By Arul Louis
New York, Aug 11 (IANS) The tide of illegal immigrants at the US southern border that has roiled the nation’s politics has reached New York City and a Pakistan-owned hotel is its hub earning the cash-strapped country $220 million.
The Roosevelt Hotel that shut down in 2020 during the Covid pandemic and slipping into dereliction was commandeered by the city government to process asylum-seekers streaming in by the tens of thousands from the Republican states on the border with Mexico.
As the city ran out of facilities to house them — and the city’s own homeless people — some migrants have camped outside the Roosevelt behind steel barricades bringing the border squalor to the liberal capital of the media.
But the stark images highlighted the border crisis of 1 million people illegally crossing the border in just the first six months of the year into the southern states 3,500 km away.
The liberal, Democratic-dominated New York prides itself on being a “sanctuary city” that is against deportation of illegal immigrants or cooperation with immigration agencies, and contrasted itself with the attitudes of the Republican-run southern states that were bearing the brunt of the migrant crisis.
And now the city is getting a taste of the crisis.
New York Mayor Eric Adams, a centrist Democrat, declared bluntly, “we have no more room”.
Later, he warned in a CBS News interview that the surge of immigrants would “decimate” the nation’s “economic engine” and cost the city $12 billion over three years.
Of that, $220 million would go to Pakistan as rent for the Roosevelt, according to Bloomberg.
The crisis also puts a focus on a broken immigrant system which ironically disadvantages those trying to come to the US legally compared to those just walking in and claiming asylum.
The millions crossing the border — 2.4 million in the last fiscal year and 1.7 million the previous year — have become a hot political issue to the benefit of the Republicans.
Politically, it has become a liability for Vice President Kamala Harris who, President Joe Biden said, would handle the crisis.
But she has no real powers to act on it and her role appears limited to visiting and working with some of the Latin American countries to create conditions that would help limit the exodus rather than policing the border.
The Democrats’ criticism of former President Donald Trump’s policies to stop illegal immigration inspired the surge of migrants who believed the borders would be open after Biden was elected.
But seeing the magnitude of the problem and the political cost, Biden initially kept the Trump rule based on the Covid Emergency that mandated returning those caught crossing illegally to Mexico as an ostensible health measure to contain the pandemic.
When he tried to scrap it, the courts kept it in place, and when the Emergency ended in May it automatically lapsed.
To contain the politically risky surge, Biden issued new regulations requiring migrants to first apply through an app for asylum before coming to the US and to turn away those who don’t.
However, people do continue to slip in or are smuggled in undetected.
The US laws grant asylum to those fleeing persecution because of political or religious reasons or because they belong to particular social groups, which has been extended to include victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.
But the majority are economic migrants claiming to be persecuted as only 37 per cent of those applying for asylum ultimately are deemed genuine refugees after years-long wait for a decision during which they can get work permits after an initial six-month wait.
If they are denied asylum they can be deported — but many go underground and stay on.
In New York, asylum-seekers may wait up to nine years for a hearing on their application during which they can work.
In contrast to the millions who can apply for asylum — the majority of whom will be rejected — and automatically get work permits, the number of those who can seek work visas for coming to the US legally is capped at 65,000 per year.
That and the current 14-year wait for Green Cards or permanent resident status for Indians in the pipeline — and which can rise to as many as 195 years in future — starkly illustrate the contradictions in the immigration system.
Meanwhile New York, which proclaimed its welcome to migrants, suddenly found itself overwhelmed by nearly 100,000 asylum-seekers in a matter of months.
Some of them were sent by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, whose state is at the forefront of the border crisis, to taunt Democrat-run states, while some were also sent by Democrat-run states like Colorado which couldn’t handle the influx.
But many more came on their own drawn by the lure of free luxury living.
Under the pressure of the crisis, the city’s Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat elected to the office, criticised his party’s federal administration for not doing enough to help New York manage the influx of migrants.
But while speaking to reporters recently outside the Roosevelt Hotel with migrants sprawled on the sidewalk in the background, Williams did not call for better policing of the border or deporting illegal immigrants.
He instead demanded that the federal government grant the asylum-seekers immediate work permits rather than making them wait six months.
He blamed the Republicans for blocking legislation for immigration reforms, although it would not stop the influx of those claiming to be fleeing persecution.
The crisis is exacerbated by a unique court-mandated decree that requires the city to provide housing for anyone who is homeless — whether from the city or is a migrant.
Some of the migrants are housed in the nearly century-old Roosevelt Hotel, a city landmark owned by Pakistan International Airlines, while others are sent to other hotels or venues.
Now the city has run out of hotel rooms and other facilities.
Adams even had leaflets distributed in border areas warning migrants that they would face harsh realities in the city and urging them to go elsewhere.
For a while, the city even sent some of the migrants onward to Canada, which claims to have a liberal asylum policy, till Ottawa complained and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Biden made a deal to close off their borders to asylum seekers from either of their countries.
The city is now setting up tent cities to house the overflow of migrants.