With its Italian Renaissance Revival facade and opulent marble lobby, the Roosevelt was one of Manhattan’s grandest hotels when it opened in 1926, putting on a lavish banquet for 1,500 guests.
Now, as The Mail on Sunday saw last week, an entirely different clientele is filling its 1,000 rooms, while others queue patiently outside to get in.
Tired, confused and often shoving their worldly goods and families in battered wheeled suitcases and pushchairs, these newly arrived migrants – fresh off the bus from the US southern border – receive instructions from a Spanish-speaking National Guardsman in combat gear at the main entrance (few of the arrivals speak a word of English).
The guardsman along with other soldiers and security guards are there to deal with trouble – 41 arrests have taken place at the hotel, largely for domestic violence, since May when the Roosevelt became the city’s main arrival centre for asylum seekers.
Manhattanites walk blithely past the poverty and dejected faces, some bound for a smart Greek seafood restaurant opposite, where a portion of ‘English Channel‘ Dover sole sells for the equivalent of £45.
Mayor Eric Adams has declared a state of emergency. The New York City Mayor is pictured at a rally calling for expedited work authorisation for asylum seekers in New York, August 31
Migrants sleep on pieces of cardboard outside the doors of the Roosevelt Hotel in the centre of New York City, August 1
Until recently, hundreds of migrants would doss down outside the Roosevelt on pieces of cardboard overnight, for fear of losing their place in a queue that stretched around the block.
That embarrassing sight has gone, but does that mean New York has got a grip of its migrant crisis?
Far from it. The problem has simply been moved somewhere a little less visible than the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
The car park of a psychiatric hospital in Queens, a swathe of football pitches on one of the city’s islands, an abandoned airfield in a Brooklyn flood zone, former jails and an airport warehouse have all been earmarked as sites for migrant ‘tent cities’. Even Central Park has been considered.
Meanwhile, another long queue forms before dawn each day outside a government building in downtown Manhattan where hundreds of migrants line up for benefits, services and court hearings.
New York prides itself on being a haven for migrants, welcoming the world’s ‘huddled masses’ as the inscription on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour puts it.
But that promise, espoused by generations of Democrat politicians, now rings hollow. They found it easy to posture that New York was a sanctuary for unauthorised migrants when they were 2,000 miles from the border with Mexico – their usual entry point – but in recent months the city has had plenty of time to regret decades of such virtue-signalling.
According to Mayor Eric Adams, 10,000 migrants are now arriving every month in New York, worsening the nightmare for an already cramped city that has seen more than 113,000 people come since spring 2022. (By comparison, 45,755 migrants crossed the Channel to the UK in all of 2022.)
New York has long since run out of space in hotels or homeless shelters to give them, but, as many of the arrivals know, uniquely among US cities, the Big Apple has taken on a legal obligation to provide a bed for anyone who asks for one.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul has called for a ‘historic humanitarian response’, while Mayor Adams has declared a state of emergency.
He said a few days ago: ‘Let me tell you something, New Yorkers. Never in my life have I had a problem that I did not see an ending to – I don’t see an ending to this. This issue will destroy New York City.’
Appealing for urgent help from Washington, he predicts a ‘financial tsunami’ that will cost the city $12 billion over the next three years and has told city departments, including the police and fire service, to cut their spending by 15 per cent by next spring to pay for the migrants. ‘We have to feed, clothe, house, educate their children, wash their laundry sheets, give them everything they need, including healthcare,’ he complained.
And they are coming from all points of the compass. He said: ‘One time, we were just getting Venezuela. Now we’re getting Ecuador. Now we’re getting Russian-speaking, coming through Mexico. Now we’re getting western Africa. Now we are getting people from all over the globe who have made their minds up they’re going to come through the southern border and come into New York City.’
A mother pictured sitting on the little amount of belongings she owns while craddling her child
New Yorkers talk past seas of desperate migrants outside of The Roosevelt Hotel as this becomes part of their every day life
It was a strange rant to hear from a Democrat – a party normally so sympathetic to migrants – and especially Adams.
He’s long been a supporter of so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ (those that refuse to co-operate with national government in enforcing immigration law) and only two years ago, while running for Mayor, boldly declared the city ‘should protect our immigrants – period’.
But reality, say critics, has caught up with these noble intentions. And the crisis could have national implications. A year ago, Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in large part because they stole a string of suburban New York seats away from the Democrats.
Now Democrats are trying to win them back but complain that their efforts are stymied by the migrant issue, which has seen New York City busing its asylum seekers to hotels elsewhere in the state.
So it’s not only Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul who see their careers on the line, but their party colleagues in Congress. No wonder then that Democrats are at each other’s throats over who’s to blame.
