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New York Mayor Eric Adams is blowing his chance to be truly welcoming to migrants

Democrats' muddied message and lack of action isn't winning them many fans.
Image: Eric Adams
Eric Adams, mayor of New York, outside the Manhattan Civil Courthouse on Jan. 13.Stephanie Keith / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Blaming migrants for America’s problems is a political tradition that Republicans have excelled at for years, but statements from New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, serve as the latest reminder that casting aspersions on migrants is too often a bipartisan affair. Adams, whose calls for more federal funding to shelter migrants being bused to the city by the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona turned what should have been criticism of their political stunt into a blame game on the migrants he wants to support.

Casting aspersions on migrants is too often a bipartisan affair.

A July 25 New York Times story noted that Adams “called for federal assistance to help with what he said was a flood of 2,800 asylum seekers who were making it difficult for New York City to fulfill its legal obligation to provide housing to those in need, known as the right to shelter.”

It was clear to anyone who understands how migrants continue to get dehumanized that Adams' July news conference calling for federal help is yet another example of a Democratic politician who ostensibly says the right things but lacks the political will to take the matter into his own hands.

“We are all in this together to deal with this influx of innocent people who are seeking asylum or fleeing wars, who are fleeing crises in their own country,” Adams said. “New York is one of the few states where you have right to shelter.”

Those words should be commended. So, too, should Adams’ statement that “People want to come to New York because this is the most diverse city in our country, for the most part. So if you're coming from a particular place in Africa, there is a population here to assist you. If you're coming from Central America, if you're coming from Asia, there are places here.”

However, that humane narrative at times turns into blaming migrants.

“You know, Pampers cost money,” Adams said at the same news conference. “We're going to need food. Right now, we're using our emergency funds, but we also got to deal with some medical issues. There are some real medical issues that we need, and then education. ... These young people are going to have to find housing and education. We got to place them in schools. Translation services. And so, we are working out the numbers and we're going to sit down with FEMA and state that we need help to stabilize what we're doing,”

In other words, migrants are a burden. Whether it’s a Republican standing at the Mexican border or a Democrat speaking on a street in New York, the message is similar.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are engaging in exploitative grandstanding by placing vulnerable migrants on buses.

Govs. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Greg Abbott of Texas are engaging in exploitative grandstanding by placing vulnerable migrants on buses to New York and Washington to score cheap political points, but Democrats such as Adams are still making missteps on their own. It’s as if they want to understand the plight of migrants and be compassionate toward them but don’t want to use the complete power of their respective offices to create real change.

As it often happens with most Democrats who insist that they are more progressive on migration than Republicans, the message is almost always muddled. Adams has been on this issue for the past few weeks, responding to Abbott and to reports that Department of Homeland Security officials are sending migrants to New York with incorrect shelter addresses, leaving bewildered families on city streets to find shelter and food for themselves.

While Adams correctly describes what those Republicans are doing as “un-American” and “horrific,” the entire narrative now centers around his political fight with Abbott and less on what he and his city can do to help migrants being used as pawns. Yes, there are photo ops showing Adams welcoming a busload of Haitian migrants arriving at Port Authority, but those moments seem less sincere when the best Adams can do this week is vow to organize busloads of New Yorkers and campaign against Abbott in his re-election bid as governor.

Anti-immigration rhetoric and fear-mongering are helping Republicans win the immigration debate over Democrats, but Democrats aren’t fighting back hard enough. The historic Inflation Reduction Act that passed in the Senate last weekend and in the House on Friday didn’t include any pro-migration provisions, which is bad enough, but it came close to including an amendment to keep Title 42, an anti-immigration policy masquerading as a public health measure that former President Donald Trump devised to shut out migrants legally seeking asylum. Two Latino Senate Democrats —Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Alex Padilla of California — blocked that amendment, and they later blocked an attempt to add a revised version of the amendment to the bill. That revised version earned the votes of six Democratic senators.

And, in the biggest irony of ironies, we learned late last month that the Biden administration, which painted President Trump’s border wall as a xenophobic distraction during the 2020 campaign, has authorized the completion of one part of that wall. We just don’t know where Democrats stand on the issue. Are they pro-migration, or do they want to sound tough because it is easier to look at migration through the cold lens of enforcement, politics and gamesmanship than actually show any real compassion?

It’s no wonder that some in the immigrant community are using social media to urge others not to vote for Democrats.

It’s no wonder that some in the immigrant community are using the power of social and digital media to urge others to not vote for Democrats in the November midterms. As counterproductive as it sounds, given Republican rhetoric, the sentiment that Democrats have yet to deliver on any major immigration or migration policies is real, whether they want to admit it or not.

As Adams’ actions show, what is also lacking is a more comprehensive approach and attitude. The mayor is spending a lot of time blaming everyone — from Republicans to the White House — instead of becoming a leader on an issue that could move the needle for him. He is the mayor of one of the most diverse cities in the world, as he himself said. A city that has always been welcoming to people from all over. Instead of sticking solely to that message and amplifying it, Adams is making the mistake of making this showdown with Texas and Arizona eventually all about him and not about the migrants he professes to want to protect and help.