Sep 11, 2023

The migrant crisis in New York City.

The migrant crisis in New York City.
Photo by Greg Bulla / Unsplash

Plus, a reader question about Democrats' abortion position.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 14 minutes.

We're breaking down the migrant crisis in major American cities and what could be done. Plus, a reader asks about Democrats' position on abortion.

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On protesting.

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  • "Such an excellent perspective on the importance of a strategic approach to civil disobedience."
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Quick hits.

  1. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that top White House and CDC officials violated the First Amendment when coordinating with social media companies to limit the spread of misinformation online. (The ruling)
  2. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will seek another term in Congress. (The decision)
  3. Former President Trump adviser Peter Navarro was found guilty on contempt of Congress charges after ignoring subpoenas from the January 6 committee. Separately, a judge denied Mark Meadows’ request to move his criminal election interference case from state to federal court. (The conviction)
  4. At least 2,497 people were killed and 2,476 injured by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Morocco on Friday night. (The tragedy)
  5. States near ones that banned abortion after Roe v. Wade fell saw sharp increases in the number of abortions performed, while the number of total abortions across the U.S. has fallen. (The numbers)

Today's topic.

The migrant crisis. On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) claimed that an influx of an estimated 110,000 asylum seekers from the southern border was going to “destroy” the Big Apple, saying he did not see a pathway toward fixing the issue. Adams’ comments come as New York continues to try to absorb an influx of migrants who are coming to the city and are now being housed in various shelters, hotels, office buildings, and parks across the five boroughs. Because New York is the only major city in the country with a “right to shelter” law, the cost of sheltering anyone who needs it rises with every new entrant.

Adams pointed to new projections that the city's budget gap could grow to $12 billion, which is the same amount that sheltering migrants is estimated to cost the city over three years. 60,000 migrants are currently occupying beds in traditional city shelters and in over 200 emergency sites. Roughly 20,000 migrant children are expected to attend schools in the city as well.

“Let me tell you something New Yorkers, never in my life have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to — I don’t see an ending to this,” Adams said at a gathering in Manhattan. "This issue will destroy New York City."

While Republicans in New York and nationally have applauded Adams for calling out what they say are Biden's failed immigration policies, immigrant advocacy groups and Democrats have criticized Adams’ comments. The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless said his comments "villainize people who fled unimaginable situations in their home countries," and that he sounded like "fringe politicians on the far-right of the political spectrum," according to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, the issue is not specific to New York City. An influx of migrants is causing tensions between the Biden administration and local Democrats in cities like Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Philadelphia as well. In Chicago, for instance, an estimated 2,000 migrants are sleeping in police stations and on airport floors, prompting calls to convert more buildings into shelters. Some residents are responding to these calls by wondering why millions are being spent on new arrivals after decades of disinvestment from their own neighborhoods.

The issues were sparked, in part, by Republican governors, primarily in Texas and Florida, who bussed migrants to other destinations once they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Those governors and other politicians in their states said they wanted to show Democratic city and state leaders what it was like trying to navigate the influx of new arrivals. Local officials in destination cities say that created a snowball effect, with more migrants following those who were placed on the state-backed buses to major cities.

Because many migrants are coming to the cities to work, and the work permit process is slow in many places, migrants are often languishing in shelters or living homeless until they can find a job. Federal law requires asylum seekers to wait at least 180 days before receiving a permit, a law only Congress can change, though permitting processes for non-asylum seekers can vary from city to city.

Now, the Biden administration is considering a new policy that would force some migrant families who enter the U.S. without authorization to remain near the border in Texas while waiting for asylum screening. The plan is likely to receive backlash from both immigrant rights groups, who would oppose it on the grounds it would increase deportations and effectively amount to prolonged detention, as well as politicians in border states, who do not want the burden to remain localized.

Today, we're going to break down the story with some views from the left and right, then my take.