Tensions are so high that when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Left-wing firebrand in Congress, went to the Roosevelt last Friday for a press conference addressing the migrants crisis, she was drowned out by protesters chanting ‘close the border’ and ‘send them back’.
Adams first tried to pin the blame on Texas’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott who – in a masterful piece of political mischief-making that also made a serious point about the border issue – gave thousands of migrants in his state one-way bus tickets up to New York and other liberal cities such as Chicago and Washington DC (Adams accused Abbott of targeting ‘black-run cities’ but ironically now finds himself accused of racism).
However, only 13,000 are thought to have travelled to New York in this way, so that explanation hardly suffices. Instead, New York’s leaders increasingly point the finger at President Joe Biden.
This is because in May, Biden ended rules imposed under Donald Trump as part of Covid restrictions, whereby migrants could be turned back at the border and denied the right to asylum. Biden’s policy is to detain as few migrants at the border as possible, letting them into the US once they’ve passed a ‘credible fear’ screening test that ascertains if they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country.
Critics say the Biden government has put a ridiculously low bar on what counts as ‘credible fear’ – for example, letting in tens of thousands of Venezuelans when they long ago fled the socialist state for other South American countries.
Border states such as Texas, Arizona and New Mexico say they have consequently been deluged with unprecedented numbers of migrants who – given so many have come to the US principally to start new lives and earn money – don’t want to hang around there.
Asylum applications can take up to seven years to be processed, so people need no encouragement to head straight for New York.
After all, not only is it a city of opportunity celebrated in countless Hollywood films but, as with the popularity of the UK as a European destination for asylum seekers, many migrants have family and friends there. And those contacts will have told them that the city is especially generous to them – not least because of New York’s guarantee of a ‘right to shelter’. This commitment was introduced by Democrat Mayor Ed Koch in 1981, little knowing how many might one day ask for that bed.
Last week, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg put it bluntly: ‘We have a system that essentially allows an unlimited number to cross our borders, forbids them to work, offers them free housing and grants them seven years of residency before ruling on whether they can legally stay. It would be hard to devise a more backward, self-defeating system.’
In July there were almost 184,000 migrant crossings into the U.S. – up from 144,000 encounters with border patrol from June. Although the figures rose on a month-by-month basis, the numbers are still well below that of previous years when in 2021 and 2022 more than 200,000 crossed into the U.S. from Mexico
The U.S. border has seen a flood of migrants from across the world, not just Central and South American nations such as Venezuela and Mexico. Migrants are pictured arriving in Tucson, Arizona
In the meantime, New York taxpayers have to pick up the tab. The city has not only requisitioned more than 140 hotels but has opened some 200 emergency shelters in any usable space it can find.
None of this is cheap. Experts say sheltering a migrant family in New York costs the city £308 a night.
Pricey New York, which so far has received less than a tenth of the federal aid it has requested for the migrants, is desperately short of affordable housing anyway.
That financial burden would be eased if migrants could pay their own way but, under US law, they’re not allowed to apply for a work permit until they’ve been in the country for five months. It often takes a year before they can look for a job, let alone find one. Less than two per cent of New York’s migrants have reportedly applied for permits.
Mayor Adams has called on Congress to relax this rule and also wants Washington to help provide permanent housing. This week, President Biden responded by allowing 472,000 Venezuelans already in the US to live and work legally for 18 months.
But such measures, say opponents, will only encourage more migrants to come to New York. And although a few New Yorkers are putting asylum seekers up in their homes, others are not happy about their new neighbours, sometimes complaining that crime has risen where they are being housed.
One Staten Island homeowner has been accused of using ‘psychological warfare’ by bombarding a former school being used as a migrant shelter with a deafening soundtrack telling them to leave. The 117-decibel recording in five languages, blaring out 24 hours a day, warns arrivals: ‘You are being lied to. This building is not safe for humans. The community wants you to go back to New York City. Immigrants are not safe here.’
This week, 10 Staten Island residents were arrested when they tried to physically block the arrival of a migrants bus in a confrontation Mayor Adams described as ‘ugly’.
On one thing everyone agrees –the crisis is getting worse. And it’s not just New York: Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia and Denver, all Democrat cities, are experiencing the same problem.
But little towns down on the 1,954-mile Mexican border – where US patrols made 3.5 million arrests of undocumented immigrants between last March and July this year – have been putting up with an endless stream of migrants for years. More than 4,000 surged into the small Texas border town of Eagle Pass in just two days this week.
Trump was ridiculed for wanting to build a wall along the border. That might have been unfeasible but something has to happen down there, many are convinced, or the rot will truly set in for the Big Apple.