Over the Borderline: Part One.

New York’s Migrant Crisis.

A migrant tent camp in the city. Image Description: A migrant tent camp in the city.

Summary: We kick off the first installment in our series “Over the Borderline” where we examine the plight of immigrant families, the socioeconomic and political conditions that drive people to migrate to the United States and the current crisis that has become a central talking point in the 2024 election. This first episode is a spotlight on New York City, which has been overwhelmed by a surge in migrant families being bused from border states as part of a political maneuver to deposit the immigration issue at the feet of leaders in Blue States. After a brief summary and update of how the situation has changed over the past two years, we speak with Marlene Galaz, Director of Immigrant Rights Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition.

“Immigrants are ruining this country.”

Immigrants provide value with diverse backgrounds, culture and experience.

“They’re taking jobs from our workers. Stealing public benefits and welfare.”

Immigrants are vital to the health and growth of our economy.

“Immigrants are poisoning the blood of Americans.”

We have always been a nation of immigrants and this is the source of our power and strength as a nation.

Welcome to the first installment in our series “Over the Borderline” where we examine the plight of immigrant families, the socioeconomic and political conditions that drive people to migrate to the United States and the current crisis that has become a central talking point in the 2024 election. This first episode is a spotlight on New York City, which has been overwhelmed by a surge in migrant families being bused from border states as part of a political maneuver to deposit the immigration issue at the feet of leaders in Blue States. WNBC:

“They’re coming across the border from Venezuela into Texas and Arizona, and what’s different now is that they’re being sent to New York. So now suddenly New York is in the position of receiving…the number started about 10 days ago as a 2,800 estimate, and more recently Mayor Adams said it’s more like 4,000 of these migrants—many of them are families, some of them are single adults, and they are coming into our homeless shelter system which is already crowded. So it’s creating pressure on the city, on our social service systems. The families are not set up with regular food programs, they’re not entitled to food stamps or public assistance, even though they are here legally, so…it’s becoming a bit of a crisis”

In July of 2022, NBC New York’s government affairs reporter Melissa Russo began reporting on buses that were suddenly dropping migrants from Texas and Arizona on the streets of New York. Confused families were sometimes left at shelters, but oftentimes they wound up at random office buildings. It was soon revealed that governors from border states were behind this initiative with others like Ron DeSantis of Florida cashing in on the publicity and following suit.

Within a year, the situation developed into a full blown crisis with more than 4,000 migrants seeking shelter in New York City and putting tremendous pressure on city agencies. Since that time, the numbers have been staggering. According to the Associated Press,“More than 172,400 migrants have arrived and gone through the city’s intake system since the spring of 2022, Adams’ office said. The majority have since moved on to other places or become self-sufficient, but over 67,500 are currently in the city’s care.”

Migrants who find their way to the city have a few different paths to follow. In rare cases of single female travelers, there are two intake centers—one in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx—that typically shelter homeless or abused women. Single men are routed through the men’s shelter on east 30th Street in Manhattan. And there are two family intake centers, one in Manhattan and another in the Bronx called Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH), and does most of the heavy lifting to welcome families.

And that’s it. That’s the extent of the intake infrastructure for New York City. A city of more than 8 million people. A city that already has a homeless crisis. As a result, non-governmental organizations have rushed to fill the gaps and the city has pleaded with the state and federal governments to provide resources and funding. The whole affair has turned into a national media circus and provided fodder for conservative outlets to both gloat and scapegoat. And the Adam’s administration isn’t taking the criticism well. It even became the headline subject on the Daily Show recently:

Reporter: Buses arriving in New York City from Texas, one after another, filled with migrants seeking asylum.


Stewart: That’s all you got? Nice try Texas, but you heard the mayor, we’re New York fucking city. How dare you? No disrespect; but you are never going to change our values because you’re afraid. So keep sending those busloads, because we have plenty of room in our hearts and in this city.


Adams: We have no more room in the city. (Audience Laughs)

One of the reasons migrants are keen to make their way to New York is the concept of a sanctuary city, a phrase you’ve likely heard thrown around the media. The term itself, however, amounts to a collection of local policies rather than a legal designation. There’s actually no such thing as a sanctuary city, per se, but New York’s “right to shelter” policy and a decades old executive order by Mayor Ed Koch to protect the rights of privacy for immigrants combine to provide safe haven for those seeking to start a new life in the United States.

Both the Adams administration and New York Governor Kathy Hochul are attempting to alter the rules to exclude migrants from the crucial right to shelter policy, however. They argue that the surge is displacing native New Yorkers in need of temporary housing and assistance and making it impossible to track the movement and health and well being of the homeless population.

While there is a great deal of truth to their stance, most New Yorkers remain solidly in favor of the rules as they currently exist. This is despite the clear evidence of growing homelessness and the obvious presence of migrant families who have yet to find a more permanent living arrangement within the city or somewhere else.

In fact a recent poll conducted by the New York Immigration Coalition found that 80% of New Yorkers supported the right to shelter policy with 67% saying there were “more aligned with the view that migrants were fleeing "bad circumstances" and seeking a better life as opposed to coming to New York City because it provides a ‘generous benefits system.’”

That’s not to say New Yorkers aren’t concerned about the influx of migrants. They’re visible on the streets, in hotels and the subways; masses of people just a bit out of step with the normal rhythms of the city. They cue up early at social services. The city is officially out of beds. Makeshift tent cities on Randall’s Island and the Bronx have become increasingly unsafe and unsanitary. And a couple of crimes and tense interactions with the NYPD have been blown wildly out of proportion in the conservative media giving outsiders the impression that New York City is a warzone. The statistics tell a different story.

The trending data show that violent crime continues to decline from pandemic era highs and have even reached a low point since the NYPD began recording this information. On the other hand, felony assaults and robbery remain high compared to historical data, along with grand larceny of motor vehicles. But violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter and rape are way down from historical highs in New York.

One area currently experiencing a starting increase in criminal behavior is the New York subway system, prompting governor Hochul to enlist the National Guard to increase the armed presence in the subways. But how much of current crime trends are attributed to migrant families in the city? Not much. In fact, given the volume of migration into the city one might assume that crime stats would be through the roof, not trending in the opposite direction.

