(Headline USA) So-called sanctuary cities like New York City once claimed to welcome illegal immigrants with open arms.
Now overrun by a costly migrant problem—caused in large part by President Joe Biden’s brazen open-borders policies—xenophobic NYC Mayor Eric Adams and others are trying to pass the buck onto their suburban neighbors.
The resulting standoff has left the migrants themselves in the crossfire, victimized by the false promises of left-wing demagogues and activists, who promised them an easy life only to exploit them for political advantage.
Mohamed, a 19-year-old native of Mauritania, is one of about 400 international migrants the city has been putting up in a small number of hotels in other parts of the state this month to relieve pressure on its overtaxed homeless shelter system.
However, he and other relocated asylum seekers say they now regret leaving the city, pointing to a lack of job opportunities and resources to pursue their asylum cases, as well as a hostile reception.
“It’s better in New York City,” Mohamed said. “There, no one cursed at you and said ‘go back to your country.’”
In his home country, Mohamed said he had joined a group of young people to decry the government’s corruption and human rights abuses, including allegations of ongoing slavery. Days later, he said a group of men threw him in an unmarked car, took him to a secret room, and beat him viciously for two days.
After a journey that took him across the U.S. border with Mexico, he landed in a shelter system in New York City he found frightening and overcrowded. In one Brooklyn shelter, a room with 40 beds, someone stole his few remaining possessions as he slept.
So when outreach workers offered him the chance to relocate earlier this month, promising more space and chances to work, Mohamed took it. He joined other asylum seekers at two hotels a few miles outside the small Hudson River Valley city of Newburgh, about two hours north of the city.
Republican county officials there have accused the city of dumping its problems on its neighbors, while insinuating that the new arrivals pose a danger.
Last week, Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus won a temporary restraining order barring the city from sending additional migrants. More than two dozen other counties across New York state have declared emergencies in an attempt to block migrant arrivals, even in places where none are yet planned.
As far as 400 miles north of the city, Niagara County officials have warned of an imminent safety threat, vowing criminal penalties for hotels found to be housing asylum seekers.
Adams, a Democrat, says he will continue his efforts to disperse some of the more than 40,000 asylum seekers currently in the city’s care.
Meanwhile, some who joined the initial wave of relocations have since returned to New York City’s shelter system. Those who don’t have money for transportation, such as Mohamed, say they are stuck.
“It’s like the desert,” lamented Mohamed, who studied law and taught himself English in Mauritania. “There’s nothing here for us.”
Some asylum seekers described a sense of being lured upstate on false pretenses, saying outreach workers described local economies in need of off-the-books migrant labor. Instead they have suffered a stream of harassment.
“There are people driving by pretty constantly in big pickup trucks telling them to go back to their country,” said Amy Belsher, an attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union, describing a phenomenon also witnessed by an AP journalist.
“It’s a completely predictable outcome of the local county executives jumping on the migrant ban bandwagon,” she added. The NYCLU has brought a lawsuit against Orange and Rockland counties alleging discrimination against migrants.
An attorney for Orange County, Richard Golden, said it was “utterly ridiculous” to accuse the county of fostering xenophobia for refusing to assume New York City’s burden.
The county’s lawsuit against the city, he said, rests on a 2006 state administrative directive requiring municipalities to meet certain requirements before transferring homeless individuals.
Peruvian Jhonny Neira offered a more mixed assessment of his time in Newburgh. The 39-year-old asylum seeker described a recent Sunday visit to a church where he felt welcomed by the congregation, even if he couldn’t understand the English sermon.
“I’m a respectful, hard-working person,” he said in Spanish. “I think after getting to know me, they would trust me.”
After three years and millions of illegal entries dispersed throughout the nation’s interior, the number of U.S.–Mexico border crossings has declined since May 11, when the Biden administration finally put new rules in place intended to encourage migrants to apply for asylum online rather than enter the country illegally.
But New York and other migrant destination cities are still dealing with thousands of people who entered the U.S. before the new rules.
In order to gain asylum in the United States, they will have to prove they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” over their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
But for some the court dates now stretch years into the future, meaning they will have ample time to establish their roots while awaiting possible amnesty proposals should Democrats retain power.
Mohamed’s experience tracks with a report by the U.S. State Department, which found Mauritania has overseen an expanded crackdown on political dissidents since 2021 and cites allegations of torture in unofficial detention centers.
If his story passes a credibility check, it would likely constitute a legitimate asylum claim, according to Jaya Ramji–Nogales, an asylum law professor at Temple University. But getting to that stage will require navigating an immigration system under severe strain.
“It was always an under-resourced system but now it’s really at a breaking point,” Ramji–Nogales said. “There’s not the political will to put aside the money it needs to function.”
Mohamed said his goal is building his asylum case—something he’s come to believe is not possible in Newburgh. A few days ago, he missed a key immigration appointment after a car that was supposed to take him to the city never showed up.
“You can’t stay here just sleeping, eating, after that going back to sleeping,” he said. “If you make no progress in your case, they will send you back home. For me, that would be very bad.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press