|By Ruth W. Messinger | September 27, 2023
We are at a challenging moment in the ever-unfolding story of our city. But it’s actually a place we have often been before.
The immediate challenge is, of course, the entry into the city during the last year of over 110,000 migrants fleeing oppression and violence in their home countries south of the border, in Africa, and elsewhere.
But a bigger, more consequential, and even existential challenge is: How will we, the people of this city of immigrants, respond? And for the last few months, politically and administratively, we have been doing really badly on that front. Each level of government has blamed another. The plea for State and Federal funding assistance – entirely legitimate – was the sole subject of several mayoral press conferences, meaning that no other options were put forward.
Then it got worse.
At a community “town hall” earlier this month, before the mayor was even asked about the migrants, he responded to a generic question about City services by first summarizing some successes. But then he proclaimed they would be eroded by the immigrant arrivals, an issue that “will destroy New York.”
His effort to backtrack the next day, claiming that he meant that local spending for the immigrants would hurt the basic services budget of the City, did not take the spotlight off his angry and divisive words. In fact, they have been quoted regularly by protesters demonstrating against migrant shelters since he said them.
At the same time, we’ve learned of serious flaws in a $432 million contract the City wrote to a company that promised to help relocate immigrants Upstate despite their having no experience doing this sort of work. The contract’s provisions seemingly did more to enrich the company than to hold it accountable for performance. Then the company’s CEO resigned for “personal reasons” after it came to light that he had lied about his resumé, giving himself a college degree he hadn’t earned. Wisely, the City controller has put a hold on approving the contract.
There has, fortunately, also been some recent good news. Last week, the Federal government, while still not properly responsive to the legitimate plea for funds to support the outlay the City is making, suddenly granted many in the immigrant population who’ve come from Venezuela temporary protected status (TPS). That will enable a significant cohort of our new New Yorkers to get work authorization. It will only come once a great deal of paperwork is completed – but it’s a true victory, nonetheless.
And the outpouring of positive concern from New Yorkers continues to amaze. Consider how The New School’s own excellent InsideSchools project stepped up to help migrant families navigate school enrollment; the continuing success of an entirely volunteer free store, the Little Shop of Kindness, now in a wonderful space donated by the Seventh Day Adventists; and the offer from over 200 houses of worship to house new New Yorkers if City guidelines could be made more flexible.
In addition, there are groups in the City and Upstate – secular and faith-based – that continue to greet busloads of arriving migrants, offer food and transportation, and provide legal and health services out of mosques, churches, synagogues, and storefronts. The entering class of rabbinic scholars at the Jewish Theological Seminary spent their first day filling 300 backpacks with school supplies for migrant students. Some prominent businesspeople who see the labor potential represented here, and are ready to employ people as soon as possible, are asking government to expedite the receipt of working papers. There are more such stories every day.
There is also a covenant, drafted by secular and faith organizations, which lays out all the work they are doing and will continue to do to help this population. It also petitions government at all levels to become more collaborative, transparent, and accountable. This QR code provides access to that document, signed by more than 250 faith leaders.