The bottom line is that despite the massive influx of migrants into the city, there is no correlation to increases in reported crime data.

But you'd never know it by watching Fox News:

Jesse Watters: When I look at this, I see now what you’re allowed to do. You’re allowed to break into the country, they give you a free bus ticket to New York. If you come here you get a free hotel room, you get free cribbage, you get meals that are culturally appropriate. And then you could kick a cop in the head, get out of jail with no cash bail, and then skip town, drive drunk to California for a free sex change, and democrats won’t deport you.


Dana Perino: And the free healthcare.


Watters: And the—free reassignment surgery. Juan can become Juanita.

There’s your 2024 Republican campaign platform. Illegal immigrants are violent, drive drunk and get gender reassignment surgery on the taxpayer dime.

One of my closest friends is a guy I worked with in hospitality a lifetime ago. He’s still in the industry. And texted me recently with a genuine question. No malice behind it whatsoever. In the exchange he said that there is a line of job seekers at his door every day, whereas in the past he might see a handful in a given month. And he shared a story about a supplier of his who just lost a huge beverage contract at a hotel chain because the hotel had been converted into migrant housing. So his question was, “who the hell is paying for all of this?”

There are other implications behind that question that are worth exploring as well. Aside from who might be paying for all of this, another question is what happens to all the people who receive city services like food, housing and assistance if we’re running out and have to resort to putting people in hotels?

The quick answer to cost is simply that New York City is footing the bill. In fact, both the Adams and Hochul administrations have been pleading with the federal government to help offset the additional cost of housing and services. There are non governmental organizations, like the one you’re about to hear from, that are busy raising money to help fill in the gaps as well. But the whole thing is a budgetary disaster. A couple of people that I spoke with on background for this piece noted that one of the fatal flaws of New York’s strategy is that the Adams administration is so reactionary that it winds up wasting time and money, throwing good money and resources after bad. Starting and stopping initiatives and the like.

One example was an attempt to put an end date to housing, which led to a huge backlash from advocates who pointed out that this would only increase homelessness because migrant families are often sheltering while looking for work and applying for work papers. Throwing them on the street only complicates that process and leads to unintended consequences with the city’s existing homeless population that would have to be treated the same way by extension. In short, there are no good answers for this crisis at the moment.

To add some context and color to what’s happening on the ground we reached out to the New York Immigration Coalition, a policy and advocacy organization that represents over 200 immigrant and refugee rights groups throughout New York.

Max: And joining me now is Marlene Galaz, the New York Immigration Coalition's Director of Immigrant Rights Policy. Marlene, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Marlene:Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Max: So why don't we start and just kind of set the table a little bit to talk about your organization specifically, because you're a non-governmental organization, but you're very much on the front lines of the immigration issue as it pertains to New York City in particular. So can you describe to us what NYIC does to secure and protect the rights of immigrants?

Marlene:Yeah. So the NYIC has been around for a little bit over 35 years. We are an umbrella policy and advocacy organization working with on the ground organizations that work on immigrant rights, refugee rights or rights of assay lease. We are mainly concerned with bettering the material conditions of immigrants in New York State. We have staff members and member organizations and partners across the state. So we're not only focused on New York City. I am based in New York City, but we are also focused on the wellbeing of immigrants across the whole of New York. Our main focus is to pass laws or policies as well as budget initiatives to ensure the wellbeing of immigrants and as I mentioned before, bettering our material well being.

Max: Okay. So why don't we get a little historical context as well because my understanding is that you were very much involved over your career in helping to shift our historical policy—and I'm speaking New York City centric at the moment—but our historical policy approach of incarcerating immigrants to where we are today with what appears to be more of a blended approach. So before we even talk about the surge over the past couple of years, can you talk about how the immigrant's journey has changed and the policy towards that journey has changed over the past couple of decades?

Marlene:Yeah. So historically, most of the immigration, or most of the immigrants coming to the U.S. were single adults, mostly from Mexico or Central America. Most of whom were coming here for economic reasons, trying to work and send remittances to their families. Since I believe fiscal year 2023 we have been seeing a shift on that. We have been seeing an increase in families. We have been seeing an increase of people coming with like children, also unaccompanied children as well. That is something that we had seen before, but for the first time in fiscal year 23 we saw that there were more families coming than single adults.

Also the countries where people are coming from are a little bit different. Whereas before, as I mentioned, were Mexican and Central American nationals, now we have people coming from Ecuador, Haiti, China, India. Part of it is because of agreements between Mexico and Central America with the U.S., but also part of it is because of global conflict and just ongoing economic instability in the world.

Max: So, historically, though, before the surge, how did New York specifically tend to deal, let's say 10, 20 years ago? How was the intake? How did the intake of immigrants differ then as it does now?

Marlene:Yeah, so New York has always been known for being a welcoming state. I think we're going to talk about it later on, but for example some of our sanctuary laws we've had in place for over three decades. So New York really has a tradition of being very welcoming to our newest neighbors. Immigrants are an integral part of the fabric of society and they also do economic contributions and so on.

Even without going that far, in like 2020, 2021 when there were a lot of Ukrainian refugees being resettled here, the city set up specific programs for people who were in need, for these migrants. And we were actually a part of those programs. We had a Ukrainian resettlement fellow in contract with the city. So there has been a history in New York City with welcoming people from all over the world and setting up specific programs to do so.

Max: So when we think about the crisis today, the pressure that it's put on different agencies, can you tell us—because I think there's a lot of confusion around what happens when a family or even an individual who's seeking work, when they actually get here, what happens? What's their first point of contact? How does your organization get involved if at all with coordinating services to help support people in this sort of interim period before they are ultimately settled? What does the process look like from the migrant individual and family perspective?

Marlene:Yeah, so a lot of organizations, including the NYIC, have been on the ground. We have been seeing in New York City, states like Texas busing migrants from their state to the city. So the NYIC along with other organizations, many of our member organizations, have been literally on the bus stops waiting for people to arrive so we could support them in orienting them.

