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New York City says it has too many migrants and plans to send some elsewhere

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

New York City is caring for some 50,000 migrants who arrived over the past year. Many asylum-seekers escaped violence and death threats at home. Having crossed the border, having reached New York, they can't get work permits and have no stable housing. The city now plans to move many of them to other cities, and the migrants are asking what that means for them. NPR's Jasmine Garsd spoke with some of them.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Jose (ph) walks a lot. In fact, he spent the last six months or so walking. Jose is from Venezuela.

JOSE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: It wasn't easy getting here, he says. At the U.S.-Mexico border, he told authorities he was in danger and needed asylum. He was bussed to New York, but officials here say they're at capacity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC ADAMS: Our right-to-shelter laws, our social services and our values are being exploited.

GARSD: That's New York City Mayor Eric Adams in October, around the time Texas stepped up, sending buses packed with migrants to New York and other sanctuary cities. Adams has said it will cost New York at least a billion dollars this fiscal year. But for Jose, going back home is not an option.

JOSE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Jose has asked that we withhold his last name because he fears for his family in Caracas. He was a truck driver there, which made him easy prey for gangs, who, he says, threatened to kill him. A few weeks ago, he was living at the Watson Hotel in Midtown Manhattan with other migrants.

JOSE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: He says he needs a work permit so he can move out. He worries about being transferred to one of the shelters where there's been reported outbreaks of chicken pox and food poisoning. NPR reached out to New York City officials several times regarding these health concerns and received no response.

DESIREE JOY FRIAS: Chickenpox?

GARSD: Desiree Joy Frias is an organizer with South Bronx Mutual Aid. She recently went to Queens to deliver donations to migrant women and children.

FRIAS: I'm an attorney by trade. It's really disappointing to see the way that these people are just shoved into these hotels as permanent housing. It's not sustainable, and it's not healthy.

GARSD: Care of recently arrived migrants has fallen, largely, on everyday New Yorkers and mutual aids. Food, clothing, legal advice and health care is being addressed by nonprofits and concerned citizens. Today, Frias is checking out a rash on a baby's leg. The baby's mother, Alba Hernandez (ph), suspects it's from the milk they get, which she says is sometimes spoiled.

ALBA HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FRIAS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Hernandez is from Colombia. She says her family was driven out by guerrillas.

HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: They've been in the U.S. for five months. Since she can't work, she can't pay an immigration lawyer. And what she's describing is the vicious cycle a lot of migrants say they feel trapped in without a job. New York City has just unveiled a blueprint to address the crisis. It includes working with other cities to relocate some of the migrants and workforce training while asylum seekers await a work permit from the federal government. The plan has been met with skepticism. One concern - a work permit can only be requested six months after an asylum application has been submitted. Advocates say, immigration courts are so backed up, that can take over a year.

CAMILLE MACKLER: If they do everything right away and perfectly, probably a year, but more likely a year and a half to two years.

GARSD: That's Camille Mackler, executive director of the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative. She says people are looking at as much as two years without a legal work permit.

MACKLER: It's a system that is forcing people to work in the shadow economy because that's the only way that they're going to have to survive.

GARSD: Many asylum seekers are already taking matters into their own hands. I met Luis (ph) outside the Watson. He's 21 and scared. He's asked that his last name be withheld.

LUIS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: His family got death threats for being in the opposition party back in Venezuela. Luis recently got a night job at a fast-food restaurant in the Bronx. His plan - stay at the shelter, pay an immigration lawyer - but then in late January, the migrants at the Watson were relocated to Red Hook, a harbor area in Brooklyn, to a large auditorium filled with cots.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Protests erupted. People said it was freezing. Luis says he had this realization.

LUIS: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "I like the U.S.," he says. "You just have to be psychologically prepared for it. Here, you're alone." With the money he'd saved for a lawyer, he rented a small room near the Bronx, which he shares with four other recently arrived Venezuelans. Jose, on the other hand, transferred to the new shelter at the harbor. He says he feels useless and frustrated that he can't send money back home to his family, who he says are hiding from gangs. He's stuck at the shelter.

JOSE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "I just want to get out of here." So he does what he's been doing for nearly half a year. He walks. He describes New York to his family on WhatsApp. He admits he doesn't tell them how bad he feels. Instead, he just tells them...

JOSE: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "It's what you imagined since you were a kid, just like on TV. It's like a dream."

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.

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