NEW YORK — Here’s one approach to discourage migrants from settling in New York City: Give them a free, one-way plane ticket out of town.
Mayor Eric Adams is ramping up efforts to fly migrants to the destination of their choice, figuring it’s cheaper than sheltering them for months on end. And he’s simultaneously warning that those opting to stay in New York may be in for a winter of sleeping outside with shelters full.
“When you are out of room, that means you’re out of room,” Adams told reporters Tuesday. “Every year, my relatives show up for Thanksgiving, and they want to all sleep at my house. There’s no more room. That’s where we are right now.”
In recent days, the mayor of the nation’s largest city has been steering people who were vacated from city shelters to a Manhattan office devoted solely to booking plane tickets, creating more uncertainty for the new arrivals.
Dispersing them across the nation and world harkens back to when the Democratic mayor ripped Republican governors in Texas and Florida for sending migrants from the southern border to liberal enclaves. But City Hall officials defend their effort as different because the migrants aren’t being coerced to leave.
Still, critics say Adams’ actions sends a message lacking in compassion.
“What we’ve witnessed from this administration — even if they’re not directly saying ‘you’ve got to get out of here’ — is that they’ve consistently created hysteria and chaos and confusion and have not used a tone of inclusivity and welcome,” City Council member Shahana Hanif said in an interview.
More practically, Hanif said, tracking a migrant’s applications for work authorization or asylum can be impossible once he or she leaves the city’s care.
The new, more aggressive “reticketing” plan comes as the city deals with the 130,000 migrants arriving since last year and as it tightens how long they can stay in shelters, forcing the newest arrivals out after 30 days.
Migrants have opted to fly to destinations as far as away as Colombia and Morocco.
The city has been at odds with the White House over the lack of a national remedy to the migrant surge, pitting Adams against President Joe Biden. One-way plane tickets, even international ones, are cheaper than the cumulative daily, per-migrant cost that has risen to $394 this month from $363 in the city.
“With no sign of a decompression strategy in the near future, we have established a reticketing center for migrants,” City Hall spokesperson Kayla Mamelak said in a statement. “Here, the city will redouble efforts to purchase tickets for migrants to help them take the next steps in their journeys.”
Adams is threatening that migrants who end up on the streets — “when,” not “if,” it comes to that — would be clustered only with bathroom facilities. He has also weighed distributing tents to them.
“Nothing is off the table,” Mamelak reiterated.
The message from Adams comes as a record 4,000 newcomers arrive to the city each week.
Limits on shelter stays, combined with casework services that include “reticketing” to other places, are necessary to drive down the population in the city’s care and make room for new arrivals, City Hall officials say.
City Hall officials say the squeeze has been working. Less than 20 percent of migrants who received 30- and 60-day vacate notices have reapplied to return to the city’s care, a rate that officials tout as a success.
But it’s still unclear where a majority of the people kicked out of shelters go.
This week, migrants out on the streets followed directions the city gave them to the new reticketing center: a repurposed church office in the East Village. The group included dozens of migrant adults who were forced to leave a midtown Manhattan shelter site Monday because of fire safety concerns.
On Wednesday, a trickle of men, carrying their belongings in small suitcases, pillowcases and even trash bags, emerged from the reticketing site confused.
Several were asylum-seekers from Mauritania, a West African nation with heightened racial tensions, and they said in interviews in French that they rejected the flight offer because they wished to stay in the city to seek work.
At least one man was rushing to the airport to make a flight to Michigan.
“We tried our luck here, but there is no room,” Savi Qhlil, 30, said.
There is no immediate guarantee of an open bed for those who opt to return to the city’s care.
Some migrants hop from shelter to shelter seeking vacancies, and some bide their time by sleeping on the subway.
The city has used reticketing since the crisis began about 18 months ago, but it now has a dedicated site separate from the Roosevelt Hotel intake center in midtown Manhattan. Officials did not have immediate information on how much they’ve spent more recently on tickets or where the bulk of the travelers requested to go.
Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said it “doesn’t make any sense for reticketing to be the main prime focus.”
He added that while some migrants in the early stages of the crisis were forced to come to New York City, including via buses chartered by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, more recent arrivals want to be in the city.
“It’s unconscionable that this is the tone and tact this administration is taking when immigrants have been the lifeline and lifeblood of this city for centuries,” Awawdeh said.
Adams told reporters this week that he’s talking with other countries about how they’ve managed migrants sleeping outdoors, a prospect that the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless stress runs contrary to the city’s right-to-shelter obligation to provide a bed for any one who needs it.
“We have to make sure that people have some type of restroom facilities, some type of shower network,” Adams told reporters Tuesday.
A possibility floated Wednesday of distributing tents for outdoor living was confirmed by his spokesperson.
Adams repeatedly notes that he has kept children off the streets thus far. What Day 61 will look like for migrant children — a newer policy announced last month that evicts even families — remains to be seen.
“We’re still formulating that, and we’ll get back to you on it,” said Molly Schaeffer, interim director of the Office of Asylum Seeker Operations, at a City Council hearing Monday.
The city has a network of hotels, churches and state facilities used to house migrants across the five boroughs, and Adams has pegged the city’s cost to ultimately hit $12 billion over three years.
City Council member Diana Ayala said the most cost-effective approach is longer-term solutions including publicly subsidized housing vouchers that get conventional shelter residents into permanent housing.
“I do really understand the complexity of what they’re being asked to do under the circumstances,” Ayala said in an interview about the city’s response. “But I don’t think that their policies are helpful. I think they have the potential to leave thousands of individuals out on the street.”
Jason Beeferman and Janaki Chadha contributed to this report.