Seeking asylum in Texas, sent to New York to make a political point
By Andy Newman and Raúl Vilchis
The first 3,500 miles of Jose Rodríguez’s journey from Venezuela to here took nearly two months.
The last 2,000 took less than two days, aboard a bus chartered by the state of Texas.
Rodríguez was among about 50 migrants who arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Times Square early Friday amid a raging political battle over immigration.
Since April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has been shipping newly arrived asylum-seekers to immigrant-friendly Democratic cities on the East Coast to try to pressure the Biden administration into cracking down at the border. Abbott’s press office said the bus that arrived in Manhattan on Friday, which left Eagle Pass on Wednesday afternoon, held “the first group of migrants bused to New York City from Texas.”
Abbott and New York Mayor Eric Adams have been sparring about immigrants on social media and in the press for weeks. The bus was dispatched two days after Adams announced emergency measures to enable New York City to quickly add shelter capacity.
Officials in New York have said that about 4,000 asylum-seekers had arrived in the city in the past few months. Most of the buses from Texas — and from Arizona, whose governor has followed Abbott’s lead — have gone to Washington, D.C.
Like Washington, New York is “the ideal destination for these migrants, who can receive the abundance of city services and housing that Mayor Eric Adams has boasted about within the sanctuary city,” Abbott said in a statement Friday. “I hope he follows through on his promise of welcoming all migrants with open arms so that our overrun and overwhelmed border towns can find relief.”
Adams and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser say their cities have been overwhelmed by an influx of asylum-seekers, with homeless-shelter systems at capacity. They have pleaded with the federal government for help finding and creating places for migrants to live.
The population of New York City’s main homeless-shelter system had swelled to just over 50,000 as of Tuesday, up from 46,000 in late May. It was unclear how much of the pressure the system is under could be attributed to asylum-seekers.
The number of people in the city’s family shelters, where almost all of the recent increase has occurred, tends to tick upward in summer, and although there has been a recent surge at the Mexican border, refugees from Latin America find their way to New York in large numbers all year long.
The city’s Department of Homeless Services declined to provide figures for how many of those arriving at shelters recently had come from outside New York or for whether the proportion had changed.
Last month, after the city violated the right-to-shelter law by failing to provide rooms for some people who had come to the family intake shelter in the Bronx, Adams blamed asylum-seekers sent from Texas and Arizona.
Advocates for homeless people say there are many reasons the city shelter system has become overloaded, some partly or wholly within the city’s control. Those factors include a lack of affordable housing, an increase in evictions and longer wait times to move out of shelters and into apartments.
Although some of the migrants who arrived on the chartered bus from Texas on Friday were headed into the shelter system, Rodríguez and a friend who traveled with him, Pablo Gutiérrez, knew someone in New York who was able to give them a place to stay. “We have a friend who is going to come to meet us here,” Gutiérrez said.
Rodríguez, 38, an unemployed bricklayer from Maracaibo, on Venezuela’s northwest coast, said he had left home June 10 with $100 in his pocket.
“I didn’t have money to eat,” he said, his voice breaking, as he waited for his host in midtown later Friday morning. “The situation is very desperate in Venezuela.”
Like other migrants, Rodríguez and Gutiérrez said they had agreed to go to New York because it was free. “We heard there is a lot of work in New York,” said Gutiérrez, 30, who worked as a cook back home.
The Adams administration denounced the bus trip as another stunt by Abbott. Abbott’s “continued use of human beings as political pawns is disgusting,” Fabien Levy, a spokesperson for Adams, wrote on Twitter. The city, Levy added, would continue “to welcome asylum-seekers” but needed federal support to do so.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, which provides aid and services to newly arrives immigrants, said Friday that it had helped more than 1,000 people who appeared to have come to New York in recent weeks directly from the southern border or after a brief detour to Washington. Asylum-seekers crossing the southern border travel on buses from Texas to New York City regularly, although they usually stop first in San Antonio or other Southern cities, rather than coming straight through.
Abbott’s press office did not immediately respond to a question about whether Texas planned to send more buses of migrants to New York.
Either way, the tide of migrants keeps flowing in. On Friday afternoon, an extended family from Venezuela — six adults and four children — arrived at the family intake shelter in the Bronx. They said they had made their way to a shelter in San Antonio, where a religious group bought them tickets to Newark, New Jersey. From there, they traveled to New York because they heard they could find work in the city.
“Even if there were other places,” said Kelvin Ortega, 27, “we always knew we wanted to come here.”