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New York City welcomes asylum-seekers from Texas but struggles to house them


The state of Texas continues to bus asylum seekers to New York City. That's an effort by Gov. Greg Abbott to show his opposition to federal immigration policies. As NPR's Austin Cope reports, New York officials and volunteers welcome the migrants, but their arrival can still be rocky.


AUSTIN COPE, BYLINE: A white bus with Texas plates has just pulled up outside the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan. The men, women and children on it have just finished a 30-hour, nonstop bus ride from the Mexico border. They arrive hungry, and some need immediate medical care. As they get off, a small crowd of city officials and relief workers welcomes them to New York City.


COPE: Some want to come to New York. Others say they've been forced or tricked into coming here by Texas officials. They've become the most public face of a political back-and-forth between the state of Texas and New York City. But they're part of an increasing number of asylum seekers who've been coming to this city from the U.S.-Mexico border this summer. Charities and volunteer groups have been helping them for months, but city officials and nonprofits have become more publicly involved in the past few weeks. Ilze Thielmann is with Team TLC NYC. She's just finished offering food, clothing and medical assistance to a group of about 90 asylum seekers.

ILZE THIELMANN: We had a great coordinated response between our side - the volunteer side, NGO side - and the city, and it was absolutely amazing.

COPE: A lot of the newly arrived asylum seekers don't have relatives in New York to stay with, so after they leave the station, they often have to go to city homeless shelters. The shelter system doesn't track people by immigration status, but city officials say around 6,000 asylum seekers overall have entered city shelters since May. But New York shelters are already overstretched and not only from 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 (ph) is a 26-year-old from Venezuela who recently arrived in the U.S. to seek asylum. He preferred to only share his first name to protect his legal status. He says that as a member of the LGBTQ community, he felt threatened by other residents at a city shelter for homeless men.

CARLOS: (Speaking Spanish).

COPE: He says they had problems with drugs, they had mental problems, and that he and the people he was with felt endangered there. He said he'd a thousand times rather be on the streets than stay in that shelter. He called for New York City to offer more support to immigrants and everyone else in the shelter system. Veronica (ph) is a 22-year-old from Venezuela who's six months pregnant. She says she had a problem with her pregnancy when she was in Mexico and is in need of special medical care. She also asked to use her first name only to protect her legal status.

VERONICA: (Speaking Spanish).

COPE: She says she was given help by immigration officials at a hospital by the Texas border but hasn't had medical care since. She says she's currently at a shelter in Manhattan, but they don't give her any food or medical help, only a place to stay. Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro says he wants to hear more about any problems people encounter. He says city officials are working with a growing group of charities and nonprofits.

MANUEL CASTRO: I think what's important is that those families are connected to us as well so that we understand what were the challenges that they faced, and we can adjust appropriately.

COPE: But activists say there's still more work to be done to improve New York's deep-seated housing problems and to make sure asylum seekers' needs are being met after such harrowing journeys. Ariadna Phillips is an organizer with South Bronx Mutual Aid.

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

COPE: The state of Texas has continued to send buses without sharing arrival times in advance. So as migrants, volunteer groups and city officials continue to adapt, they're watching the political back-and-forth play itself out on a deeply human level. For NPR News, I'm Austin Cope in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY GUERRERO'S "EL CAMINO NEGRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Austin Cope