New York City Efforts to Assist Asylum Seekers and Relocate Them to Upstate New York 

Rey Koslowski 

Research project description 

A “humanitarian crisis made by human hands” – that is how New York City Mayor Eric Adams referred to asylum seekers arriving in New York City, many bused by the state of Texas and the City of El Paso.  As the total number of asylum seeker arrivals reached 17,000 by early October 2022, Mayor Adams declared a “state of emergency” because the addition of 9,000 asylum seekers pushed NYC’s homeless shelters to capacity.  The Adams Administration then attempted to provide temporary shelters for the asylum seekers on underutilized city properties but, after pushback from city council members and advocates for the homeless, then opted to house asylum seekers in hotels emptied by the COVID-19 pandemic. When more than 60,000 asylum seekers had arrived by May 2023, the Adams administration contracted with medical transportation company DocGo to relocate asylum seekers to suburban and upstate hotels at NYC’s expense. County executives across upstate New York declared their own “states of emergency,” and issued executive orders barring local hotels from contracting with NYC to provide temporary shelter. Within a matter of weeks, half the state’s counties issued such executive directives, and, in response, NYC sued in early June to have the directives reversed.  

This research project examines the unfolding of this “humanitarian crisis made by human hands” within broader historical and geographical contexts of international displacement world-wide and asylum seeking in the US in order to assess the demographics, policies and politics of the current situation in New York City and New York StateThe project examines the politics of busing asylum seekers from Texas to New York city and the politics of the policy responses of New York local and state governments and the ensuing conflict between New York City and more than half of New York’s counties.   By placing the “crisis” and government responses to it into broader global, national and historical contexts, the project will also offer more realistic expectations about asylum seeker arrivals in the future and a broader range of policy options pursued elsewhere that could, in turn, inform better policymaking and policy implementation.  

It is anticipated that the research project will produce several papers and a few short OpEds and/or policy briefs.   

The first paper will examine: 1) global drivers of forced displacement and the increasing numbers of asylum seekers that have come to the United States and New York; 2) challenges posed by increasing numbers of asylum seekers to border cities like El Paso, Texas as well as the busing of asylum seekers by the State of Texas and City of El Paso to New York City 3) how the arrival of busloads of asylum seekers from Texas became viewed as a “humanitarian crisis” by New York City officials who declared a “state of emergency; 4) why asylum seekers kept coming to New York City even after the busing from Texas paused for several months and how NYC is responding to the persistent and growing flows of asylum seekers.  

The second paper will examine how New York City has tried to address the challenges it faces in providing shelter to asylum seekers by busing them to suburban and upstate towns and cities. The paper will also rethink the current situation and offer alternative approaches and policy options for New York City, upstate communities and New York State as a whole. 

The third paper will compare recent responses of New York City and other New York localities with responses by US cities to asylum seeker arrivals in previous eras in US history, cities in other parts of the world and other US cities currently dealing with asylum seeker arrivalsThe paper will then leverage those comparisons to illuminate New York City’s policies toward asylum seekers and its implementation of those policies