There appears to be a consensus that what is happening in New York and other "blue cities" is a worsening crisis. Both sides, for different reasons, have also been critical of New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), Mayor Eric Adams, and President Joe Biden for their handling of the issue.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left are critical of Adams’ comments, but also the Republican governors who bus migrants to the city and the lack of federal leadership to solve the issue.
  • Some say New York’s pre-existing housing crisis is making this issue even more difficult to solve and Adams’ comments create anger toward migrants.
  • Others point to current immigration policies and call on Biden and Congress to step in and help.

In The Atlantic, Annie Lowrey said "New York is full" and "it's the housing market's fault."

“Republicans have bashed the mayor for wasting resources better spent on long-standing New Yorkers. Democrats have attacked him for allowing a human catastrophe to develop and trying to shift blame to the state and federal government. Yet Adams is in some profound sense correct. New York is full. It is too full for young families, new businesses, artists, and retirees. It has been too full for years, if not decades," Lowrey said. "It desperately, immediately needs to make more space for asylum seekers—and for everyone who already lives here."

The problem is exacerbated by poor case management. "Some people need driver’s licenses. Some need work permits. Some need a ticket elsewhere in the country," Lowrey said. "The state could also do more: barring bedroom communities and towns upstate from refusing new arrivals, for instance. And of course, the federal government—which has an exclusive purview over immigration policy, a multitrillion-dollar budget, and an entire cabinet department devoted to the borders, immigration, and customs—could step in with money, guidance, and administrative capacity. Yet the problem is New York’s. And behind this acute crisis is the longer-standing one of an insufficient housing supply."

In The New York Times, Mara Gay said Adams was turning his back on immigrants and New York's legacy.

"Since last year, tens of thousands of asylum seekers have arrived in New York City from the southern border and around the world, seeking a better life in a place that has welcomed generations of immigrants since its founding. What many of those migrants have found instead is a tepid welcome amid a housing crisis that has left the city barely equipped to offer them more than a meal in the hotels used to house a booming homeless population. They are lucky if they get a bed.”

And while "immigrants strengthen the U.S. economy and are a vital part of the fabric of the democracy, local governments can’t simply absorb tens of thousands of people without help — especially for housing — and their taxpayers, in New York and elsewhere, shouldn’t be expected to foot the bill," Gay said. "Still, there is something particularly disappointing about New York City’s official response to the asylum seekers, unfolding under the gaze of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor. Nearly four in 10 city residents were born outside the United States... That rich legacy doesn’t seem to be on Mr. Adams’s mind."

Also in The New York Times, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote about what is broken in the country’s asylum system.

"For starters, current federal law prevents asylum seekers who have already been admitted into the United States from immediately working. The process of receiving a work authorization can take a year or longer. In the meantime, how are asylum seekers expected to pay rent and feed themselves and their families? This amounts to state-enforced poverty and vagrancy — against people who have shown extraordinary fortitude and grit in journeying here, often at great risk, for the opportunity to work and build a better life," Bloomberg said.

In a 1981 legal settlement, New York City agreed to provide shelter to all homeless residents seeking it. "That agreement was never intended to be a blanket guarantee of housing for an unprecedented flow of refugees, but that is what it has become," Bloomberg said. "Meanwhile, the federal government is failing to provide the resources necessary to hear asylum cases in anything approaching an expeditious fashion. It can take six or seven years for an applicant’s case to be resolved... Think about it: We have a system that essentially allows an unlimited number of people to cross our borders, forbids them from working, offers them free housing, and grants them seven years of residency before ruling on whether they can legally stay. It would be hard to devise a more backward and self-defeating system."

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right applaud Adams’ comments, but say he lacks the leadership to do anything to solve the issue.
  • Many also call on the Biden administration to change its immigration policies and stop the influx of migrants at the border.
  • Some criticize Democrats for taking so long to realize this is a genuine issue.

In The New York Post, Michael Goodwin said Adams is "late to the party" with his epiphany about the ongoing migrant problem.

“Why the mayor hesitated to sound the big alarm until 110,000 arrived here, with 60,000 living at taxpayer expense, is beyond comprehension," Goodwin said. "Part of the answer is that Adams is notoriously inconsistent and has been on both sides of the migrant fence. He was initially boastful about welcoming them to his sanctuary city and helped arrange transportation for some with the Democratic mayor of El Paso, Texas, even as he denounced the Republican governor of Texas as a racist for sending bus caravans to New York.”

