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Texas sends migrants to New York. They get a warm welcome, but life there is tough

Asylum-seekers who have recently arrived in New York on a bus from Texas wait for ride-share vehicles, organized by a mutual aid group, to take them into the city.
Austin Cope/NPR
Asylum-seekers who have recently arrived in New York on a bus from Texas wait for ride-share vehicles, organized by a mutual aid group, to take them into the city.

NEW YORK — A white bus with Texas plates has just pulled up outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. The men and women on it have just finished a 30-hour nonstop bus ride from the Mexico border, and have arrived hungry, tired, and some in need of immediate medical care. It's a hot Wednesday morning in early August, and the rush hour traffic has clogged the city streets outside.

"Bienvenidos a Nueva York," a small crowd of city officials and relief workers cheers, as TV cameras and photographers crowd around.

This is the scene at one of the bus arrivals from the Texas-Mexico border, as Gov. Greg Abbott shows his opposition to federal immigration policies by sending them to Washington, D.C., – and more recently, to New York City.

Some migrants want to come to New York, others say they've been forced or tricked into coming here by Texas officials. They have become the most public face of a political back-and-forth between the State of Texas and New York City. They're part of an increasing number of asylum seekers who have been coming to the city from the U.S.-Mexico border this summer. While city officials and volunteers have stepped up to give the asylum seekers a warm welcome, the migrants' journey can still be rocky once they arrive.

Charities and volunteer groups have been helping people as they've arrived over the past few months, but city officials and nonprofits have become more publicly involved in the past few weeks. Team TLC NYC, part of a larger national organization called Grannies Respond, has worked to offer food, clothing, and medical assistance to asylum-seekers when they arrived. In an interview on Aug. 10, Ilze Thielmann, the group's director, said the cooperation has been successful.

A bus carrying migrants from the Texas border pulls up outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Aug. 17.
/ Austin Cope/NPR
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Austin Cope/NPR
A bus carrying migrants from the Texas border pulls up outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Aug. 17.

Many of the almost 5000 newly-arrived asylum seekers are alone in New York and enter city homeless shelters

"We had a great coordinated response between our side, the volunteer side, [the] NGO side, and the city," she said. "It was absolutely amazing."

Many of the newly-arrived asylum seekers don't have relatives in New York to stay with. So after they leave the station, they often enter city homeless shelters. The shelter system doesn't track people by immigration status, but city officials estimate that between 4000 and 5000 asylum-seekers have entered city shelters since May.

New York's shelters are, however, already overstretched, and not only by new immigrants. Capacity is low and New York's affordable housing is limited. Some migrants have encountered difficulties with translation and city bureaucracy during the intake process and have felt unsafe as they arrive.

Carlos, a 26-year-old from Venezuela who recently arrived in the U.S., says that as a member of the LGBTQ community, he felt threatened by other residents at a city shelter for homeless men located in Manhattan. He preferred to only share his first name to protect his legal status.

"They had problems with drugs, they had [mental] problems, and really, we felt in danger there," he says, speaking Spanish. "I'd 1000 times rather stay in the streets than [at that shelter]."

He called for New York City to offer more support, not only to immigrants like himself, but also to Americans who are already facing problems here.

City government and nonprofit workers inside the Port Authority Bus Terminal prepare for the arrival of a bus of migrants on Aug. 17.
/ Austin Cope/NPR
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Austin Cope/NPR
City government and nonprofit workers inside the Port Authority Bus Terminal prepare for the arrival of a bus of migrants on Aug. 17.

NYC officials want to hear about any problems migrants encounter and are working with charities to help

Veronica, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, who also asked to use only her first name to protect her legal status, says she is six months' pregnant, and a problem with her pregnancy she encountered while traveling through Mexico necessitates specific medical care. She says she was staying in a shelter in Manhattan, but it only offered a place to stay.

"Immigration [officials] gave me help at the hospital, but when they sent me here, I haven't received anything," she says in Spanish. "Absolutely nothing – [not even] medicine," she says.

She says she didn't know who to ask for help, and hasn't been in contact with people in the city government. She and Carlos have been receiving assistance from South Bronx Mutual Aid, a grassroots group working directly with migrants throughout the city.

NYC's Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs commissioner Manuel Castro says he wants to hear about any problems people encounter, and that city officials are working with a growing group of charities and nonprofits.

"What's important is that those families are connected to us ... so that we understand what were the challenges that they've faced," Castro says. "And we can adjust appropriately."

A crowd of New York City government officials, nonprofit workers, and activists greets a group of asylum-seekers arriving via bus from Texas on Aug. 10.
/ Austin Cope/NPR
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Austin Cope/NPR
A crowd of New York City government officials, nonprofit workers, and activists greets a group of asylum-seekers arriving via bus from Texas on Aug. 10.

Activists want New York do more to improve housing problems and meet asylum-seekers' complex needs

But activists call for more work to be done. Ariadna Phillips, an organizer with South Bronx Mutual Aid, says the city should do more work to improve New York's deep seated housing problems and to make sure asylum-seekers' complex needs are being met after already experiencing harrowing journeys.

"People say this is the capital of the world, so we're going to act like it," Philips says. "If everybody else says that they can't handle these conditions, then we're going to step up and be part of the solution."

The State of Texas has continued to send buses without sharing arrival times in advance. As migrants, volunteer groups, and city officials in New York City continue to adapt, they're watching the political back-and-forth play itself out on a deeply human level.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Austin Cope