“We must accumulate data to understand how the city has supported work permit applications, entrepreneurship, workforce development initiatives, and access to health care in order to identify the gaps in our efforts,” said the bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman Carlina Rivera.

Migrants lined up to reapply for shelter outside St Brigid's School

Adi Talwar

Migrants waiting in line in front of St. Brigid’s in the East Village on the Morning of May 22, 2024.

Lea la versión en español aquí.

The City Council passed two bills Thursday launching an economic and health care survey of migrants and asylum seekers under the city’s care, which its sponsor says will help officials better understand and meet the needs of new arrivals.

In February, Councilwoman Carlina Rivera introduced the legislation to anonymously survey immigrants: Intro 84-A will gather information on “skills, economic opportunities, and workforce development obstacles” that migrants face, while Intro 85-A will focus on their long-term health needs, including chronic conditions and health care access.

Since the Spring of 2022, around 201,200 migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in New York City and about 65,000 are currently in the shelter system, where most are subject to 30- or 60-day limits. The Adams administration, citing lack of space and resources, is now enforcing stricter rules for adults migrants without children seeking more time in the system, which advocates worry will lead to more people sleeping on the streets.

“As elected leadership we must be more proactive in providing opportunities for people to transition out of the shelter system and into more permanent living situations,” Rivera said at a press conference ahead of Thursday’s vote on the bills. The surveys, she added, will lay “the groundwork for a more effective humanitarian response going forward.”

The bills come at a time of changing rules at the southern border, following an executive order from the Biden administration to quickly process requests for asylum and deport those who do not meet the requirements. Locally, Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul—who was in the White House with President Joe Biden during the announcement—have supported the border restrictions.

The long-anticipated measure taken by the president aims to reduce the number of migrants crossing between ports of entry into the country, and thus local officials expect lower numbers of those admitted under city and state services.

“This will stem the flow, because otherwise, there is no end in sight. This gives us the breathing room to manage the people we have, help them get the work permits,” Hochul said during an interview with NY1.

One of the surveys required by the bill would explore the barriers to workforce development faced by immigrants. Advocates for migrants from non-Spanish speaking countries, especially those from the African continent, have pointed out the lack of workforce programs in languages such as Arabic, French, Pulaar, and Wolof.

The bill requires the surveys to be administered in the “designated citywide languages“—the six most common languages spoken by New Yorkers with limited English proficiency, and the four most common languages spoken by the populations served by city agencies—and “temporary languages,” which are the languages spoken by people newly arriving in the city and identified by the Office of Language Services.

There is no cost associated with these bills, Rivera assured. Both fiscal impact reports confirm that there would be no effect on city expenditures, as the responsible agency will use existing resources to comply with its requirements.

“We’ll need to have individuals trained, whether it’s administering the survey or ensuring that people understand how to take the survey, or ensuring that we are doing the proper engagement, so there are some resources in terms of engagement administration,” Rivera explained. “Other than that, we think that this is something that should become part of a normal routine in terms of how people go through city systems.” 

Under the bill, the mayor is required to designate a mayoral office or agency that would need to have the surveys ready by Oct. 31. 

By the end of the following month, the responsible entity will distribute the survey to case managers and onsite staff at sites responding to migrant arrivals. According to Rivera, these include the city’s main Arrival Center at the Roosevelt Hotel, its Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers (HERRCs), respite centers, emergency shelters, asylum seeker resource navigation centers, as well as any other facilities used for shelter by the city outside the five boroughs.

The current bill language does not describe a minimum or maximum number of people to be surveyed or how long the the surveys will be conducted for.

“We don’t have a target, but the more the better,” Rivera said, adding that the bill has broad language to include families with children as well as single adults and couples.

The results of the surveys must be delivered to the head of the commissioned city entity by May 31, 2025, and to the mayor and the speaker of the Council by Sept. 30, 2025, followed by its publication online. The same deadlines would remain in place until 2029, or when the state of emergency related to asylum seekers declared by the state expires, whichever comes first.

When asked to comment on possible approval of both bills before Thursday’s vote, City Hall Spokesperson Kayla Mamelak said the mayor’s office will review the legislation. The New York City Department of Health and Hospitals (H+H) referred questions to City Hall, and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

During an executive budget hearing in May, H+H’s CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz said that the top medical need for newly arrived asylum seekers and migrants was pregnancy care.

“NYC Health + Hospitals has established a pathway to connect women to care at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, which, in addition to our other facilities, has helped over 700 asylum seekers receive prenatal care and give birth to healthy babies,” reads a recently published statement.

Rivera said that this type of information and data is long overdue.

“In speaking with the community organizers,” Rivera said, “I’ve learned that we must accumulate data to understand how the city has supported work permit applications, entrepreneurship, workforce development initiatives, and access to health care in order to identify the gaps in our efforts. And we’re hoping that this will certainly help.”

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