The tumbles that Manuel, a 24-year-old Venezuelan, has been making in New York for four months today seem more exhausting than the string of fatigues he has been dragging since he left Caracas, including crossing the Darien, waiting anxiously at the border for USA or the overcrowding in the detention center of Laredo (Texas). Since he arrived in the Big Apple, on a bus chartered by the governor of that state, Republican Greg Abbott, Manuel has passed through a tent camp on Randall’s Island, north of Manhattan; a 3-star hotel in Midtown and, now, the Brooklyn cruise terminal, where he sleeps in a hut with a thousand cots lined up, like sardines in a can, since for a week he has been hosting male migrants traveling alone.
Their adventures illustrate the difficulty of the New York authorities in managing the arrival of 45,300 migrants since last spring, most of them, like Manuel, asylum seekers; transferred in buses, sometimes without knowing the destination, from the border States, whose authorities, Republicans, thus intend to denounce the immigration policy of the Joe Biden Administration. The New York City Hall seems so impotent – the shelter network was already expanded by the large floating population of homeless people, more than 70,000 – that for days it has been offering migrants free bus tickets to travel to Canada. The flight that they once undertook from their countries of origin is turning, as the months go by, into a trip to nowhere; their lives increasingly precarious.
With a gigantic bubblegum pink suitcase as his only luggage, Manuel -assumed name: “I want to go back to my country one day,” he says- doesn’t know whether to accept, frustrated in his initial attempt to land in another state, where a compadre lives. The gesture that he repeats the most is shrugging; the same trained resignation when leaving the Midtown hotel, which has only housed families for 10 days. Like that of the deserter Javier, a former sergeant of the Venezuelan Army, his wife, Nazaret, and his two children: the youngest, in a stroller; the eldest, schooled three days after arriving.
NGOs and volunteers put patches on the reception, but the constant influx derails any plan to systematize the aid. “New York is on the edge, about to break,” repeats the Democrat Adams, whose speech is taking on a tone increasingly similar to that of the Republican governors of the border, as he demonstrated in January during his visit to the border city of El Paso . From New York as a “safe harbor” open to all, to “there is no space”; to the “national crisis” that deserves a stronger response from Washington.
The pressure is testing the identity of the city, and causing unwanted damage, such as the attempted suicide of a 26-year-old in the Brooklyn terminal on Thursday. The host organizations have denounced the conditions of the place ―the fifth improvised location since the crisis began―, deprived of any means of public transport and on the edge of the water. “It is in a high-risk flood area and will unnecessarily expose residents during some of the coldest months of the year,” the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless lamented in a joint response. “Hotels have always been the best short-term option, in contrast to setting up tents in inaccessible areas of the city prone to flooding,” such as the Brooklyn terminal and, before that, the Randall’s Island camp. .
The Brooklyn hut is a collective dormitory, “without space or privacy, a place that arouses insecurity and indignity,” they explain from the Department of Immigration, whose head has just visited the facilities. “The deficits that we warned about weeks ago are still in force, the first of which is disregarding the individual needs of migrants.” Carlos Herrera already suspected that scenario without having set foot in it. “Here in the hotel I have my single room, with a TV. I don’t want television, I don’t need it, but I do want a place to rest alone when I return from work, I don’t have to suffer the party of others, who drink and sing until dawn ”, he said to justify his determination to continue at the midtown hotel. The resistance, wrapped in a blanket at the door of the hotel along with several dozen migrants, lasted a few hours, until the peaceful police eviction.
These stories broadly define the profile of the current migration crisis: single men, economic or political migrants; majority of Venezuelans; and families who, with a bit of luck, will find accommodation in the city and a school for their children. But the challenge for the authorities is huge, and Adams insists on asking for federal aid, 1,000 million dollars to start facing the expenses. “We continue to meet our moral and legal obligations and serve the needs of people arriving in New York, but as the number of asylum seekers continues to grow, we seriously need the support of our state and federal governments,” insists the councilor.
At his side, Manuel contradicts him: “You just cross the border [de EE UU], in the detention center to which they take you, they submit you to the declaration of ‘credible fear’, to demonstrate if the causes that you allege to request asylum are true. That’s where the procedures begin.” Manuel displays the crumpled piece of paper, folded in eight, that he was given in downtown Laredo, his only safe-conduct to make his way in New York. Or in Canada, “because they have told me that granting papers and a work permit is easier there.”
For now, the pilgrimage of thousands of human beings out in the open has already marked a new destination in red, the umpteenth geography lesson: the Roxham Road border crossing, through which more than 39,000 migrants crossed into Canada last year. Only in December did they exceed 4,600. The diligence in the procedures and the offer of the Canadian authorities to foreign labor – this year they will grant 465,000 permanent residence permits – are seen from New York as the only way to defuse the crisis.