, Kayla Mamelak, a spokesperson for Mayor Adams cited a dip in the number of migrants in city shelters, from 69,000 people in early January down to 65,600 by mid-February, as evidence the city’s policies were working.

“The overall migrant population currently in our shelter system continues to dip, despite hundreds of new arrivals arriving every week. This is due in large part to our 30-and-60-day policies – coupled with intensified casework – that encourages asylum seekers to take the next step in their journeys,” she said. “As the migrant population in our care decreases, we are also working to better manage use of our waiting rooms.”

‘Pushing People Out’

The OEM memo shines a light on City Hall’s continued behind-the-scenes efforts to pressure adult migrants to leave shelters. Officials have already restricted their time in shelter to 30 days, sending people to the East village reticketing site. As THE CITY previously reported, few people there have accepted tickets to other locations.

Those awaiting a new shelter placement have waited for more than a week in the cold, with limited access to food, showers or even bathrooms. When the reticketing center closes for the night, some of them have gone to the waiting rooms the city now intends to close.

Attorney Joshua Goldfein of the Legal Aid Society, which has been negotiating with city officials on behalf of the Coalition for the Homeless, said he was alarmed by the internal correspondence.

“We want them to reduce the number of people waiting,” said Goldfein, who has been in regular closed-door conversations with city officials and Judge Gerald Lebovits over the city’s decades-old obligation to provide shelter to anyone who seeks it within the day.

“But we don’t want them to do it by pushing people out in the street.”

A source involved in the city’s operations said the latest directives were directly related to the city’s closed-door negotiations over its right-to-shelter obligations.

“They’re just scrambling to make this thousands number go away,” the source said, referring to the roughly 3,500 people waiting for a new shelter bed.

“They’ve said, ‘We need to be able to show the judge that these overflow sites are empty.’”

Adams spokesperson Mamelak declined to comment on that assertion pointing to the ongoing mediation.

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  1. James E Keenan

    Yves, can you comment more on why, in your introduction, you characterize the “increase in migrants” as “intended”? Who intended that, and why?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Biden greatly liberalized immigration policies by executive order. One can contend that might not have been his intent but it clearly was the result. And the failure to attempt to roll it back until there was loud pushback from Democrats in blue cities about the damage to social services says this was an intent, otherwise it would have been revised as soon as they saw the border crossing numbers rising a lot.

      This is from a Dem friendly site:

      The U.S. southern border has witnessed a record of at least 6.3 million migrant encounters at and between ports of entry since Biden took office in January 2021, according to data from the Office of Homeland Security Statistics, resulting in more than 2.4 million migrants allowed into the country. Most of these individuals are in active removal proceedings in immigration court, in which they can claim asylum as a defense against removal. Even some of Biden’s fellow Democrats have begun advocating for more stringent border control, adding a new dimension to immigration politics in a presidential election year when the issue is sure to be a defining one between the two political parties….

      To respond to the record migrant encounters in fiscal year (FY) 2022, which were topped the following year, the Biden administration fundamentally changed its policy on border enforcement. It combined strategies to incentivize arrivals at ports of entry, use stricter enforcement and narrow access to asylum to disincentivize arrivals between official border crossings, and establish new temporary pathways for some nationality groups. One year on, the challenge has persisted; on just one day—December 19—a record 12,000 migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization to enter.

      The complaint from conservative is that these policies that supposedly produce stricter enforcement don’t. While I am not up on the fine points, one charge is that migrants are let in and given court dates, which they often skip. There’s nowhere near enough money to track them down and make them comply. The Rs accuse Biden of engineering a marked increase in immigrants to assure a permanent Democratic majority. The reason I give the conservatives the benefit of the doubt is that even deep blue cities like NYC are now in revolt against the big uptick in migrant arrivals.

      1. Bob

        Cheap labor is the answer to why. Businesses have sought cheap labor for milenia as the preferred strategy to increase their profits. Hence slavery, feudalism, colonialism etc.

  2. Rip Van Winkle

    In Chicago many of the largest high rise office buildings were retrofitted about 10 years ago with the open office concept, including more kitchen areas and private bathrooms. The Aon and Willis buildings have large vacancies which can house migrants in dorm-like settings. Willis building has fine common areas including food courts on lower 3 floors. Northwestern University Hospital system has ample capacity to accommodate the healthcare needs. The old guard Dems going back to The Late Mayor Daley Era who may have raised objections, like Madigan, Lipinski, Vrdolyak and Burke, were all taken out by the New Dems. The last R mayor would be going back to the Alphonse Capone Era.

  3. JonnyJames

    Whether intended or not, the election-year drama is quite convenient for the perpetuation of the illusion of choice. Despite demagogues claiming otherwise, migrants and refugees have no money, can’t vote, and have no power. One of the oldest political tricks is to scapegoat foreigners and the powerless (the Out Group, or Other) in order to mobilize domestic political support from the In Group.

    The “swarms, flood, invasion” of “dirty, diseased, criminal, brown-skinned” people are coming to rape your women and murder everyone, plus they are “poisoning the blood” of this great nation. (Funny how almost all these mass shootings are done by US citizen white dudes).