“In addition to the exorbitant cost of taking over entire hotels and outfitting other large buildings, there is food, health care, transportation, education — all of which leads to his estimate that the tab will hit an astonishing $12 billion over three years. On Saturday, the mayor announced cuts to other agencies, saying they must trim their spending by 5% to offset the ballooning migrant costs," Goodwin said. Worse yet, neither Hochul nor Adams are demanding Biden secure the border. Instead, they "united around the terrible idea of demanding rapid work permits for the migrants, and pledge to help them find permanent housing. Both initiatives, if they were to succeed, would make New York even more of an attractive destination for illegal crossers."

In The Federalist, John Daniel Davidson said mass illegal immigration is destructive.

Adams is right. "Unregulated mass illegal immigration is inherently destructive. It destroys not just cities but entire nations. The Biden administration’s willful, ongoing abdication of its duty to secure the southern border has allowed record-breaking numbers of illegal immigrants into the country, month after month, year over year," Davidson wrote. "The kind of mass illegal immigration Biden’s policies have unleashed will destroy not just New York City, but every major city in America. They will eventually destroy America itself for the simple reason that a country that cannot maintain its borders ceases to be a sovereign country."

110,000 migrants in New York City "sounds pretty bad — and it is. But consider that from last March to July of this year (the last month for which data has been published) more than 3.5 million illegal immigrants were arrested at the southern border. Most months, the arrest total has been well over 200,000 — between 6,000 and 7,000 thousand arrests every single day. Most of these arrests occur in small cities and towns that have nowhere near the ability of New York to house and monitor these new arrivals. But often they’re stuck with the impossible task because there’s no way federal border authorities can detain or even process that many illegal immigrants."

In National Review, Charles C.W. Cooke criticized Adams for calling Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a "madman" for bussing migrants to New York.

"Why should illegal immigrants be in Texas and not New York? New York City is a self-designated 'sanctuary'; Texas is not. What did New Yorkers think that meant? Why are they surprised that a non-sanctuary jurisdiction such as Texas would 'bus' illegal immigrants 'up' to a sanctuary jurisdiction such as their own?" Cooke said. "Was their willingness to serve as a 'sanctuary' only operative when they believed that nobody would show up?

"Specifically, Adams complains about the cost of dealing with illegal immigration, and the effect on the city’s resources that the illegal immigrants are having. Is it more 'mad' for these costs to be borne by New York City than by Texas? If so, why?" he asked. "And why did nobody care when these costs were being paid by tiny Texas border towns instead of the world’s greatest metropolis? Last year, Adams refused to reject a bill that gave illegal immigrants in New York City the right to vote. What message did he think that sent? New York advertised itself as a haven, and others believed it. Should they not have?"

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • Eric Adams is stating the obvious, which is that things cannot continue as they are.
  • I've been calling the situation on the border a crisis for a couple years now, and we are seeing it begin to impact major American cities.
  • Congress, Biden, and other leaders need to come together immediately to solve this issue before it spins further out of control.

I'm just waiting for someone to take the lead here.

I respect Eric Adams for stating the obvious, which is that things can't go on as they are. Anyone spending all their breath criticizing his comments as fear-mongering is missing the forest for the trees — it is supposed to be a warning, and one that evokes fear and urgency. Not toward migrants, but toward ineffective government policy. The problem he is articulating is very real. Our current immigration system is and has been in crisis, as I've said repeatedly over the last couple of years, and if nothing changes it will spin further out of control than it already has.

But Adams talks as if he is some bystander — he's the mayor of New York City. He was elected to solve problems like this, and instead of simply warning that this is going to destroy New York, he should articulate a coherent plan on what the city needs to solve it and what his contingency plans are.

Let me make a few things clear: I don't blame the migrants arriving in New York City. The vast, vast majority of them are running from something awful and toward something better. They're going to New York and other major cities because they want safety, housing, and work. They believe in America’s promise of opportunity, and if they made it from, say, Nicaragua to New York City, they clearly have tremendous grit and perseverance. 