Other organizations such as African Communities Together, Mixteca, QDEP, have also been a point of contact or the initial point of contact. And a lot of migrants coming here, they talk, a lot of information travels through word of mouth. So many of these organizations are what's called ethnic organizations. So, organizations that are focused on serving a specific demographic. They even have their own outreach programs or they help people and then the people that they helped tell other people. So it's very grassroots. There's a lot of community organizing happening that is not really supported, or not always supported by government funds, but it's at the expense of our own communities.

Max: What does that mean, raising money within the communities?

Marlene:I mean a lot of these organizations are also nonprofits or community based, so they might have grants and they have their own grant writers. They might be asking for donations. They might have mutual aid as well. There's a very wide range of the type of organizations. So some of them might be more nonprofit, traditional nonprofits, and some of them are very much just depending on mutual aid, doing clothes drives on Instagram. Yeah, just asking for donations generally. So there's a wide range. But most of the work that gets done is on the organization's own expense and capabilities.

Max: So let's just say a few new busloads of families, maybe the country of origin is Venezuela, where the U.S. government actually has, I don't even know what you would call it. It's an agreement that is put in place to make sure that we single that population out specifically because we have some sort of understanding that there's economic crisis, there maybe some political crisis there, and we've granted them some sort of status. So just using that example specifically, a busload of Venezuelan families arrives on the doorstep at the Port Authority in New York City. Where do they go? What happens next?

Marlene:Yeah, so for the most fortunate cases, there tends to be organizations already on the ground waiting for them and directing them where to go, giving them resources, telling them where the shelters are available for them. Some of the next steps, for example, the NYIC, along with some of our partners in Hispanic Federation and IARC, we also have had legal clinics to support people in filing for work permits, filing for their [Temporary Protected Status] TPS petitions and so on. So there's usually organizations on the ground that are directing people to where shelters are, work clinics are and just having resources ready, whether that's written—mostly written actually.

Max: So I think one of the misconceptions about—now if we go to the border, to the actual crossing, in the moment that they enter the United States, using that same busload example—there's a misconception that there's some giant opening at the border where people are just streaming across and then haphazardly finding their way across, into different counties and towns, and they're being herded like cattle and stuck on buses. That's really actually not the case.

I mean, because if they're on buses and they're coming into New York City and they are known, meaning somebody registered them at the border. That means that somebody presented themselves as seeking asylum and have registered, I guess with a federal agency, and that's how we know they're getting here? Is that how the line of communication goes? I'm trying to really understand what that journey looks like from a practical standpoint, from the family's perspective.

Marlene:Yeah, that's a really good question. So there are a couple of things here. So there are several ways of coming to the US. Some people can come through a port of entry, and there are some people who come between ports of entry. So let's say like the Tijuana/San Diego border, like you make a line and then you present yourself and talk to a border agent. There are also people who might come in between ports of entry, so they're not in a specific line, but rather; I guess what people generally know as like, the desert. There are also a lot of people who come by plane and then they might just present themselves there and ask for asylum.

I think something that gets lost in the conversation often is that asking for asylum as of right now, is completely legal. It's part of a system internationally that protects vulnerable people. There have been very serious attempts to dismantle that system and actually criminalize that right to ask for asylum. But that's a very long conversation that I'm happy to also get into.

But to answer your question, yes, anyone that presents themselves and talks to a border patrol officer telling them that they're afraid for their lives, they have to have an interview with a federal agent. They go through what's called a credible interview, and there are many steps to this process of asking for asylum. So 100% the federal government knows who is coming through and how many people.

That being said, a lot of people end in New York, because they might already have ties to the community here. They might have a cousin, or an uncle, or a friend that lives here. Also because New York City has a very long tradition of being multicultural and welcoming. So I actually think that it's a good sign that people are coming to New York and knowing that this could be their new home, being that they're very much ready to become part of our social fabric.

Max: So you mentioned the criminalization aspect. And I think it is a good thing for us to continue on that line of thinking, because if you're not face to face with the surge in migration, and you are just absorbing the issue through the media landscape, there's a sense that—of course you have one party right now that is basically building a national election platform, just as they have done in the past is nothing new, around fearmongering around a crisis.

So I want to make sure that we distinguish between the actual crisis, which is the sheer volume showing up and overwhelming service agencies, and the criminal justice system that may or may not be interacting with people when they get here. Is there an appreciable number of people, of migrants, coming into the country that do wind up interacting with the criminal justice system? And why might that be? What circumstances lead to that? Or is it really not happening? Is this really just conjecture and rhetoric?

Marlene:Yeah. So there are so many layers to that question, and I'm going to try to answer it as much as I can, but please ask me any follow-ups if I forget. I think first and foremost, something that I often think about is that there's actually no like good and bad people when it comes—well, generally—but I don't really follow the Republicans = bad, Democrats = good type of narrative for many reasons.

We are seeing that Republicans yes, have been very heavily been pushing for the criminalization of migrants, asylum seekers, even unaccompanied minors. But the Democrats have been, especially in this election cycle, also been playing very heavily into that playbook. Some of the proposals that they have been getting out are not really championing our community at all, but rather furthering this criminalization. So we have been really calling to people that are supposed to be our champions to actually stop acting like Trump had during 2016 because it has been really disturbing.

So that is the first thing that I wanted to mention. Then the second thing, in terms of like the narrative of criminality, I think most people might be better versed in terms of how Black communities are criminalized, Black and Brown communities are criminalized. I think a similar thing happens with immigrants as well, where there tends to be scapegoating of communities. We have Mayor Adams really putting a target on immigrants' backs with his recent comments. And I apologize. I think that I totally lost my train of thoughts. If you want to edit that out, I can begin again [laughing].

Max: No you're doing great because you're reflecting what people are saying, that may or may not line up with the reality of what's happening on the ground. But let's stay on that for a moment because there's a difference between scapegoating and then having actual policy that criminalizes behaviors or certain populations. And I think a great example of that might be stop and frisk. So we worked a long time to get rid of stop and frisk because we knew that it targeted specific populations to an extraordinary degree. And that's one way where scapegoating and policy kind of meet in reality.

