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Mayor Eric Adams eases NYC's obligation to house asylum seekers, as Title 42 set to expire

New York City preparing for possible influx of asylum seekers
New York City preparing for possible influx of asylum seekers 02:51

NEW YORK -- New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed an executive order Wednesday easing the city's right-to-shelter rules. 

The order essentially lifts the city's obligation to immediately find private rooms for asylum seekers, allowing the city to place families with children in what's called congregate shelters. It means they can be put in barracks-like settings without their own bathrooms, refrigerators and kitchen.

"My son went to college in a dorm. He didn't have his own kitchen and bathroom, and he still did a great job, you know, so, to... That's just not realistic when you get 4,200 people in your city that you're going to find a place with a kitchen and a bathroom," Adams said.

The mayor on Thursday defended his decision to sign the executive order allowing officials to bypass the city's decades-old right-to-shelter law. He says 4,200 asylum seekers have been arriving here every week, and officials expect that to increase exponentially with the expiration of Title 42, which limits immigration, creating a humanitarian crisis.

Adams says the city has cared for more than 61,000 asylum seekers over the last year and is running out of options.  

The city now anticipates upwards of 800 new asylum seekers to arrive each day. As a result, it's searching high and low for temporary housing -- and calling for more federal and state funding.

The commissioner of Immigrant Affairs says without the help of areas outside the city, asylum seekers won't have anywhere else to go.

"Without emergency shelter space provided outside the city, asylum seekers that show up to New York City today, tomorrow and in the coming days and weeks might end up in the street, and that is not something we want to see," Commissioner Manuel Castro said.

He added, "The actions that we're taking now with this executive order has nothing to do with us not wanting to help people."

Watch Zinnia Maldonado's report

NYC eases obligation to house asylum seekers 03:05

The mayor, who shows his compassion by helping feed people experiencing homelessness weekly, said it wasn't easy to sign the executive order.

"This was a difficult decision for me because I'm not removed from this problem," Adams said.

A spokesperson for the mayor said in part, "With over 130 emergency sites and eight humanitarian relief centers already opened, we have reached our limit... In an effort to mitigate those risks and find room within our shelter system, the city has temporarily suspended the policy surrounding timing for placements in shelters."

It subjected him to limited praise.

"The mayor has finally realized that there is a limited and finite amount of money that can go to this solution, and we are hampered by our right to shelter laws and our constitutional requirements to house people," said Council Minority Leader Joseph Borelli. "I don't believe that our right to shelter or the Callahan Consent Decree has ever been intended to include noncitizens."

Meanwhile, activists rallied Thursday at City Hall against the mayor's decision.

Comptroller Brad Lander says the mayor jumped the gun because the city has no way of knowing if there will be an increase in asylum seekers coming here.

"I don't think that there was a need or is a need to roll back the critical shelter safety protections of the right-to-shelter ... There is critical work to do to find more spaces, and I give him credit for doing that, but I believe we can meet our obligations through the rules as they are," he said.

There's political fallout from the mayor's actions.

Adams' demand for federal aid has apparently caused President Joe Biden to drop him from a national advisory board for his re-election campaign. The mayor insists he's doing the right thing for the city, but it won't stop him from supporting the president's re-election.

The city has already filled more than 100 shelters with asylum seekers. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order this week that will speed up the release of more than $1 billion in finding and allow the state to bring in an additional 500 National Guard members to help at shelters.

"I am working very closely with the mayor to identify more sites where we can welcome these individuals," she said. "They're human beings, they deserve to be treated with dignity. But also we're going to have a capacity issue, so we're going to be needing to look at other places as well."

The mayor's office says the suspension is temporary, but there's no word on what it will be lifted. 

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