‘Very few’ of New York City’s 70,000 migrants have applied for asylum, city official says

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — Only a small number of the more than 70,000 migrants who have come to New York City since last spring have formally applied for asylum, a top official in Mayor Eric Adams’ administration said Wednesday.

Anne Williams-Isom, Adams’ deputy mayor for health and human services, did not provide an exact tally of asylum applicants, but suggested many who haven’t applied are likely reluctant to fill out the forms out of fear and confusion over the process.

”It looks like very few people have applied for asylum, so we need to make sure that … we’re getting people the information that they need. So we’re going to be working on that. We’re doing some door-knocking and working with our legal providers,” Williams-Isom said during a City Hall press briefing Wednesday afternoon.

“Probably people have come here — they’ve been nervous, they didn’t know where to get connected to services, didn’t know who to give their paperwork to.”

Molly Wasow Park, Adams’ acting social services commissioner, said filling out the forms incorrectly could have “serious” repercussions.

“It’s a fairly complex legal form with some fairly serious consequences if you fill it out wrong,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of anxiety and concern there.”

The dearth of asylum applications poses a logistical hurdle for the mayor, who has repeatedly asked the federal government to take measures to expedite work permits for asylum-seekers — a measure the administration hopes will relieve pressure on the city’s severely strained homeless shelter system.

Migrants seeking asylum in the United States aren’t legally eligible to work until six months after they actually apply for it. And asylum-seekers also have a limited window — one year — in which they can submit an asylum claim, after which they’re ineligible.

In recent weeks, the state of the shelter system has become so dire that Adams temporarily housed migrants in public school gymnasiums, began sending some to hotels north of the city and called on the court system to narrow the right to shelter law.

Spokespeople for Adams did not immediately respond to requests from the New York Daily News to supply more precise data about asylum applications.

According to advocates, the primary reason for applications not being filed is the limited number of lawyers the city has hired to help migrants navigate what can be a byzantine and intimidating process.

“We’ve been advocating since Day 1 for more legal resources,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. “We have been dealing with continuously asking the city to put out more legal resources for people.”

City Comptroller Brad Lander has also suggested that the Adams administration should be doing more to connect migrants to immigration lawyers.

On May 9, he and Councilwoman Shahana Hanif told Adams in a letter that the city “must do more to actively assist asylum-seekers to submit their applications for asylum [and] to submit their applications for work authorization.”

“The city must act quickly to scale up its outreach efforts and expand its capacity to provide legal services to the hundreds of migrant families arriving each day with an additional investment of at least $70 million in immigration legal services,” they continued.

That letter came two months after a report from Lander in March that pointed to the city’s $5 million request for proposals that was issued last September for asylum-seeker legal services — money that still hasn’t been distributed.

“As of now, the city spent more than 99% of its resources on emergency shelter services and less than 1% on programs like pro se clinics and pro bono legal representation that would open pathways to gainful employment and permanent housing,” Lander, who’s planning to hold a rally Thursday morning to highlight the issue, said Wednesday.

“While the right to seek asylum is a national obligation under international law, the city budget can and should provide at least $70 million to legal service providers in order to aid asylum seekers through our complex immigration system.”

Christine Quinn, who heads up the homeless services provider WIN, said her group has been filling a small portion of the need by providing migrants with legal services, but suggested it isn’t nearly enough.

She said she wants to see a public-private partnership spearheaded by Adams that would call on the city’s law firms to step up.

“It would be a great thing for the city to organize all the law firms in the city for a pro bono campaign,” she said. “They need lawyers.”