Where the immigrant population is concerned, we've seen images that blow up on TV and they'll take a certain instance and then they'll turn that into national news and say that this is endemic of everything that's going on. In reality, my understanding is that's not really the case of what's happening. So my pointed question then is, do you find that there are immigrants being unfairly swept up into the criminal justice system to an overwhelming degree? Or is it business as usual right now, and in fact they're just winding up in the social services system?

Marlene:Yeah. So I think there are a couple of things. I think there's very real criminalization through policy. There's also criminalization through narratives of the immigrant community. And then there's also the fact that we should not be criminalizing our communities, whether they're immigrants or not, but try to stay on the actual policy. In New York City, it's actually really interesting. As I mentioned before, we have three decades of sanctuary city policies. And the fact that these narratives, with Mayor Adams saying that he wants to rescind that, that means that we are actually moving towards a point where immigrants are being more criminalized. They will be subject to additional punishment.

Often when we talk about sanctuary laws, we also talk about how, for someone who's not a citizen going through the criminal justice system for example, they are punished twice. Because they have to go through the whole of their sentence if they have a sentence. And then after that, they also get punished by the immigration system.

So in New York City, for as long as three decades, we have been saying that the state should only be in charge of the state laws. And then we shouldn't be collaborating with the federal.

There is also a lot of studies that say that jurisdictions with sanctuary laws are safer than jurisdictions without them. And there are less crimes per capita than jurisdictions without it. Also cities with more immigrants tend to be safer than those without them. So really we're seeing that these narratives of immigrants bringing in crime are just completely unfounded and false.

Max: So that gets into a really good policy discussion about the concept of sanctuary cities. So, again, in my reading, my understanding is that there is no such thing as a sanctuary city as a legal doctrine. That's not a thing. But it's usually a group of policy initiatives that coalesce into this idea of a sanctuary city where you can find safe harbor for myriad reasons. The core of it in New York City—again just a spotlight on the city—the core of that seems to be the legal notion of right to shelter.

And I think that as you and I sort of move into the immediate discussion of the influx of migrants taxing city services and creating sort of a housing crisis and a shelter crisis, it's that piece of the sanctuary city that is so vital to protecting people. The housing piece, the shelter piece. Not permanent housing, just a place to rest safely. A difference between an individual woman seeking shelter, an individual male seeking shelter and then families with children seeking shelter, and I know we have pathways to deal with each of those. Can you talk about the importance of just that concept alone, the right to shelter, and what that means and how important that is for immigrant families coming to New York?

Marlene:Yeah. So I will just add for the non-housing part and then I'll talk a little bit about the housing part. I think another misconception is that the state, by having sanctuary laws, jurisdictions are not doing something that they're supposed to. But as you mentioned, it's not a legal doctrine, it's just a specific set of laws aimed to protect our communities. In the case of New York City, all that it is is that after people have served their sentences on the criminal justice side, they will not be handed over to ICE. That is what makes New York City largely a sanctuary city, that they do not directly collaborate with ICE unless there's a judicial warrant or something like that; which is what the Mayor is asking to rescind. He's asking for localities to directly work with ICE in this way.

However, New York City has also been a pioneer in the shelter rule, for example. That is another thing that we're also seeing rolled back. Right now we're seeing exceptions being applied for migrants where there are 60 and 30 day rules or limitations on how long migrants specifically can stay in shelters. And that brings a whole array of problems. For example, for families whose children are going to school, if they have to after, I don't know, 30 or 60 days, have to switch to a different shelter. That means that the kid is most likely going to have to switch schools as well, or have to have a very long journey or commute to their school.

And the same thing applies for adults as well. If we're talking about self-sufficiency and autonomy as well, it's very hard to keep a job when you are changing residents every 30 days, and where you have all of these rules of when you're allowed to come and not come. So having proper housing for migrants is also a crucial piece in people being able to integrate into New York City. And by having these backwards limitations, hand in hand with the Mayor calling for more ICE collaboration, we're seeing a very hostile environment for migrants.

Max: So let's talk about the practical, internal discussions about coordinating between multiple agencies that has to occur in order to provide shelter and services to people that are coming to New York, brand new, and the homeless population that already exists. So we have a very large unhoused population. We've hit historic numbers sadly, over the past few years. I want to say that as of the end of the year in New York City, which for anybody not familiar—I think a lot of people outside of New York tend to think of New York City as Manhattan—but this is spread across the five boroughs. There are upwards of a hundred thousand people, still very hard to gauge, but still considered homeless in the city. And that is exclusive of migrant families coming in.

Now, when we talk about the influx of migrants, I think the number that the administration recently released was that they have processed upwards of 170,000 and 67,000 still remain. You can look at that as actually a success story in that, now more than 100,000 migrants have actually come in, been processed, been inside the system, found shelter, and moved on. So that's actually a really good thing. But there are still 67,000 people that are in this sort of limbo on top of the 100,000 people who are unhoused at any given time.

So my understanding is that it is very difficult for agencies to coordinate, in the moment, who is going to be in need of a bed, who is going to be in need of a meal, who is going to be in need of perhaps medical attention. And then there's the other ancillary, who's going to school, who's not, are we finding work and those other things. But just those core needs, where do you get involved? Where does NYIC, for example, get involved in helping to coordinate efforts between the multiple agencies that have to account for New York City's existing extraordinary homeless population and the people that are seeking immediate shelter through migration?

Marlene:Yeah, so first of all, I want to just put out there, because I would be amazed if I don't mention that what we're seeing right now, it's mostly an infrastructure crisis. This is something that advocates for unhoused people, immigrant advocates as well, have been calling for for years before this surge, before the summer. We know that there are thousands of empty office spaces across New York City. And if the city would've been actually working on adapting those for living, we wouldn't be in the situation that we're now in. They should have acted years ago. And it's really a failure of leadership. And it's really enraging to hear the Mayor blame immigrants and vulnerable populations for failures of infrastructure and leadership.

But now to answer your actual question in terms of what the NYIC, what our role is. We work in several ways, one of which is, as I mentioned, we coordinate a lot of efforts. We don't really provide a lot of direct services, but for example, we coordinate legal clinics so people can get their work permits, get their status, and as they get work permits they're able to move out of the shelter system. Because honestly, no one wants to be in a shelter. People want homes and people want safety, which is why they came here to begin with.

