Since the spring, thousands of migrants have been arriving regularly at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, most of them Venezuelan families escaping the country’s economic collapse.
Many lack ties in the city and have sought housing in the city’s homeless shelter system. But officials have struggled to find enough room. The population in the city’s main shelter system broke a record set in 2019 after it exceeded 62,000 people in early October. Of that number, about 12,700 were migrants.
Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency earlier this month, when the flow of newcomers didn’t show any signs of slowing down. However, following an abrupt shift in the federal administration’s immigration policy, the number of daily arrivals entering the city has fallen significantly, officials said.
As of Oct. 26, 21,700 migrants have arrived in the city since spring, according to the city.
Why are large numbers of migrants coming to New York City now?
About seven million refugees and migrants have left Venezuela, a country of 29 million people, as of September, according to Response for Venezuelans, a joint effort between the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It’s the second largest external displacement crisis in the world, according to U.N.H.C.R.
The vast majority of Venezuelans are staying in other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. But many Venezuelans have been making the long and dangerous trip to the United States with the knowledge that the U.S. government cannot send them home because it does not have a diplomatic relationship with the Venezuelan government, which severed ties with Washington in 2019.
About 100 Venezuelans were apprehended annually at the border between 2015 and 2018. More than 150,000 were apprehended between October 2021 and the end of August.
After crossing the southern border, thousands have made their way to New York with the help of officials in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott has sent thousands in a campaign to provoke outrage and force the federal government to tighten border security. But El Paso, a Democrat-led city, has also sent as many as 7,000 new arrivals to New York at the migrants’ request, officials there have said.
How is the city responding?
The city’s response to the influx of migrants has been fragmented and reactive as the shelter system has become more strained.
New York City is the only big city in the nation that is required by law to give shelter to anyone who asks. But the city failed to immediately offer beds to 60 single men this summer as the shelter population grew by about 20 percent over the course of four months, and Mr. Adams has suggested the city reassess its unique “right to shelter” policy.
“I’m not working,” Ms. Salas said. “I was here asking for help because we don’t have money and it’s been five days since we arrived here. I got a ticket from them for food and medical insurance.”
Mr. Adams has also seriously considered housing migrants on cruise ships. And the city began construction on tent shelters to house about 500 adults on Randalls Island, after the initial location for the tents at the Orchard Beach parking lot, in the Bronx, flooded in the rain.
The winterized tent shelters are not meant to be long-term housing — residents are expected to stay for only four days before they are moved to other shelters.
Some of these options have sparked criticism from elected officials and advocates for homeless people, who say the city should instead reduce red tape so people in shelters can move to permanent housing faster.
What will happen to the migrants next?
Roughly 14,000 migrants are still living in shelters and hotels across the city as of Sunday. About a third of the people who have entered the shelter system don’t want to stay in New York, said Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the mayor.
The city is connecting those individuals with organizations that can help them move to another state, he said.
Migrants who are pursuing asylum can continue their cases from wherever they choose to live, said Hasan Shafiqullah, interim attorney-in-charge of the Immigration Law Unit at the Legal Aid Society.
“If they’ve chosen to stay here, their case will be heard at the federal building in Lower Manhattan,” he said. “But they’re not trapped here. So, let’s say they wanted to move to Illinois or Florida because they have friends or family, they could seek to change the venue of their immigration court case to the Chicago court or the Miami court.”
To apply for asylum in the United States, an applicant needs to physically be in the country, and the application needs to be submitted within one year of arrival.
The city has caseworkers who connect with newly arrived asylum seekers in the first days to help them enroll their children in school and find immigration attorneys, Mr. Levy said.
Depending on which immigration judge applications are assigned to in New York City, cases can take three to four years before a final decision is made, Mr. Shafiqullah said. And cases can be complicated and full of delays.
Can migrants work?
Applicants can apply for temporary employment authorization 150 days after successfully filing their asylum application, but are not eligible to receive a work document until then.
“If they came today, they had all their ducks in a row and they applied today for asylum, then they would be waiting at least six months before they could get their work permit,” Mr. Shafiqullah said. “If everything went like clockwork.”
Julie Lopez, a 35-year-old Venezuelan migrant who has been living with her husband and son in the Skyline Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan for the past three months, said that she was happy her son had been enrolled in school, but added that she was ready to start working.
“I give thanks to God and the president for giving us the opportunity to enter the country safely,” she said, and “to the mayor of New York for giving us shelter and not leaving us on the street.”
How are schools responding to migrant students?
More than 6,000 homeless students, which include migrant children, entered the city public school system between July 2 and mid-October, according to the Department of Education. The students are spread throughout the city, but the highest concentration is in Queens.
School officials say they are working to expand programs for English language learners and to add more Spanish-speaking teachers and social workers, but admitted that the process was challenging. The schools chancellor, David C. Banks, said many of the new pupils had experienced a high “level of trauma” on their journeys to New York City and recounted meeting a young girl who almost drowned while she was crossing the Darién Gap in Panama.
“There are no easy answers here. We are all very clear about that,” Mr. Banks said. “We’re figuring it out as we go and doing the best that we can.”
The city’s public schools have been losing students, and funding, in recent years, and the migrant students may help offset some of those losses, though some schools say they have struggled to respond to the influx.
Parent organizations have responded with clothing and food drives to help the newcomers settle in. The Education Department said it would set up “borough response teams” to coordinate some of these efforts.
Will the flow of migrants continue?
The Biden administration announced earlier this month that up to 24,000 Venezuelans would be accepted into the country through a humanitarian parole program. The program, similar to one established for Ukrainians, would require Venezuelans who apply to have someone in the United States able to support them financially for up to two years.
The plan also allows the government to expel migrants who cross the U.S. border illegally to Mexico through a public health rule.
In the days after the program was implemented, the number of Venezuelans who entered the country through the U.S.-Mexico border plunged, and some migrants are now stranded in Mexico and other countries.
Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Juan B. Garcia, Jasmine Sheena and Téa Kvetenadze contributed reporting.