New York is facing an unimaginable crisis that harks back to the economic downturn of 1975, when the Daily News famously ran the headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
Our city, which has worked tirelessly to recover from the lowest lows we endured during the COVID-19 pandemic, has become the epicenter of the country’s migrant crisis and a symbol of the Biden administration’s failures at the southern border.
More than 93,000 migrants have arrived in New York since spring 2022; many have been sleeping on the sidewalks in front of the makeshift shelter at the former Roosevelt Hotel and wandering neighborhoods in search of a bed or food.
New Yorkers are begging the federal government to step in.
Yet the $135 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency aid the Biden administration promised back in June has yet to arrive and still comes nowhere near the more than $4 billion Mayor Eric Adams estimates it will cost to address the crisis at hand.
It is absurdly inadequate to offer a “coordinator” to administer migrant affairs in New York, as the Biden administration has done.
Just as absurd is the Adams administration’s suggestion to turn one of our city’s principal assets and one of our most important tourist attractions — Central Park — into a giant tent city for migrants.
Nothing could do more to hasten the city’s decline.
It is time to consider new, bold and innovative ways to deal with the unspeakable conditions migrants here are facing.
We are a compassionate city and a sympathetic people, but it is impossible for us, as we continue to recover from the pandemic and inflation, to fully absorb the migrants already here.
We propose a three-part agenda we believe is essential for New York:
First, the mayor, governor and New York’s legislative leaders must come together and literally have their own march on Washington.
It is no longer enough to ask nicely for more federal funds.
All New York’s elected officials, Democrats and Republicans alike, must make it clear to the Biden administration that you cannot ignore our city.
That being said, we recognize these efforts are unlikely to materialize: The presidential election is on the horizon, and President Joe Biden is already perceived as weak on immigration, with his approval rating hovering in the mid-30% range on the issue.
With the potential of another four years of Donald Trump looming large, there is little chance New York’s Democratic leaders are willing to publicly go toe to toe with the incumbent administration.
Another idea may offer some promise: New York’s elected leaders must consider a policy of voluntary repatriation.
Having people living on our streets without adequate services is unacceptable.
If the federal government is unwilling to allocate the funds for their care — let alone address the underlying circumstances of their presence in the country — then we as New Yorkers need to humanely offer the prospect of repatriation to those who have come here in good faith hoping for a better life.
If we cannot give them that better life they seek, we should resettle them in their native country and do everything we can to make the transition as smooth and seamless as possible.
Rest assured, this is not our desired approach. We would very much hope for federal, state and local assistance for a resettlement process in the United States, including housing, basic services and work opportunities.
But given the city’s stressed budget, the state of our economy and an overtaxed citizenry, we must consider this idea as we face an unparalleled crisis, both at the southern border and in our city.
Finally, and to raise the stakes for the first two proposals, it is not a ridiculous suggestion to send a select number of willing migrants back to locales in the southern United States, such as Palm Beach, Tallahassee or Austin.
But let us be very clear: Our goal here is to make sure the migrants who have come to New York are treated as humanly as possible and provided with the support they need to succeed.
If the city, state and federal governments come up with the $4 billion, we would be the first to support an integrative program providing affordable housing, support services, nutritional guidance and job training for those who have come here in search of a better life.
Unfortunately, that’s likely a practical impossibility at this point.
Our hope with these proposals is to focus attention on the local crisis that threatens to overwhelm our city, as well as the humanitarian crisis that migrants face — and most of all, make the case to the rest of the country that New Yorkers won’t stand for politicians who forgo their responsibility to be humane, compassionate and responsible.
Douglas Schoen was a senior adviser to Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign, a White House adviser (1994-2000) and an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2000 US Senate campaign. Andrew Stein, a Democrat, served as New York City Council president, 1986-94.
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