In a different way however, we also do a lot of policy advocacy. So I am not our housing expert. My area of expertise is more detention and deportation as well as legal services. But we do have an in-house expert on housing and health. And we push for policies that will protect our communities at the city, state and sometimes federal level as well. So I would say it's a combination of both on the ground coordination as well as pushing for policies that protect in the long term.

Max: Okay. So on the infrastructure issue, I do think that that's a valid point. And that extends to more than just managing and absorbing an immigrant population for short-term, midterm, long-term, because we already have an affordable housing crisis and clearly we have a housing crisis period, because we have a large unhoused population. On the infrastructure side of things though, my understanding is that it's—and I'm not trying to let this or prior administrations off the hook—but I do understand that we have given over most of the real estate in New York City to private interests. And to take a commercial facility as an example, retrofitting a commercial facility that has a central infrastructure, meaning the core of the building is where all the bathrooms are, and they don't necessarily have showers, it's just for regular bathroom facilities, because everything is meant to be on the exterior where the offices are, you can't just put people there, much in the same way that hotels are not a great environment, as we've discovered for children.

They might be fine for an individual, but putting a family in a hotel really limits the amount of services required to help foster a healthy environment for a child. So there are no perfect scenarios yet because we have a private industry, a commercial industry that's not willing to just hand over the keys to a building and allow the city to retrofit it, and who would pay for that anyway? So I agree with you that we have an infrastructure problem. I'm not sure where exactly to lay the blame other than this general sense of privatization that has occurred over multiple decades and just handing the keys over to commercial landlords. I mean, is that a fair assessment?

Marlene:I think that sounds right to me. As I mentioned, I'm not a housing expert, but what I do know is that the government in the city has very much focused on temporary solutions: 30 day, 60 day solutions. And some of our policy asks, for example, are for long-term voucher systems that actually allow people to live there for a year or longer. And it's also way cheaper than just putting people in a shelter. And I have data, because again, I'm not an expert on this, but my colleagues are. A housing voucher for a family in a two-bedroom apartment is between $50 and $72 per night depending on the program and how many people there are. But right now we are seeing the city spending on average $383 per night in shelters.

Max: It sounds like New York.

Marlene:Yes, exactly. So it's not only, yes, it's a problem of infrastructure, it's a problem of not being able to, or not being willing to make those investments early on. We're seeing the consequences now that it's, I think the city would save around—I'll look at my data again—3 billion each year if they would've just made those sustainable.

Max: But Marlene, do you think that there would be pushback from let's say the homeless services advocates who say, wait a minute, we're going to give housing vouchers now to a migrant population coming in when we already have an unhoused population that's blowing through any of the available beds that we have?

And that gets back to my question about how difficult and tricky it must be to coordinate between government agencies and the policy agencies, the non-governmental agencies like NYIC that exist on the outside trying to coordinate these efforts. It appears to me that because of the infrastructure issue that you acknowledged, that there is tension in these agencies and the homeless advocates are sitting out there saying, wait a minute, wait a minute, if that's an option, do it for everybody. So do you get that pushback? Does that tension really exist?

Marlene:I absolutely agree. Do it for everyone. I think one of the tensions that we see a lot, and beyond immigrant rights, I think generally human rights, is that there are a lot of conflicting asks and a general mentality of a zero sum. But really, when you strengthen the rights and protections for one group, you're strengthening the rights and protections for all vulnerable groups. And the other way around as well. Like right now we're seeing the limits on how much time migrants can stay in the shelter. So like 30, 60 day rules. I wouldn't be surprised if I see that being extended to the general population as well, or limitations like that. I think we do, when we're talking about housing for migrants, at least for me, it's also talking about housing for everyone.

Migrants do tend to have a specific set of needs, like for example language needs and so on. But really what we are hoping for is that eventually it's just a benefit for everyone. My particular area of focus, for example, is the extension of legal services for people going through deportation, who are in deportation proceedings. And I get that pushback as well of, why do immigrants get free lawyers when people who are going through like family court don’t always get that, or even tenant rights. And my answer is always, yes, we want that as well for you, and I really think that when one vulnerable group wins, everyone does, and we should be working together more in the expansion of rights instead of in opposition to each other. But the tension is there and it's very real. And I think that is something that as a movement we should be working together in more collaboration and br more coordinated for sure.

Max: I'm going to switch gears for a second to talk about the practicality of dealing with different countries of origin. So my understanding, I had watched—I think it was NBC's, Melissa Russo had really kind of broken this story, prior to it even being known that the Abbott administration was busing families into New York City. Just noticing that there were many, many new families and groups wandering around the city being dropped off at office building locations and not having any idea what to do next, or even how this happened. And that in the initial reporting, it seemed like the preponderance of families that were coming here were from Venezuela, which correlated with kind of an uptick in the political and economic crisis that was occurring in Venezuela.

But since that time, as you noted in the beginning, we're seeing many, many different countries of origin. So it's probably a good thing that we're seeing an influx of Sudanese that are trying to escape the atrocities that are going on in Sudan right now. But how do you, from a practical standpoint, scale up to meet that population that has different dietary concerns, different language, different social structures and different norms? How do you meet the challenge of having a population come in that you weren't aware was actually going to get here?

Marlene:Yeah, that's a great question. And I think that is one of the wonderful things about living in New York City, which is already a city that has a very diverse population and a very diverse—this sounds like a contradiction—but a very diverse expertise, if that makes sense. So for example, in New York City some of our members are groups and organizations that have very narrow focus and very narrow service recipients.

So I mentioned Mixteca before, who is an organization that for many years have been working with people who have indigenous backgrounds from Mexico and Central America. So they have a lot of language expertise, they are familiar with the needs that they might have. Same is the case, for example, African Communities Together, who's also an NYIC member. For many years they have been developing their expertise, they have been gathering resources, and they have been really meeting the demand in terms of languages, cultural competency and so on.

