New York City

Lawmakers and advocates say state’s plan to address New York City’s migrant crisis won’t cut it

The governor’s support has been labeled as “insufficient,” amid calls for greater advocacy and public statements from the Legislature.

Asylum-seekers speak with support services workers at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook last month.

Asylum-seekers speak with support services workers at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook last month. (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Since late last year, tens of thousands of migrants have traveled to New York City, overwhelming the city’s homeless shelter system and exasperating resources. New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency while pleading with the state and federal governments to give financial and legislative assistance to help the city with the influx of migrants. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul has also been urging the federal government to step in and support the city. At the state level, the governor’s administration launched legal service grants and deployed the national guard to help shelter staff and provide food assistance for asylum-seekers.

As the migrant crisis continued to unfold in the city, eyes were on the governor and lawmakers at the start of the legislative session this year. During the State of the State address, Hochul did not explicitly make mention of the migrant crisis – leaving several lawmakers and advocates reeling – but the accompanying state book outlined the administration’s intent to address the crisis. 

A few weeks later, while unveiling the 2024 fiscal year executive budget proposal, Hochul offered up $1 billion in “extraordinary funding” while calling on the city and federal government respectively to match the funds. The funding would go towards continuing and expanding many of the initiatives already in place, including deploying National Guard troops and providing legal assistance for migrants – as well as providing health care and reimbursing shelter costs. The budget is far from final; negotiations between the governor and lawmakers could result in changes to the proposal. Read more here.

This week, New York City’s Office of Management and Budget prepared a memo – exclusively obtained by Politico – saying the state’s funding does not meet the needs of the thousands of migrants seeking shelter in the city. Hochul has said the state would cover 29% of the emergency shelter cost – a standard funding formula for emergencies – but OMB believes the state isn’t putting up enough money. Next week, Adams will travel to Albany to deliver in-person testimony on the proposed executive budget.

Adams isn’t the only one who thinks the state should be doing more to address the migrant crisis. Immediately following the executive budget proposal presentation, the New York Immigration Coalition issued a statement calling the investments “insufficient”. “Governor Hochul’s executive budget for FY24 makes some strides but does not go far enough to meaningfully support immigrant New Yorkers, at a time of unprecedented need in our state,” NYIC Executive Director Murad Awawdeh wrote. 

In an interview with City & State, Awawdeh said the governor's proposed budget fell short of ensuring ongoing support for migrants through legal services, expanded health coverage and providing support for those facing the possibility of separation from their families. 

Immigration advocates and lawmakers have been garnering support for a slew of legislation to address the needs of immigrant New Yorkers, including the Access to Representation Act, which establishes the legal right to counsel for immigration cases; the New York for All Act, which would prohibit the disclosure of one’s immigration status, and the Coverage for All Act, which aims to provide health care coverage for immigrants.

“We need to think about how we're supporting the asylum seekers and immigrant New Yorkers who make up over a fourth of the state's population,” Awawdeh said. “How can we meet their needs and ensure that the executive budget and state budget are equally investing in keeping families together and healthy?” 

The executive director said the coalition is looking ahead at the state Senate and Assembly’s response to the executive budget and is planning to make sure the one-house budgets address the needs of the immigrant communities.

Eli Valentin, political adviser and adjunct lecturer at Union Theological Seminary, said the governor’s budget proposal was a good first step in addressing the migrant crisis but noted more needed to be done to press the federal government to provide financial resources. Valentin said he was also surprised he wasn’t seeing more advocacy or public statements from state lawmakers pushing for additional state aid to address the migrant crisis. 

“While it may be an issue that is directly confronted by the executive branches, legislators collectively can have a certain bully pulpit and now is the time to exercise that,” Valentin said.

Meanwhile, state legislators may be gearing up for a staunch negotiation on funding for the migrant crisis and immigration. Assembly Member Catalina Cruz confirmed as much in an interview with City & State. “During the budget (negotiations), you're going to see many of us push to put our money where our mouth is, and truly push New York to be that welcoming place,” Cruz said.

The Assembly member representing Corona, Queens said Hochul’s plan was well-rounded but expressed apprehension over what the money would cover. “I’m concerned about the numbers versus reality. The devil is in the details,” Cruz said.

Like Awawdeh, Cruz pointed to the broader immigration issues that have not been addressed in previous sessions referring to them as “gaping holes” that needed to be addressed. “We can chew gum and walk at the same time by supporting the needs of immigrants who are already here and immigrants who are just now coming in,” Cruz said. 

“Whether you came in 20 years ago or 20 days ago, our state should be able to provide, not just the bare minimum, but dignified opportunities and treatment for folks.”