    This is just plain fearmongering and distraction as well. Blaming immigrants for the corruption and mendacity of the political class and their sycophant-stenographers in our MassMediaCartel benefits the status-quo in many ways. Plus, as noted, endless supply of exploitable, cheap labor is great for profits.

    A rational immigration policy is not the issue – if that was in the interests of oligarchy it would be done.

    If we connect a few dots: immigrants from Hornduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba etc. are coming and we can see the connection of US unilateral “sanctions” (illegal siege warfare) and the forced migration. Plus, Syrians, Libyans, Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis, and Palestinians are also high on the refugee list. It is very likely that US foreign policy is causing the bulk of the crisis. Some try and use climate change as an excuse, but that doesn’t go very far to explain genocide, death squads, occupation and bombing campaigns, and siege warfare to starve the population into submission. The denial of medical supplies and medicine is also a big factor.

    For a political stunt, they should round up these people, ask them for their papers, and lock them up in torturous conditions if they cannot produce papers.
    Or how about forced labor camps?

    Or maybe stop bombing, and laying siege to entire countries, stop pushing debt traps and financial imperialism, and agreeing on a fair and rational immigration and refugee policy. That would be too rational, and we wouldn’t have the quadrennial scapegoats to distract us.

    1. Kurtismayfield

      It is about cheap labor. All of the other bullshit is just that. They can’t have the proles asking for more money, and both sides of the aisle will continue it.

        1. Felix_47

          You said US foreign policy is causing the bulk of the crisis. Having spent some years in Honduras and Guatemala working with the average poor…..I would suggest that the aspect of US foreign policy that is at the root of the problem is the political effort to defund or block reasonable population policy. At least in these two countries it is obvious the population vastly exceeds the carrying capacity of the land and there is no significant support for poor mothers with multiple children to replace the child support the men do not pay……..Just like in the US.

          1. plurabelle

            So the problem is not enough US genocide in Central America?

            Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

            Article II

            In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

            a. Killing members of the group;
            b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
            c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
            d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
            e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”


    2. Sully

      Ten years ago, I was sitting in a room one day at the World Trade Center in NYC with the head of the COMEX/NYMEX board. We were looking out the window together, over the Hudson River at Jersey City. I said, “All the towns across the river in Jersey are birds of a feather. The Mexicans all live in West NY, The Blacks and Puerto Ricans in different parts of Jersey City, along with an older white population. Fort Lee is Korean, Union City is Central American, and so on. It’s uncanny how people find a way to come together with their ethnicity, wherever they are. I’m told either you are working off the books or you are on welfare, for probably 75% of that population.”

      Rob, who was at the pinnacle of power on Wall Street, said in an objective, unemotional tone, , “We could get rid of all the illegals tomorrow if we wanted to. The companies want them here.”

      Cut to NYC today, February 2024.

      Across the street (57th Street west side) from my building is an older hotel that now, suddenly, has 150-200 motor bicycles (not motorcycles but electric delivery bikes) parked outside. A guard watches over them. Walking by one night, I asked him who they belonged to. “The immigrants. They live here in the hotel, they work on the delivery bikes.”

      It is pure oligarchy.

      The big platforms like Amazon and others would fall apart now in a market like NYC where 1.5 million packages are delivered each day.
      They need these workers they want to pay minimally, with no benefits — and these newcomers undermine the earlier Latinos and others who have fought to organize and get some rights as delivery workers. A CONSTANT UNDERMINING OF LABOR is the bigger motive, imo, bigger than forming a future voting block for one party.

      What you see in the lines on the streets and the shelters is the chaff, more than the wheat that is being harvested from this immigrant population. And the chaff is large.

      NYC is dangerous now. I carry a weapon– I feel I would be a fool not to — and I live in a good neighborhood, but it is near a transportation hub with trains coming in from all the boroughs. Midtown. Huge train hub, so thieves et al. can ride in and hit their targets in the streets and jump underground to escape.

      The trains are now housing illegals escaping the cold of the streets. It is a nightmare for NYC — the total lack of any coherent program other than ‘throw the illegals into the city and see who survives.’

      Jonathan Ralston Saul ( ) is a serious, Canadian thinker and writer full of insight — and a joy to listen to. He has discussed the end of globalism (“just one of so many forms of internationalism, short lived”) in his more recent books — and also this critical topic of immigration. Canada, at least up until a few years ago, had an exemplary program for immigrants that included sponsor families, language classes, work programs, and strict rules that led to citizenship. It was, according to Jonathan Saul, a model for the world. (His own family sponsored.)

      America’s contradictions — as the alleged poster child of freedom and people’s rights for the rest of the world — is falling apart as privilege accumulates, and accumulates and accumulates. It usurps policy and markets in an ever expanding loop. The increasing complexity of society here demands new ideas and new skills for order that are not forthcoming in time to satisfy greed — and so many mistakes are made. Governments, on all levels, change opinions now every 6 months.

      Things have become too absurd, too transparent, to non-zombies.

      “The Euro Commission feels it is okay if Greece fails, but not if a bank fails.” — Saul
      This could just as easily apply here.

      We need to stop it. We see now moves by some states to take matters into their own hands, and this is the way it will unfold. We need new ideas and methods that lead to balance. Without going to scorched earth first.

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