That is not to say that everything is perfect. And for example, one of my other colleagues here at NYIC, Taina and K'Sisay, they work specifically on a campaign for language access that is trying to develop a pipeline between the teacher—I'm not the expert on this campaign—but pretty much like a pipeline to get people who speak less frequent languages or languages that are not Spanish and French for example, or Portuguese, to be able to work for the government to have those skills. So it's also about having very intentional efforts because New York City, we already have a lot of that expertise. It's the matter of actually using and elevating those organizations and those people that have those skills, so they can use it professionally and to support immigrants that are just arriving.

Max: That's interesting. Some of what I hear, when we go back to the physical experience of what people are going through right now, part of the response that New York City implemented was to create these large tent cities. I believe the first was on Randall's Island, and then I think there's a second one in Brooklyn. And they've been taking a brunt of the, not families from what I understand. but a lot of the single individuals that are coming across the border and through multiple pathways. And that the conditions there are deteriorating quite rapidly and it's been a very difficult winter. Do you have boots on the ground in these places trying to determine the health and the mental wellbeing of people that have already actually probably gone through a relatively traumatic experience in even just getting here? Do you provide those types of services and try to keep an eye on people that are living in those conditions right now?

Marlene: So as I mentioned before, the NYIC is a place of a more coordinating role, we work with a lot of our members to do that type of work. And actually in my previous answer I should’ve mentioned QDEP, which is the Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, because they are amazing and I think everyone should go support them. For example, some of their expertise and some of their work that they do on the ground around shelters, but also people who have been here for a number of years, they have a lot of knowledge on LGBTQ+ issues. Specifically, for example, providing necessary medications for transitioning or HIV and so on.

So, unfortunately what we have been seeing is that it is very much so, for civil society to react to this type of needs, we do have some efforts. I’m not the person that does that, I’m more of a policy person here at NYIC, but we do have coordinated efforts on the ground, including more on the legal services side, but also coordinating workshops and coordinating services for mental health or whatever needs arise.

Max: When we talk about policy and we talk about working with state and federal governments, I think you rightly noted that the Democratic Party might be taking a softer, rhetorical stance. But in practicality, some of the bills, even the most recent bill that was put across had some trap doors in it that were pretty dangerous for the immigrant population. And there were a lot of advocates looking at that saying, there's no safe haven in either party right now, we just have a bad take on this. And one of the things that I've been saying recently, is that my fear over the next few months is that the Democratic Party in power right now from the executive perspective, is going to overcorrect and take a much harsher stance on border crossings in order to stave off defeat in November. So it's sort of like frying pan into the fire.

In the event of a Trump second term, knowing that they're running on this issue as probably the top issue in the campaign, I think that's fair to say that at this point the border is the big issue. How do you prepare for that potential outcome. Are you having policy discussions internally? Are you creating and are you preparing for these outcomes?

Again I know this is a long-winded way of asking you this, but my impression is that the Democrat establishment might be harsh in this immediate, next few months in order to display some power. But the Republicans are looking to really execute on that power and change the scenario post election. So how are you thinking about this moment in time and preparing for either outcome come November? Are you concerned, are you worried?

Marlene:I am very concerned. I'm also very tired, because these issues are always—and I think for people that are listening to this and also generally following immigration conversations, it tends to be like, this is an emergency and then a day after, like now this is an emergency. And it's like an ongoing state of emergency and attacks. And it is actually how it has been. It has been very concerning.

One of the things that we have been seeing, and I believe I've mentioned this, is the proposals are very permanent changes on the asylum system, or the qualification into law of programs that were before temporary, like remain in Mexico, which are things that we have known had very severe humanitarian consequences that are now being discussed as being permanent and codified into law. And this is not only by Republicans, this has been across the board.

We are preparing as best as we can. I often think about NYIC as being a statewide organization. Our focus is New York. Hence the NY of NYIC. However, we are also very aware that immigration tends to be very affected, it's always going to be very affected by what's going on at the federal [level]. And New York, for better or worse, also has a leadership role to play at the federal level. So we are very much engaged with what's happening at the federal level, both for those reasons and also because a lot of our member organizations are not as aware of what's going on at the federal level. So we're acting as that bridge. So we are preparing, as most nonprofits are, we are always under resourced and understaffed. So we're preparing as best as we can and trying to have a strategy in both cases.

But also, even if there is not a Trump administration, as we have been seeing, that doesn't mean that our communities are safe necessarily. So we will continue working towards the safety of our communities. But just a very short answer, yes, I'm concerned, but we are not going to back down and we're going to continue doing what we've been doing because our communities are worth it.

Max: So can you just explain to me in legal policy terms, what is a bad outcome? What is it that you're trying to prevent from, I guess a legislative or an executive order perspective? What is a bad outcome, what does that look like?

Marlene:Yeah, so some of the provisions that we've been seeing that are very concerning and this has been—I think for someone who's not in the weeds, it's really hard to keep track, because, the border supplemental, for example, came through and it was really bad, but then it didn't pass. But those same provisions are being recycled over and over again.

So what I'm about to speak about right now is not necessarily one policy proposal or one bill, but rather the pattern that we're seeing, what our representatives are trying to push forward. So just clarifying that.

One of the things that we're seeing is a proposal for an increase of detention. And not only increase of detention, but rather mandatory detention across the board. So for people who might be arrested, and that doesn't mean charged just arrested, immediate detention.

People who are coming through—I don't want to get too into the weeds, but there's this term, mandatory detention, which is like people who have to be detained no matter what and they will not be released. There is no discretion there. That is being proposed to be expanded.

The standards for someone to qualify for asylum or to even begin the process of asylum, Republicans are proposing to really elevate those to a point where it will not really even be possible that most people that now have asylum could have asylum. We are seeing the indiscriminate expansion of ICE, like way more money to ICE, giving them more discretion. I think one of the things that is most concerning also is that there is a proposal to take the asylum system out of the courts. So someone that's seeking asylum will never see a judge, and taking it into [U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] USCIS. So it's what we call asylum officers. So employees of USCIS making determinations of whether or not someone should get asylum.

Max: That's a real thing that's happening, that's a proposal?

Marlene:That is a proposal. That's part of the series of proposals that are being made and recycled over and over again.

Max: Was that part of the big January bill?

