NYC’s Handle on the Venezuelan Migrant Crisis

Izzy Leyton, Contributing Writer

Venezuela is currently facing an economic and humanitarian crisis. According to the International Rescue Committee, almost seven million people out of a population of 29 million have fled the country. As NPR reported, over 150,000 Venezuelans have crossed the border to the United States in the past year. Many migrants chose to make the long journey to the United States to seek shelter and were sent to New York, the only major city in the country that has a law mandating the “right to shelter.” Since shelter must be provided to anybody who needs it, New York City is being overwhelmed with the migrants in sheltering facilities. Now, led by Mayor Eric Adams, New York City is finding new ways to accommodate migrants who need a place to stay. 

The economic crisis in Venezuela began in 2014, and has only gotten worse, especially with the extra challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the International Rescue Committee, in 2019, an estimated 9.3 million people in Venezuela were food insecure, meaning they did not have access to basic needs including food, water, and health care, giving them no option but to leave their country. 

New York has acted quickly in order to help the migrants. According to Eyewitness News station ABC 7, 5,500 migrant children have been enrolled in the public school system and 42 emergency shelters have been provided as a place for migrants to stay. In the New York City shelter system, one out of five occupants are migrants from South America. According to City Limits, in January 2022, there were an estimated 46,500 people enrolled in the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). As of October 10, 2022 there were over 64,000 people enrolled in the system. According to CNN, Adams stated that “our shelter system is operating near 100 percent capacity.” In order to help with the large amounts of migrants in shelters that simply do not have enough room Adams has worked to set up outdoor tents on Randall’s Island. These tents are providing a place for migrants to stay as more and more people come to New York City seeking shelter. Many hotels, such as Row NYC in Times Square, are accepting migrant families. 

(Right before the Polygon went to press, Adams announced that the tents on Randall’s Island will close and migrants staying there will be transported to the Watson hotel in Midtown. The tents never reached anywhere near capacity, and since Biden started sending migrants back to Mexico, the numbers of migrants entering the city have decreased.)

There has been a great deal of controversy over the tents built on Randall’s Island. There has been a slow start of migrants arriving to the tents. Randall’s Island is currently  accepting only single male migrants. On the first day of accepting migrants, only three men arrived. According to Spectrum News NY1, one point of criticism for this solution is the lack of transport to and from Randall’s Island. There are no subways and a limited bus service, leaving the island isolated from the rest of the city. Some people also worry about flooding on the island. The tents were not originally meant to be built on the island, but due to flooding in Orchard Beach the location of the tents was changed. However, Randall’s Island is at risk of flooding. According to the New York Times, the City Council also worried that the conditions living in the tents during the winter would be “inhumane.”

Another issue with the migrants coming to New York City is that it is very hard for migrants to get jobs efficiently due to certain laws .Before working, migrants have to meet with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in order to apply for asylum, which you can only get if you have been in the United States for less than a year. After applying, they then have to wait for 150 days before legally being allowed to work. According to Eyewitness News, ABC7, with the huge increase in migrants coming to the city, some might not be able to schedule a meeting with ICE until 2024. This creates a huge problem for migrants, since they need to work to earn a paycheck. Adams has asked the Biden administration if the law can be excused in order to give the migrants a job and help them start their new lives in the United States. According to Eyewitness News ABC7, 15,000 bodegas in New York have said that they are in need of employees and are more than willing to hire the migrants; however, they still need to follow the law. 

To control the number of migrants entering the United States, President Joe Biden announced on October 12th that he plans to implement a “humanitarian parole program” that  lets Venezuelans into the country only if they have a sponsor that can financially support them for two years. The president is allowing only 24,000 migrants to do this. The mayor of El Paso announced that he has seen a decline in the number of migrants crossing the border since Biden implemented the new plan. 

Poly has also taken steps to help this crisis. In September, the Student Service Board held a drive collecting men’s jeans, new socks, and undergarments. Poly also partnered with Good Shepherd Lutheran Church located in Bay Ridge, to collect clothing and distribute it directly to migrants. 

Spanish teacher Amy Richards, who organized the drive, also previously worked for a non-profit organization called Make the Road New York. This organization focuses on helping immigrants by providing legal and survival services, transformative education, community organizing, and policy innovation. Richards explained how important she believes community organizations are in helping migrants. Make the Road New York, for example, distributes resources and supplies to the arriving migrants daily at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. She said she thinks that more of the city’s funding should go to these local organizations that are working very closely with the migrants and building connections and trust with them. 

Richards also said that New York City was already in a housing crisis before the recent arrival of immigrants, and they weren’t prepared for all of these people. She supports everything the city is doing to accommodate the migrants, but feels like it is not enough and they are “not getting the services that they need.” The main priority is finding a “safe and appropriate” space for migrants to stay. 

Richards says that staying informed is important. “Immigration is a thing that is interdisciplinary,” she said, noting that she thinks every class and space at Poly should speak about this crisis. 

Senior Emily Mansfield, who manages drives through the Student Service Board, also explained that she wishes to “instill a culture of service at Poly.” There are many more drives coming up that she hopes students will participate in to continue helping those in need, so that together the community can help make a difference. Tents on Randall’s Island, photo credit New York Post