Those cities have signaled they will welcome and support them, and now that promise is being put to the test. I believe cities like New York are doing their best, and in some ways the story is already remarkable. Housing 60,000 new residents at once and welcoming 20,000 children to the public school system is no small thing. Stories of New Yorkers volunteering and opening their homes to these migrants abound, showing that there is some old-fashioned American beauty here too, not just chaos and crisis.

But I do blame Congress, Biden, and Adams (in that order), as well as the successive decades of presidents and politicians who have refused to come together to fix this issue. George W. Bush didn't fix it, Barack Obama didn't fix it, and Donald Trump didn't fix it, either. As Michael Bloomberg said (under "What the left is saying"), our current system seems almost purpose-built to create this crisis. We let asylum seekers and migrants cross the border into a processing system that can't handle them. Then we allow them to enter the U.S. into cities and towns that can't house them. Then we tell them they can't work, can't pay taxes, can't live life out from the shadows.

When Republicans like Texas Governor Greg Abbott started bussing migrants to Democrat-led cities without an accurate idea about what they would find on the other end, I had a mixed reaction: On the one hand, I wouldn’t mind a coordinated policy of bussing migrants around the U.S. As I said then, border states and cities shouldn't bear the burden of federal immigration policies alone, and the Biden administration was already bussing migrants north. What I did mind was that Abbott’s actions weren’t part of an organized policy, but ad-hoc tactics using innocent humans as political chess pieces. Especially when reports emerged that many migrants were misled about where they were going or what they would find on the other end of their trips.

The bussing of migrants was “good politics” at the time, even if it was cruel and cold-hearted in certain situations. It's brilliant politics now. Republicans have forced Democrats into infighting and increased awareness about the issue, all while showing voters why the current system isn't working. Border towns have been dealing with this issue for years without much attention from Americans living further north.

Again: New York started to squirm when roughly 10,000 migrants showed up to a city of nine million people over the course of an entire summer. Yet last year, Eagle Pass, Texas, a town of 29,000 people, was seeing 2,000 migrants cross the border every single day. That crisis has not been resolved, despite some brief moments of respite earlier this summer. It isn't xenophobic or anti-immigration to point out that no town, city, state, or country is capable of absorbing millions of new residents in a matter of months — especially when those residents have very little money, can't legally work, and face all sorts of other challenges.

Now what? It's difficult to say. Bloomberg's suggestion that New York make it easier for migrants to work is sensible, but Goodwin (under "What the right is saying") is also right that such a policy runs the risk of being a strong incentive for more migrants to come. I think everything starts with slowing immigration at the border. Then we have to increase our ability to process these migrants with more judges and lawyers. Finally, we then have to do everything we can to compassionately house and feed new arrivals.

If we can put some to work, all the better. But the simple reality is that it's extremely difficult — if not impossible — to manage the numbers of migrants we're getting right now. Fortunately, that realization seems to be hitting home. And it’s no longer just Republicans along the border sounding the alarm. It’s going to take a concerted federal, state, and city effort to fix this, and perhaps this crisis will be enough to finally move the ball.

Your questions, answered.

Q: Is there any meaningful restriction on abortion (please don’t use ‘health of the mother’ rhetoric — health being a huge loophole) that is acceptable to the Democratic party? Why can’t the Democrat leaders admit they will never vote for any restrictions on abortion—including those related to viability, sex-selection, or anything else…up to the moment of birth?

— Patricia from St. Paul, Minnesota 

Tangle: First, I want to acknowledge there is some truth to your point here. Democrats aren’t drafting any legislation limiting abortion in any way. As we’ve covered in Tangle before, most of the country supports access to abortion within the first 15-20 weeks of pregnancy, then exceptions for instances of rape, incest, or when the health of the mother is at risk.

For that reason, Republicans aren’t wrong to paint Democrats as out-of-step with the majority of Americans for not wanting to legislate for some prohibitions on abortion. For their part, Democrats would probably describe that position as being more about women’s choice and keeping legislation out of a difficult personal decision. This position was perhaps best articulated by Pete Buttigieg in 2020, when he said that late-term abortions are almost “by definition” pregnancies that were expected to go to term, when some change forced a heartbreaking decision.