Marlene:No, that was part of the proposal for the budget supplemental that didn't pass in February. We're right now in a continued resolution. But we're seeing Republicans introducing copycat bills to try to pass this right now.

Max: That is a substantial change of civil rights policy.

Marlene:Right. That's why we are really concerned, because we are talking about completely destroying the asylum system and taking it out of the judicial system. So it is very concerning.

Max: Marlene, can you describe the difference between—again, just reflecting back some conversations, some discourse that you hear through the news media or even anecdotally when people say, hey, I have no problem with people who are seeking asylum because they're in danger. What I have a problem with is people that are coming across because they think they can just improve their life here. We don't want those people because they're not coming here fairly or legally. Can you address that type of pushback? What are the talking points around that? Because I hear that all the time.

Marlene:Yeah, well, I do hear that all the time as well. And I think what people might fail to understand is that we don't have a fair immigration system. People often say like, get in line. There is no line for people to get in. And much less so now that we're seeing these types of attacks, like it will become even harder.

My personal belief—and that doesn't necessarily reflect what the NYIC beliefs say—what I believe also is that I think that we should be welcoming and caring people who are going to be contributing to the wonderful city that New York is, regardless of if someone is being persecuted, 100% we should be caring for people's safety. But I think we should be welcoming people that are just trying to be part of the city, even if it's just for economic reasons. Because honestly, immigrants contribute so much economically to New York City, to the country, but particularly New York City. One third of our business owners are immigrants. We bring billions in revenue and in tax income as well. And that's billions with a B. I often find it really interesting when people are upset by immigrants coming for economic reasons, when we benefit so much when they come for economic reasons as well.

Max: Is there a limit? I come at this from a very progressive angle, but I think it's always fair to ask those questions. It can't be unlimited. Our participation in climate change, in destroying economic circumstances and environmental circumstances around the world is, I think, pretty well documented. And so there's an argument that says that we should do whatever we can to help absorb populations because we've kind of contributed to the decline of many societies.

That being said, there are practical aspects just like from an infrastructure standpoint, like you say, like, we all have to be able to flush the toilet and expect that it goes somewhere. And we have [only] so much food and so many roads and so many places for people to go and beds and houses and schools and classrooms and all those things. So I mean, how do you respond when people say, yeah, but I mean, at some point there's got to be a limit, right?

Marlene:Yeah. Usually what I respond to that is with data about Mexican immigrants. So there are more Americans coming to Mexico than Mexicans coming to the U.S.

Max: Is that right?

Marlene:Yes, that's right. And this became worse when the border became stronger, because most Mexicans before this like demographic changed in terms of who came and whatnot, came to work for a period of time and then they left. And then they wanted to just be with their families and so on. And right now, well, we can get into how many Americans are in Mexico City at another time.

Max: Oh, I know. And they're not happy about it [laughing].

Marlene:No, they’re not [laughing]. But yeah, we can talk about the impacts of gentrification and different things. And again I don't want to gloss over the fact that it's also been because Mexico has different agreements with the U.S. and whatnot. But when thinking about, like, is there a limit? I always try to think about how, for some people, they do stay here. They want to, they set roots here. They live the rest of their lives here and this is home. But some people might go back whenever their country conditions stabilize. Some people might go back whenever their economic conditions stabilize as well. I do think it's a little bit of American exceptionalism when we think that everyone wants to come because this is the greatest country in the world. And I don't particularly think that's true.

Max: You brought up something really important that I haven't heard in the discussion recently, at least. And we had done an episode about two years ago on sort of the mischaracterizations of immigration policy. And one of the things that we leaned on was the Clinton-era criminalization of immigrant status in the United States. And something that I hadn't thought about before, until we'd done the research, is not criminalizing your existence here but criminalizing it on the other side. Meaning if you're found to be here as an undocumented person, you would then be subject to deportation, and then you can't return for five years. That was an enormous shift in cultural and economic norms because of the pattern of migration that you just spoke about.

The fact that we always had a give and take with Mexico in particular, but other Central American countries for sure, and then it almost created the reverse incentive. So if you came here to work, I better not leave. I might not get back. And if I get found trying to cross going the other way and they send me out, I’ve got to wait five years or I could wind up in prison in the United States coming back. It was such an obvious outcome that people would just try to surge and stay rather than go back and forth. But I don't hear anybody talking about fixing that piece of it. Is that ever in the discussion?

Marlene:Yeah, that's a great question and I actually want to correct myself. I meant to say there are more Mexicans leaving than coming in. But the problem with Americans in Mexico City still stands. But I just wanted to correct myself there because I don't want to be saying inaccurate things.

And then in terms of your question, I think in the immigrant rights space, it is seen as a tipping point. And that's why a lot of immigrant rights professionals or advocates are very, very critical about Clinton because he actually, it's five, ten or life punishment that people cannot come back. So it's not only five years, it could be ten or for life you can never come back. Also under his administration, a lot of prisons expanded, there were a lot of built up prisons, but that also extended to immigration detention centers or prisons.

I think honestly we have been so exhausted by putting out fires that I haven't seen a very strong effort to tackle that. There might be that I'm not aware of—

Max: That’s interesting.

Marlene: Because I'm very focused on putting out fires. There are very strong movements towards legalization, like the registry campaign or a pathway to citizenship for DACA or TPS and whatnot. But to my knowledge, I haven't seen something with real momentum come out. But I agree. I think it will make a huge difference, because it's one of the many ways in which immigration has become from a civil—like technically it is a civil procedure, but it is so entangled with the criminal justice system now, or at least like treated as a criminal thing; a lot of people in their minds conflate a lot of these narratives and they equal immigrants with criminals.

A lot of people think that if someone is undocumented, they must 100% have committed a crime, which is not necessarily true. A lot of people fall out of status. And that is not a crime, that is a civil thing. And that is not to say that we should be throwing people under the bus who do have criminal histories. But I think it's just a very large misconception of how immigration actually works.

