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How Much Do You Know About the Migrant Crisis?

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Clinton Hill Migrant Shelter

This issue will destroy New York City,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said of the migrant crisis on September 12th, 2023.

Protesters took Adams’s sentiment a dangerous step further on September 15th when they chanted, “Send them back” outside the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, which houses asylum seekers. 

More than 175,000 asylum seekers have arrived in New York City during President Joe Biden’s term. This influx of migrants is a combination of NYC’s right-to-shelter policy—which Mayor Adams has repeatedly pushed back against—and Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s program of busing new migrants from the Mexico-U.S. border to New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. Abbott hopes to overwhelm blue states and shift voters toward his xenophobic policies, like Senate Bill 4, which allows peace officers to arrest individuals they suspect of crossing from Mexico into Texas illegally

Conversations about the migrant crisis should dig beneath the narrow narratives of news headlines and focus on the people instead of the interests of politicians like Abbott. The stories many families tell are tragic, as they relive the miseries of migration while they languish in legal limbo.

The media has generally failed to incorporate the voices of migrants who have relied on migrant centers when reporting about the crisis. However, Law and Society major María Olivares (‘24) volunteers at Project Rousseau, an organization that supports migrants through legal pathways, and has witnessed migrants’ experiences firsthand. Over the summer, she translated intake forms, which Project Rousseau uses to evaluate whether or not Spanish-speaking families are eligible for pro-bono legal representation.

“When you’re trying to get a grasp of why someone comes into the country, it’s more than just ‘can you tell us what you’re afraid of’ [and] ‘when you go back, are you afraid of anything?’” said Olivarez.

Unfortunately, intake forms are bureaucratic documents and don’t allow translators like Olivarez to gain a nuanced understanding of migrant families’ stories. The oversimplification of migrants’ experiences is a problem for the media, too. 

While border security is imperative, xenophobia seeps into the coverage of the migrant crisis through the politicization of asylum seekers. Trump’s recent call to reject a bipartisan border security bill, scored a victory for bad politics over good policy, defeating legislation that would have, among other provisions, filtered out invalid asylum claims and provided the Department of Homeland Security with resources to address loopholes that criminal cartels exploit to traffic people and drugs across the border. The chaos at the border is a consistent advantage for Republicans, and their rhetoric increasingly locks citizens in polarizing debate that undermines solutions and limits national understanding of the real issues new migrants face. 

In a recent poll of Tech students, 82% believed the migrant crisis was a “very important” issue, while 16% believed it was “mildly important.” This poll reflects the national trend that keeps immigration, particularly illegal immigration, among the most pervasive issues on Americans’ minds this election cycle.   

Without a spotlight on the people experiencing this unfolding tragedy, right-wing politicians will continue to resist passing necessary legislation to address the broader border crisis and local community concerns. 

For example, Clinton Hill residents in nearby Brooklyn are concerned that a massive 3,000-person migrant center that recently opened a mile from Tech on Hall Street and Park Avenue will ruin their community, at the same time other neighbors are desperately struggling to organize support. 

Right-wing media has exacerbated negative public opinion regarding the city’s response to the migrant crisis. Videos of migrants overwhelming shelters have gained traction on TikTok, where others spew conspiracy theories about the migrants’ sinister intentions, which major news platforms like Fox News and the New York Post reinforce using words like “invasion” to characterize the crisis. 

Even when incendiary stories of violence between NYPD  officers and migrants are thoroughly debunked, as a local video that played in heavy rotation across right-wing media recently was, they have already done serious harm to the public perception of migrants. 

Newspapers and many right-wing social media accounts treat migrants like political pawns. “I feel that when people talk about these families they don’t realize they’re actual humans,” said Clarissa Kunizaki (‘26). “I feel like a lot of it is dehumanization in the media, and we forget that these people have families, they have lives, they completely risked their whole life.”

As families have transitioned to their new lives in NYC, migrant children have enrolled in public schools, and Adams’ stance on migrants remaining in NYC remains unclear. The recent rise in enrolled students, which has eased the sharp decline following COVID-19, is a point of pride for Adams. Still, his attacks on right-to-shelter policies and his inflammatory language such as announcing that there is a “migrant crime wave” which insinuates that NYC’s crime rate has risen because of migrants.

The prevalence of inflammatory headlines may make some unsure of where to go for updates. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a state-owned platform, and Voice of America post weekly recaps on the migrant crisis, making them reliable places to start. WOLA reports on legislative and numerical updates regarding the U.S.-Mexico border and Voice of America broadcasts segments that tell migrant stories. 

An essential part of becoming informed on the migrant crisis is recognizing that it is a global issue, as migrants are increasingly arriving not just from Latin America, but also from African countries and Ukraine, because of political instability and economic turmoil.

Using the words “immigrant” and “Mexican” interchangeably conflates the two identities, enabling racial profiling and making Latinos vulnerable to violence as the migrant crisis intensifies. 

Latinos face deportation at disproportionate rates, at the same time anti-Latino hate crimes rose by 41% between 2020 and 2021, and counting. Misconceptions make it challenging to catalyze change when the focus is on an “invasion” of migrants who are using up tax dollars, instead of ICE officers’ history of racial profiling or the actual needs of migrants like food, shelter, and legal support. 

Ms. Cristina Santiago-Campbell, the Assistant Principal of World Languages, said she wishes people understood migrants are “not here to freeload, they’re here to settle down.” 

There is no perfect way to address the needs of migrants, but humanizing them is not enough—they require our empathy and active compassion. Ms. Santiago-Campbell said this best, “I want to hear more from migrant voices.”


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About the Contributor
Nicole Vega Ayala
Nicole Vega Ayala, Opinions Editor
Nicole Vega Ayala (they/she) is a Co-Editor of Opinions. Nicole is interested in journalism because it is a powerful and effective form of advocacy. By informing the public, good journalism makes for involved citizens. Nicole joined The Survey to advocate and inform those in the school community. Nicole reads The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and the Washington Post. Nicole hopes to study International Relations during college and become a lawyer later in their career. Nicole likes to cook and hang out with their friends. Nicole loves reading poetry books; her current favorite is Empty Bottles Full of Stories.

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