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Speaking at a community meeting last week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams was blunt. “Let me tell you something New Yorkers, never in my life have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to. I don’t see an ending to this,” he said, referring to the influx of asylum-seekers arriving in the city from the southern border.
He warned that every community in the city would be hurt by the crisis, saying, “This issue will destroy New York City.”
Adams is failing New Yorkers on the migrant issue. He is displaying a lack of vision on a complex problem. He is using dangerous rhetoric and abdicating leadership in favor of misleading talking points.
New York has welcomed immigrants and refugees since its founding. The city survived a financial crisis in the 1970s, 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. The city was one of the epicenters of the global COVID-19 pandemic. And now it’s going to collapse because of ... asylum-seekers?
New York Mayor Eric Adams is wrong
Adams has it all wrong. Asylum-seekers will not “destroy” New York, because New Yorkers are generous, strong and resilient. It is the mayor’s failure to put together a coherent response to the migrant issue that is the problem here.
Since spring 2022, New York has seen the arrival of more than 100,000 asylum-seekers, with costs for housing and other services projected to run up to $12 billion over the next several years. Such high numbers and costs demand cooperation among leaders and thoughtful solutions.
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But Adams, a Democrat, has been feuding with fellow Democrats in the White House, which is providing the city and state with $140 million of new funding for this year, and with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat, who is opposed to the mayor’s efforts to move migrants into the suburbs.
The mayor’s framing of the migrant issue is equally troubling. “The city we knew, we’re about to lose,” he said.
Painting asylum-seekers as an existential threat is more befitting of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has flown migrants to Massachusetts as a political stunt, or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who sent a busload of migrants from California to Texas during a huge storm.
Adams' ominous language carries echoes of the "great replacement theory," a racist ideology that perceives America as under siege from nonwhite immigrants. Such talk has been linked to mass shootings and violence in places like El Paso, Texas, and Buffalo, New York.
Asylum-seekers have been vetted and processed
It speaks volumes about the mayor’s lack of executive ability that he is resorting to demonizing vulnerable people seeking humanitarian relief. Remember: The migrants arriving in New York from the border are not lawbreakers. They have been vetted and processed by the federal government and are awaiting their asylum hearings, as is their right under U.S. law.
If anything in New York City is at risk because of the migrant crisis, it is the mayor’s political prospects. If he seeks a second term, there’s no doubt his opponents will use his remarks to cast him as anti-immigrant. That would be a potent political weapon in a city that is home to more than 3 million immigrants, who make up 38% of its population and 45% of its workforce.
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If Adams weren’t playing the blame game, he might try to secure more federal and state cooperation for New York’s migrant crisis, or to coordinate more with nonprofit agencies that serve migrants. He could appeal to the business community and philanthropists for help.
Then again, Adams' stance on migrants has been wildly inconsistent.
In June, he called on residents to house migrants in their homes, and even floated the idea of hosting a migrant family in the mayor's mansion. He has erected temporary tents for migrants and then dismantled them.
In July, the mayor's administration distributed flyers advising migrants not to come to New York.
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These shifting positions seem to have been decided with Adams' interests at heart, not those of New Yorkers and certainly not those of migrants.
Adams’ comments about migrants were insulting, divisive and harmful. It is a sad day when the mayor of New York cannot rise to a great challenge – or live up to the city's tradition of welcoming people from around the world.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney, journalist and television commentator in New York. He is a former co-host of “Changing America” on MSNBC Shift. Follow him on X: @RaulAReyes
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New York mayor's dangerous rhetoric about migrants fails his city