Max: The people that fall out of status, my understanding is that the issue with people falling out of status is that it suddenly disqualifies them for a lot of normal life activities: car insurance, a mortgage. Suddenly a lot of these things that might have been within reach or just doable to fit into the economic norms that we have in this country to kind of keep the engine running. That when somebody falls out of status or they're here or they're undocumented, you always hear the stories of, oh, some guy, an undocumented worker hit my car and they weren't insured obviously. So my insurance company had to pick it up and is suing somebody, and now no one will ever see the money, blah, blah, blah.

But that's a real thing. And I think that's also one of the dangers of having such an understaffed and underfunded system, where people can't simply and easily renew. I take your point that we're so busy putting out fires that there's just nobody minding the store and thinking logically and critically from a humanistic, but also pragmatic economic standpoint, that it's so much easier and beneficial to just renew that person's application to work here. Try to get them a pathway to citizenship. They're here, they're doing the work, they're contributing to society. They might not have a mortgage, but they're paying somebody rent, and that person is paying taxes on their home with the money that they're getting from rent. It all works. But we have such procedural barriers to allowing it to work to the extent that it would benefit everybody.

And it's one of those frustrating situations where somebody—I think the anecdotal fight always supersedes the practical. Meaning that guy was undocumented, he hit my car, everybody needs to get out of the country. Or, this person is taking the spot of somebody sleeping in a homeless shelter without asking a question: why do we have so many homeless people? So all of these things tend to bubble up. And it is, to your point, originally, it's really easy to scapegoat the others, the people that just got here and say, you're taking somebody's spot, go away, without realizing that it doesn't have to be that way.

Marlene:Yeah. 100%. I think there is an intentional pitting against each other that is happening. I often like to remind people, one thing that undocumented immigrants can do, or anyone, regardless of status can do, is pay taxes. And a lot of people do. But I should also mention that while it has been true that at the federal level, not a lot has moved—I mean, there's like the odd bill here and there that moves, the most recent one is related to taxes and tax credit. That seems to be the ones that move.

The state has such fertile ground to protect the rights of their residents or their constituents, whether they have citizenship or not. And for example, to your point of driving and safety, New York State passed, the Green Light campaign. This was before my time. And the NYIC was in the front of that, which pretty much is what allows people, regardless of status, to get a driver's license here. So undocumented people can have a license here, and it's better and it's safer for everyone to have a license while they're driving. We're also working on—

Max: I don't know, my kids both have licenses and they drive and it's not safer for anybody [laughing]. So anyway, continue.

Marlene:I do not have a license, but because I don't know how to drive and that's also safer for everyone, especially in the city [laughing]. But that is all to say that there is a lot of work being done at the state and local levels. There have been, not only here, not only in New York, but also for example, California passed a law to extend medical to people regardless of their status. So undocumented people can have access to insurance right now, and there is no age limit. [Well] there are, it's like a patchwork of different laws, [but] in a practical sense, there aren't. So there is a lot of work that can be done.

I think while I have been very disappointed with the federal work, which is a large chunk of what I do professionally, the states have been at the forefront of protecting their communities and really recognizing that immigrants are part of who they are, and their residents, and states, what they are. So it's been really encouraging to see them protecting immigrants, human and civil rights.

Max: Alright. Last question before I let you go. What are you working on right now that gives you some optimism, and that you're really taking some pride in that there's some momentum on?

Marlene:That is a wonderful question, because I think that especially in the immigrant rights space, we tend to be again, putting out fires and just really sad about attacks and whatnot. But at the NYIC, we have, usually I believe, about five campaigns going on, five state campaigns going on. And I really like them all. My particular campaigns are the Access to Representation Act and the New York for All Act, both of which are trying to expand rights to immigrants. And I am not allowed to pick favorites, so I'm not going to do that. I'll just talk a little bit about both.

The Access to Representation Act gives me a lot of hope because that is an area where we have been winning a lot over the past year. So the Access Representation Act, what it's trying to do is to pretty much guarantees the right to counsel to anyone going to deportation proceedings, whether they are detained or not; because right now people who are going to the petition proceedings, they do not have the guarantee of an attorney. They don't have the right to an attorney. So if they can afford one, they do have to represent themselves against a government attorney.

So I mean, I went to grad school and everything, but I cannot imagine myself representing myself against like a trained attorney. And that's what we're asking people who might not even dominate the language yet, or understand the system yet to do. And over the past few years, we haven't been able to pass that law. Hopefully this is the year. But what we have been able to do is to win money for that purpose, for the purpose of legal services. So two years ago we got $20 million, this past year we got $60 million. And this year we're hoping we get $150 million for legal services, but also building infrastructure, which has been a recurring theme in this conversation. It's really important that we're making long-term investments.

And then New York For All, we also kind of touched on this, is a campaign that will pretty much prohibit the state from collaborating with ICE, and [will] allow people in New York to really live without fear if they have to talk to the police, if they're stopped for a traffic reason, if they are victims of domestic violence or whatnot.

And the reason why I really like these campaigns is because they have a very strong community engagement component. So we have lobby days and we organize, for example, for the ARA, we had a booth and it was Valentine's Day themed, and it was like, don't break our hearts. And it was just beautiful to bring people from all over the state to Albany. And it was really encouraging to see people demanding for their rights to be expanded. So I think, yes, I love my campaigns, but what I love the most and what gives me the most hope is to see people walking the house of Albany, demanding for things, asking for things that they believe in and strengthening their rights.

Max: I'm going to let you get away with using beautiful and Albany in the same sentence.

Marlene:Fair [laughing].

Max: I lived upstate for a while, so I get to make that joke. But this has been an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate it. If our listeners have follow-up questions or responses, which they always do, I'll make sure to aggregate them and send them in so that you can have a voice in response to them, because people do have a lot of very well intentioned and meaningful questions about this because of the confusion that is often on display, again, in the media landscape and then of course, anecdotally. So you've helped clear up a lot of things for me today. I'm sure there will be follow-up questions, but I really just wanted to thank you for your time.

Marlene:Yeah, thank you so much for hosting this conversation. And yeah, let me know if you have any questions, folks should feel free to go to our website. I can also send you a couple of book recommendations if you're interested in the crimmigration part of it. I'm always happy to be a resource.

Max: That's awesome. Thanks so much for your time today, Marlene.

Marlene:Thank you.

Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).