The numbers from this piece in The Dispatch bear out that these abortions are “relatively rare,” but abortions after 21 weeks still account for 5,500 or so per year. And no, we don’t have good recent data on why women choose these abortions, but we have some from not too long ago. And a lot of the time the reasons for those decisions aren’t ones we really feel comfortable with — nor should we.

Since I am generally "pro-choice" on abortion, a few years ago I sought out and published a well written opinion from Sophie Trist, a pro-life activist, who stated the following: “While writing an op-ed piece for the school newspaper, I discovered that up to 2011, the last year for which there is reliable data, a horrifying sixty-seven percent of babies who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome are aborted in the U.S. In Iceland and Denmark, that number rises to ninety-five percent. As a disabled woman, the prevalence and acceptance of disability-selective abortion both hurts and horrifies me."

So, yes, by not proposing any of their own abortion restrictions, Democrats are open to criticism in this area. All that said — are there any restrictions Democrats would support? Yes. I think restrictions after 21 weeks with the usual exceptions listed above would be acceptable to Democrats. And while you see ‘the health of the mother’ as a "huge loophole," I think many women see it as a huge source of protection for their own lives in the case of the unthinkable and tragic. 

And I think Democrats would cede to that position. Why won’t they "admit" it? Not to be a broken record, but in our current climate, I think each party polarizes the other towards the opposite extreme. Republicans feel pressure to propose stricter prohibitions on abortion, and Democrats feel equal pressure not to propose any restrictions at all — despite the fact that there does seem to be a great deal of middle ground where the parties could feasibly come together.

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New video.

I let loose some of my feelings about the current state of Congress – and a few politicians that should probably walk away.

Under the radar.

The Internal Revenue Service is going to use artificial intelligence to crack down on wealthy tax violators, it recently said. The IRS plans to leverage AI for open investigations into 75 of the largest business partnerships in the U.S., each with more than $10 billion of assets on average. The IRS says roughly 1,600 taxpayers have incomes above $1 million and tax debts of more than $250,000, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars in owed taxes. Axios has the story


  • 110,000. The number of asylum seekers who have arrived in New York City since April of 2022. 
  • 59,700. The number of migrants staying in homeless shelters in New York City as of September 2023.
  • $220 million. The amount New York City agreed to pay to turn the Roosevelt Hotel in  Manhattan into the city’s central migrant intake center.
  • $339. The average per diem cost of one night in a hotel for migrant families under New York City’s contracts with emergency hotels.
  • $4 billion. The estimated cost of New York City’s effort to scale up shelter and services for asylum seekers across fiscal years 2023 and 2024.
  • 70%. The approximate percentage of migrant families who are placed in shelters upon arriving in New York City, according to the city’s Health + Hospitals agency.
  • 50%. The approximate percentage of single adult migrants who are placed in shelters upon arriving in New York City.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we didn't have a newsletter, but we'd just published a piece on the myth of the left and right.
  • The most clicked link in Thursday's newsletter was once again the airplane pooper.
  • Go all in: 657 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking how the United States should alter its support for Ukraine, with 51% saying we should escalate our support and pursue a faster and more decisive victory. 11% said we should somewhat escalate our support, 6% said we should maintain our level of support, 11% said we should decrease our support and pursue negotiations, and 4% said we should immediately cease our support. 8% responded that we should do something else, with one respondent saying "Kick the EU off the couch and make them take the lead."
  • Nothing to do with politics: Florida man, foiled again — this time from trying to cross the ocean in a hamster wheel.
  • Take the poll. What do you think is the most important thing we can do to resolve the migrant crisis? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. For today's "Have a nice day" story, I'd like to point you in the direction of this piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer— from 2017 — about two dear friends of mine, both of whom lost parents in the attack, and then fell in love and married each other. I had the privilege of being at the wedding, one of the most beautiful ceremonies I've ever attended, and I couldn't think of a better story to share on a day like today. I'm sending prayers and good vibes to all the families and friends who are mourning and remembering today.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.