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No, Mr. Mayor Eric Adams, you don’t get a blank check for migrants

Mayor Eric Adams thinks he knows what will fix the migration surge straining Gotham: a blank multibillion-dollar check from Washington.

Sorry, no. A blank check for an uncapped number of migrants would reward New York for its broken hotel-shelter system and broken emergency-contracting system.

After his tour of El Paso Sunday, Adams’ next stop is DC — where he’ll pressure President Joe Biden to fund “the entire cost” of sheltering, feeding, clothing, educating and providing health care for at least tens of thousands of new migrants.

It’s absolutely true Biden created this mess or at least made it much worse, with no process for quickly determining who is a refugee eligible for asylum because of war or individual persecution. Instead, the White House is forcing people to wait five years for cases to be heard. In the meantime, they fall prey to sex traffickers and exploitative black-market employers.

But New York City has created a mess of its own. At the border, Adams mused, “There’s an image that when you come to New York City” that “you’re automatically going to be living in a hotel.”

Gee, how would migrants get that impression? Declaring an “emergency” in August over the number of migrants seeking shelter, then 4,000, Adams avowed the city has a “legal and moral mandate to provide quality shelter” — to everyone.

The city is experiencing around 800 new arrivals a day.
Adams avowed the city has a “legal and moral mandate to provide quality shelter” — to everyone.

In case anyone missed the point, Adams said New York is “deeply committed to providing shelter and support to everyone.”

The city began directing migrants to hotels, including high-profile Times Square locations, a decision that made global headlines. This sent a terrible message. To have a prayer of meeting its purported legal obligation to house tens of thousands of new migrants — an obligation the mayor has said he won’t challenge — the city can’t rely on hotel rooms. It must rely on congregate shelter.

If you think this sounds cruel, what’s your better idea? What’s cruel is unattainable promises. 

This isn’t even “just” a money issue. It is capacity. New York City has only 120,000 hotel rooms. The number of migrants seeking aid from the city is at least 40,000 and, with sometimes more than 800 newcomers a day, likely to hit six figures this year.

New York Mayor Eric Adams meets with El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser at the border of Texas and Mexico.
The number of migrants seeking aid from the city is at least 40,000.
Mayor’s Office

Yet Adams is still luring migrants with the promise of a room. Just last week, New York inked a contract with the Hotel Association for 5,000 hotel rooms for a year, at an initial cost of $237.5 million. 

The new hotel deal is about the most inefficient long-term shelter anyone could devise, at an average cost of $47,500 per room per year, $130 a night. (We don’t know how much the city’s been paying hotels so far; it’s likely far more per night.)

And 5,000 hotel rooms serve only a fraction of our expected number of migrants; multiplying this 10-fold is how Adams gets to his latest multibillion-dollar guesses.

Like an earlier $135 million deal with Texas-based disaster firm SLSCO, it’s also an “emergency” single-bid contract, even though this is hardly a sudden emergency anymore; it’s become a permanent state of affairs.

The mayor and all his underlings are no doubt scrupulous, honest people. Yet awarding these contracts — and others, past, present and future – under “emergency” conditions is a recipe for fraud and corruption, as decades of scandal surrounding homeless hotels has demonstrated.

Finally, in using major hotels as permanent migrant shelter, we’re crowding out tourists, whom we need to pay the bills.

The mayor should stop his last-minute trips and hectoring. Instead, he should lay out: What is the maximum number of asylum seekers New York can humanely host temporarily and for how long? Give us a firm number.

And the mayor should say clearly: Beyond this plan and this number, the city has done its part; the rest is the federal government’s responsibility. Biden, too, needs a plan. 

For New York to take on a burden for hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers for years of uncertainty under a chaotic open-ended process is not humane. It prevents us from helping the city’s long-term needy citizens, including mentally ill homeless men.

Then what is Adams’ plan to build temporary congregate shelter for the firm number of asylum seekers the city can humanely host?

Under an open, competitive bid process with multiple bidders from around the world who have experience in such matters, how much will this project cost — as well as food, medical care and education?

That’s the firm plan — and the bill — to present to Washington. 

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

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