The BorderLine is a weekly Daily Signal feature examining everything from the unprecedented illegal immigration crisis at the border to immigration’s impact on cities and states throughout the land. We will also shed light on other critical border-related issues like human trafficking, drug smuggling, terrorism, and more.
Faced with a flood of caught-and-released illegal aliens from the southern border, New York City has tied itself in knots over a “right to shelter” that supposedly requires the city to house unlimited numbers of new arrivals. How did housing for everyone in the world become a “right” in New York?
Though Massachusetts actually has a law on the books requiring the state to shelter families with children and pregnant women, New York’s blanket “right” is more of a legal Jenga tower of lawsuits and court settlements.
In 1981, then-Mayor Ed Koch settled a lawsuit by agreeing to provide shelter to homeless men. In 1983, this “right” was extended to women, and later to families with children. The court appointed the Coalition for the Homeless—the organization that sued the city in the first place—to ensure the city complied.
The coalition is still going strong and has been quick on the draw in filing contempt of court proceedings against the city. It sees no distinction between legal New York residents and illegal aliens coming from the border.
As of mid-October, New York had over 64,000 migrants in formal and makeshift shelters—a number that’s growing by the week. Mayor Eric Adams has been creative in reacting to the inexorable flood from President Joe Biden’s open border. After maxing out New York’s existing homeless shelters, Adams rented over a hundred hotels, then created more than a hundred makeshift shelters on city property.
Adams even emulated Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas by busing migrants to other New York counties until upstate localities banned the transfers.
The mayor’s latest efforts smack of desperation. In late September, against fierce local opposition, he arranged with the National Park Service to lease Floyd Bennett Field, an old airstrip where he is building a 2,000-bed camp. Last week, Adams was considering handing tents to illegal aliens to put in city parks and was offering to buy them a one-way plane ticket anywhere out of town.
Adams has done his best to comply with the “right to shelter” but he sees the writing on the wall: As long as Biden keeps the border open, New York will get more than its share of illegal aliens, and the problem is insurmountable.
In a recent trip to Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, and the Darien Gap across Panama and Colombia, Adams said he had talked with the countries’ leaders about how to manage large migrant camps. “What I saw there is telling me that if we don’t take real actions, this is going to just inundate this city,” the mayor said upon his return.
To buy time before the inundation, Adams recently announced that migrant families could only stay in city shelters for 60 days. The implacable Coalition for the Homeless said the time limits would “disrupt access to education, … medical care, and other vital services” for the aliens.
This is curious, since, in theory, they would have to leave anyway when their asylum applications are rejected, as the majority of them likely will be. That would be the case if the Biden administration was following the law and actually deported aliens whose applications were rejected.
Adams has also tried to get the courts to ease the requirements of the consent decree that underlies the right to shelter. He wants permission to suspend it when he or New York’s governor declares an emergency.
The Manhattan Supreme Court just announced that the Adams administration had agreed to mediation with the Coalition for the Homeless on varying the decree, but given the coalition’s track record, it is unlikely to give much wiggle room.
What Adams hasn’t done yet is get the court to rule that the “needy” class covered by the right-to-shelter consent decree excludes aliens whom the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has paroled into the U.S. or released pending their deportation process. That would be nearly all the foreign nationals in New York’s shelters.
More boldly, Adams could challenge the right to shelter itself in court, not just the classes to which it applies. But that could take years, and the Coalition for the Homeless would sue him all the way.
Getting the state Legislature in Albany to pass a law to clarify the shelter requirements would be quicker and more clear-cut, but even though New York City and the state are controlled by Democrats, this would be a major political battle. Leftists on the New York City Council would prefer a universal right to housing, at city or state expense.
Like Massachusetts, another solid Democratic-majority state, New York wants Biden to give work authorizations to the illegal aliens in the state and send plenty of money to spend on services for them. To that end, on Nov. 2, Adams and other Democratic big-city mayors went to the White House hat in hand to ask for $5 billion in federal bailouts.
In his recent “emergency” supplemental budget request to Congress, Biden asked for $14 billion for the border. Given what we’ve seen so far, a few bucks of this will be spent on U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but the bulk of the money would go to providing services to illegal aliens Biden’s DHS has released or paroled into the country.
Because these new arrivals are punted into yearslong asylum case backlogs and behind them are millions more coming, the immigration-industrial complex created since 2021 is putting down roots. Just as New York City has nonprofits that have lived off contracts to help the city’s homeless since the Reagan administration, today, the national nonprofits are soaking up billions in federal aid from Biden’s mass-release-into-welfare at the border.
There is an interesting parallel here between New York and the federal government. Just as Koch threw in the towel in 1981 and signed a consent decree that disastrously binds his successor decades later, the Clinton administration settled the Reno v. Flores case in 1997, making it hard for later presidents to avoid the mass release of illegal aliens from immigration detention. The Trump administration tried to end the Flores settlement but ran out of time.
Both New York and the federal government need to be released from the “dead hand” of previous legal settlements. New York State should legislate an end to the imagined “right to shelter” for the entire world. And Congress should tighten up the asylum process, require cases to be processed outside the country, and stop funding the nonprofits that are funneling millions of indigent aliens into already hard-pressed U.S. cities.
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