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Hochul walks line between NYC Mayor Adams and Biden in migrant crisis

A woman in a tan coat and a man in a blue jacket sit next to each other with a crowd of people and a large Love NYC sign behind them.
Darren McGee
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Hochul and NYC Mayor Eric Adams at an event in New York City, March 19, 2023.

As New York’s migrant crisis intensifies, Gov. Kathy Hochul is caught in the middle of a political dispute between New York City Mayor Eric Adams and President Joe Biden over how to deal with the influx of an estimated 80,000 asylum-seekers to New York City.

Adams has drawn the ire of the Biden administration over his criticism of how the federal government has handled the migrant crisis. New York City has been overwhelmed with as many as 5,800 asylum-seekers coming each week, bused from states including Texas and Florida.

Adams has proposed transferring some migrants to upstate hotels, or housing them in school gymnasiums, but those ideas have been met with opposition and controversy.

In late April, a frustrated Adams lashed out, saying the national government has “turned its back.”

“Instead of standing on the steps of City Hall, we should be standing on the steps of the White House,” Adams said on April 19th. “And asking the national government, what are you doing to the City of New York?”

Adams’ comments resulted in him being dropped by the Biden campaign advisory board. Adams, the highest-profile African American mayor in the country, could have been a key surrogate to help Biden win over more voters in the presidential race.

Adams later said on MSNBC on May 21st that his critique is not about politics, and that he would do “everything possible” to see Biden re-elected.

Hochul is a close ally of Biden. And she is one of just two Democrats in New York who IS on the president’s re-election advisory board.

Nevertheless, Hochul presented a unified front with Adams, along with several New York members of Congress, to ask Biden and Congress for more help- and to praise Adams’ efforts so far.

“Mayor, I want to thank you again, on behalf of the people of this state, for the way you just stood up to this challenge, didn't run away, didn't shirk it and said, ‘Let's figure this out,’” Hochul said. “And that is the kind of leadership that is so critically important.”

Hochul, Adams, and some members of Congress, including Jerry Nadler and Dan Goldman, are asking for the Biden administration to waive the six-month waiting period that migrants must follow before they are allowed to work. They say there are plenty of jobs available in New York for them to fill.

Hochul was careful not to disparage the president, saying she hoped that he and his aides would listen to their request. And she says she’s pleased with the new border admissions process that replaced the pandemic-era regulations known as Title 42. Asylum-seekers are now required to first apply for relief and seek sponsorship while they are in their own countries before they can cross the border into the United States.

“We’re grateful that the Biden administration has instituted a new border process,” Hochul said.

There’s some dispute over whether the president could issue an executive order to waive the 180-day waiting period for the migrants, or whether it requires an act of Congress.

Biden is a Democrat, and the U.S. Senate is narrowly controlled by Democrats, but Republicans lead the House.

The highest-ranking Republican in New York state government, Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, says he disagrees with waiving the 180-day waiting period for employment. He says the rule is in place to ensure public safety.

“The reason it takes so long now is because there’s a security and a vetting process that has to happen,” Ortt said. “You have people who have shown up, that we don’t know what their background is, we don’t know where they’re from, we don’t know their history.”

The governor, mayor, and New York’s congressional representatives don’t seem to be making any headway so far on the issue. The governor, speaking Monday, said Biden hasn’t said yes to her request, but he also has not rejected the idea.

“We’re working with the White House,” she said. “We’ve not received a flat ‘no.’”

In the meantime, the recently approved state budget includes $1 billion to help New York City take care of the migrants. And the governor says she’s eyeing state properties, including unused former prisons and psychiatric centers, as well as temporarily vacant SUNY dorms to house the migrants, whose numbers are expected to grow in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for Hochul, Avi Small, said in a statement that multiple sites are under consideration, including sites at city and state public colleges , but that “no final decisions have been made.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.