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NEW YORK – Testifying before the New York City Council on Aug. 9, a leader in Catholic Charities expressed concern that migrants are arriving in the city with documentation listing the organization’s offices as their permanent residence, and he put the blame on immigration officials at the southern border for allowing it to happen.
Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of New York, said the organization has seen about 1,100 migrants over the past month, at a time when migration to the city from the southern border is surging. Sullivan said the Catholic Charities’ address was listed in certain migrant’s documentation, something it discovered through a review of each person’s documents when they arrive “to see who are in difficult situations.”
“The chaos, which angers me, is we’ve seen over 200 documents that have been issued by immigration authorities in Texas listing our office as residences of these individuals,” Sullivan said. “We are frightened that they’re going to miss court appearances because they’re not going to get notices that they have to show up.”
Manuel Castro, commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said that city shelters and legal service providers are experiencing the same issue. He added that the reason the addresses were included is unknown, and that the city continues “to ask the federal authorities to provide us with clarity on this matter.”
In a statement to Crux, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson explained that it’s not CBP, but the migrants themselves, who provide the address that appears on their documentation.
“CBP screens and vets all migrants encountered at the border against multiple public safety databases, and any migrants who may pose a threat to national security or public safety are detained,” the official said.
“Migrants who are provisionally released must provide an address and have strict immigration reporting requirements, including checking with Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further processing once they reach their destination,” the spokesperson continued. “Migrants are provided with forms to update their addresses once they reach their final destination.”
Someone with knowledge of the migrant processing system at the southern border told Crux that immigration officials likely don’t even know what exists at the address provided by the migrants, because they’re just verifying that the address is real.
Regardless of who is providing the addresses – immigration officials or the migrants themselves – it doesn’t change the challenges the issue creates, especially when there’s an influx of people. Sullivan expressed frustration that for decades federal lawmakers haven’t taken steps to address the nation’s broken immigration system.
“What makes me frustrated is that this is a national problem that Congress has been unable to resolve for more than three or four decades,” Sullivan said. “We should not be surprised that these crises emerge periodically because as a nation we haven’t dealt with the immigration problem that we have.”
Sullivan, Castro, and other city officials and nonprofit organizations gave testimony to the New York City Council at a general welfare hearing on the surge of asylum seekers arriving in New York City in recent months and how best to address the problem.
Gary Jenkins, commissioner of the NYC Department of Social Services stated at the hearing that 4,000 asylum seekers have presented themselves to the city’s intake shelter system in the last few months. The influx has strained shelters citywide and led the city to declare an emergency last week to streamline its ability to secure essential services.
The city is working across the five boroughs to place asylum seekers in shelters and find additional spaces to use, Jenkins said. He added that the city is working with federal and state partners to secure additional funding to respond to the migration surge, though he acknowledged the city hasn’t yet determined what the specific financial requests will be.
The influx of migrants in New York comes at a time when Texas continues to deal with an immigration crisis of its own. U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered about 207,000 migrants at the southwest border in June, according to agency data, marking the fourth consecutive month of more than 200,000 encounters. Data for July hasn’t been released yet.
Sullivan said the 1,100 migrants Catholic Charities of New York has met are predominantly young men in their 20s and 30s from Venezuela, but he noted that women with children and some migrants from other countries have arrived as well.
Sullivan described the organization’s response efforts as “not much, but yet, a lot.”
When an individual arrives, they are interviewed with “compassion and with respect” in an effort to understand their situation, he said. They are also given food, any clothes the organization can provide, and a “very small amount of financial assistance.”
Beyond his frustration, Sullivan also highlighted reasons why he’s proud and hopeful for the future. The sense of pride, he said, comes from the fact the hearing was held and the city is working to meet the migrants’ needs.
“I’m proud because as New Yorkers they are our people and we are going to respond to them,” Sullivan said. “Catholic Charities has already responded. We will be partners going forward.”
Sullivan added he’s also hopeful because the first thing most of the young men ask when they arrive is if the organization can help them find a job, calling the situation an “opportunity” for the city with “new vibrant New Yorkers taking the jobs that our restaurants can’t fill, and doing construction work.”
“They’re going to make our economy more vibrant. They are going to make New York more vibrant,” Sullivan said. “So in the midst of my anger, my frustration, I’m proud that we’re in New York, and I’m hopeful that this is an opportunity for us to be even better.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg