Democrat-run cities reduce aid to immigrants as costs rise

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When a wave of migrants began arriving in Democratic-run cities far from the southern border two years ago, officials welcomed them with open arms. Now they are limiting aid to newcomers as their instinct for compassion meets harsh budget realities.

In recent days, New York and Chicago (two of the largest cities in the country) have instituted substantial changes to their housing policies. In Chicago, the city began evicting migrants who had overstayed the new 60-day limit, saying it did not have the resources to meet the need.

In New York, immigrants had benefited from the city’s unique right to housing, which guarantees emergency housing for as long as anyone needs it.

Last Friday, those rules changed significantly for immigrants without childrenthe culmination of a months-long fight by the city to reduce its legal obligations to the newcomers as their numbers surpassed 180,000 and the cost of housing soared.

Similar dynamics are developing elsewhere: In Denver, officials began closing some migrant shelters in recent weeks and reinstating time limits on stays. In Massachusetts, which has also seen an influx of immigrants, the legislature is moving toward instituting a limit on how long people can stay in shelters.

For deep blue cities with a long history of welcoming immigrants, the latest influx of newcomers – many of them seeking asylum – has produced a sometimes painful reckoning with their stated values. The impulse to welcome newcomers is “deeply rooted, but expensive,” particularly in cities with high housing costs, said Muzaffar Chishti, a senior researcher at the Migration Policy Institute.

Cities quickly learned that the current wave of immigrants (some of them traveling on buses paid for by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), but many find their own way, it’s of a different order, Chishti said. For example, New York Mayor Eric Adams (D) initially presented himself as the “anti-Abbott,” Chishti said, but his rhetoric changed dramatically like the number of arrivals skyrocketedalong with the costs of helping them.

“This is where you would say the policy of the Democratic Party changed with this chapter in the history of American migration,” Chishti said.

Democratic-run cities and states have called for more help from the federal government, including pushing for a legislative deal to overhaul the immigration system. In January, nine Democratic governors wrote to president biden that cities and states “cannot respond indefinitely” to the influx without congressional action.

But the issue remains stuck in a political impasse in Washington, even as immigration has emerged as a major issue in the presidential campaign.

Cities have warned that budget strains caused by the influx of immigrants would force them to cut services. New York now implemented some budget cutsincluding spending on immigrants, but is still scheduled to spend more than $4 billion on the crisis in the current fiscal year. a city official testified in February.

In Denver, where more than 40,000 immigrants have passed through the shelter system since the end of 2022, the city recently made budget cuts in response to increased spending on aid to newcomers. The cuts included reducing hours at community centers and eliminating some recreational programs, drawing criticism from local leaders.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston (D) said in an interview that while the city remains committed to helping newcomers, a balance needs to be struck. Residents would be “upset with us if we didn’t provide a single service to immigrants,” he said, “and they would be angry with us if we cut off all of our city services.”

Advocates warn that withdrawing assistance to migrants, many of whom have made difficult journeys from Central and South America – will exacerbate what is already a humanitarian crisis for thousands of people who are doing everything they can to make ends meet and leave overcrowded shelters.

In Chicago, Mayor Brandon Johnson, a liberal Democrat who took office last year, announced his shelter evacuation policy in November, but delayed He repeated it several times as subzero temperatures gripped the city and his advocates denounced the plans as cruel. The rules, which set a 60-day limit on shelter stays, went into effect Sunday. The city initially said 34 immigrants would be required to leave, but only a handful did, while the others were granted last-minute extensions.

in a statementJohnson said Chicago remained “committed to compassion” and that limiting migrants’ time in the city’s shelters would encourage them to seek shelter elsewhere. The city, he said, is “moving down a path toward stability and self-sufficiency.”

Annie Gomberg, lead organizer of the volunteer network that supports Chicago’s migrant population, said people already have many incentives to find alternative housing. “Everyone I’ve talked to wants to leave the shelter,” she said. “But they lack the pathways to do so.”

Most new arrivals face high barriers and a long wait for work authorization (at least six months for asylum seekers) and are unable to access rental assistance. Many do not speak English and lack credit history, all obstacles to obtaining long-term housing, advocates say. Gomberg fears that immigrants who are evicted from the city’s shelters will end up on the streets.

“The idea that we can ever just say, ‘It’s okay, you’re on your own’ to anyone enduring this level of hardship is not the kind of society we want to live in,” Gomberg said.

But as costs rise, cities and states face difficult decisions. In Massachusetts, the only state that guarantees emergency housing to families with children, the shelter system has been overwhelmed in recent months, with immigrants making up about half of the occupants. Last year, Gov. Maura Healey (D) instituted a limit on the number of families that can receive shelter.

The emergency housing program cost about $250 million in the last fiscal year, but that figure is expected to rise to nearly $1 billion in the current fiscal year, said state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, a Democrat who chairs the media committee. and discretions of the legislative body.

When negotiations on a bipartisan border agreement in Congress collapsed in February, Massachusetts legislators realized that “the cavalry would not come,” Michlewitz said. This month, the state House passed a budget measure that would limit time in shelters to nine months, with some exceptions. The current average stay is 14 months, Michlewitz said.

Healey is open to limiting the length of stay at shelters, said Karissa Hand, the governor’s spokeswoman, as it is a “temporary emergency action and we face serious capacity issues due to federal inaction on immigration reform.”

In New York, the migrant crisis recently forced an unprecedented adjustment to the city’s housing rights rules, established by court orders dating back to the 1980s. The rules require the city to provide shelter to anyone who needs it, a framework that is credited with nearly eliminating homelessness on the streets.

Since 2022, the city has opened More than 200 emergency sites exclusively for shelter. immigrants, taking over hotels and converting spaces into bedrooms. There are about 65,000 immigrants in New York’s shelter system, a little more than half of the overall total, the city says.

On Friday the city announced that it had reached an agreement in a legal battle over their housing obligations. From now on, immigrants over 23 years of age without children will have the right to an initial stay of 30 days in shelters in the city. After that, they will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and must demonstrate certain “extenuating circumstances” to remain.

New York’s right to housing “was never intended to apply to a population larger than that of most American cities, which reached all five boroughs in less than two years,” said Adams, the city’s mayor. . in a sentence. Friday’s agreement “gives us additional flexibility in times of crisis.”

Robert Hayes, the lawyer who filed the historic 1979 lawsuit Callahan v. Carey that led to New York’s right to housing, called the deal a “Faustian bargain.”

Hayes said he was relieved that the underlying right to housing was preserved, but “it pains me to have two separate and unequal systems for people based on where they come from.” The new conditions apply to adult immigrants who arrived in the United States after March 15, 2022 and are afraid to return to their home countries.

“The red line I’m worried about is the 31st, when people take to the streets,” said Hayes, who is now president of Community Healthcare Network in New York.

Absent a negotiated settlement, a judge could have made more drastic changes to the city’s obligations toward the homeless or even ruled out the right to shelter entirely, said Joshua Goldfein, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, which represents to the plaintiffs in the right to housing case.

Now the group is preparing to monitor whether the city is fulfilling its responsibility to evaluate individual cases. “They have every incentive to not do this properly and try to push people out,” Goldfein said. “It certainly creates a lot of work for us.”

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