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Mayor Adams: Let’s Turn Abbott’s Cheap Political Stunt Into A Strategic Asset for NYC

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been chartering busses and sending immigrants from Texas to East Coast cities because he sees immigrants as a problem, not an asset. On Friday, the federal government announced that over 500,000 new jobs were created in July, unemployment is down to 3.5%, and all over the country, businesses are posting help wanted signs in their windows. Mayor Eric Adams should work with the federal government, convene a working group to create an Immigrant Work Corps, and figure out how to obtain emergency working papers for new immigrants and place them in both government and private sector jobs in New York. I know there are rules and red tape that would need to be overcome to make this work, but let’s figure out a workaround that enables new immigrants to get started here in New York. In fact, since both Arizona and Texas are sending immigrants to Washington DC and New York, we should also get together with DC and other cities interested in putting new immigrants to work.

In a recent New York Times piece on Abbott’s cynical political stunt, Andy Newman and Raúl Vilchis reported that:

“Since April, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, has been shipping newly arrived asylum seekers to immigrant-friendly Democratic cities on the East Coast to try to pressure the Biden administration into cracking down at the border. Mr. Abbott’s press office said the bus that arrived in Manhattan on Friday, which left Eagle Pass, Wednesday afternoon, held “the first group of migrants bused to New York City from Texas… The Adams administration denounced the bus trip as another stunt by Mr. Abbott. The Texas governor’s “continued use of human beings as political pawns is disgusting,” Fabien Levy, a spokesman for Mr. Adams, wrote on Twitter. The city, Mr. Levy added, would continue “to welcome asylum seekers” but needed federal support to do so.”

Mayor Adams is correct, Abbott is a cynical and mean-hearted political hack more interested in political power than public service, but the mayor is falling into Abbott’s political trap by seeing immigrants as a problem rather than as an asset. In Andy Newman and Raúl Vilchis’ piece, they profile several of the immigrants who were bussed from Texas:

“Although some of the migrants who arrived on the chartered bus from Texas on Friday were headed into the shelter system, Mr. Rodríguez and a friend who traveled with him, Pablo Gutiérrez, knew someone in New York who was able to give them a place to stay. “We have a friend who is going to come to meet us here,” Mr. Gutiérrez said. Mr. Rodríguez, 38, an unemployed bricklayer from Maracaibo, on Venezuela’s northwest coast, said he had left home with $100 in his pocket on June 10…. Like other migrants, Mr. Rodríguez and Mr. Gutiérrez said they had agreed to go to New York because it was free. “We heard there is a lot of work in New York,” said Mr. Gutiérrez, 30, who worked as a cook back home.”

Here’s a newsflash: People don’t travel thousands of miles from home to sleep in a homeless shelter or beg on the street; they immigrate in search of a better life. Nearly all want to work. White supremacist “Replacement Theory” is ridiculous because who exactly are immigrants “replacing”? The children and grandchildren of immigrants. Nearly every American is from someplace else. Some came unwillingly in chains. America’s population of 330 million includes 5.2 million Native Americans; the other 98% of us are immigrants or the decedents of immigrants. Either we or our forebears were foreigners, oppressed at home and willing to travel thousands of miles to find work and build a new life in a new world. Some, as noted above, were stolen from their homes and sold here as slaves. Still, if we were really interested in making America great again, we would re-open mass legal immigration since that is what so much of this “greatness” was built on.

I take immigrant bashing personally. Like most Americans, my family hasn’t been here that long. About a century ago, my grandparents Ben and Rose Cohen and Irving and Florence Balas came from Eastern Europe to the United States. It was an arduous and risky journey. Like most early 20th century immigrants, they had some family already here. But had they stayed in Europe, they might have been among the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. In the metropolitan New York region, my grandparents found economic opportunity and less religious intolerance than in the places they ran away from. It wasn’t always pretty, and New York City’s welcome has always been a type of tough love. But Ben found work as a baker, and Irving came to own a deli and ended up in real estate. My grandparents would collectively raise eight children, and they and their children all managed to earn their piece of the American Dream.

Life for new immigrants in America has never been easy, but the work ethic we honor here has its roots in their willingness to sacrifice for their children. That hunger and spirit can be found in most immigrants today. The economic vitality of New York City is built on immigration. Nealy forty percent of the people who live here were born in other countries. Add to that number tourists, students from abroad, and illegal immigrants, and I guarantee you that those of us born here are in a distinct minority. So, let’s build on our immigrant tradition. Let’s welcome those human beings that Texas has no use for. Let’s be creative, get them the ability to work legally, help these folks find work, register their kids for school, put up some temporary housing, and mobilize the resources needed to give these new immigrants a shot at the American Dream.

Ever since Donald Trump took that escalator to the Trump Tower lobby to announce his run for the presidency, we have been subjected to relentless xenophobia from the political right wing. Instead of accurately portraying immigrants as hard-working, struggling families seeking a better life, they are presented as drug-dealing criminals and rapists. The data indicates that native-born Americans commit far more crimes per capita than immigrants. And without immigrant labor in New York, there would be no building construction, restaurants, hospital staff, delivery folks, or pretty much anything else. Diversity is not a theory or aspiration around here, it is a way of life. And part of that diversity is our international workforce.

Rather than seeing Abbott’s cynical maneuver as Abbott sees it, let’s turn it around and thank him for the gift. Perhaps we could also attract some of his businesses that may be having trouble filling their staff vacancies. We’ve got lots of people here, fewer guns, no restrictions on a woman’s ability to control her own body, mass transit to help newly settled workers get to work even if they can’t afford a car, and a tradition of commerce. Yes, Texas has low taxes and little regulation, but it is ruled by a crass political opportunist. In any case, if we can’t get Texas’ businesses, let’s take their immigrants. Let these aspiring Americans help our businesses thrive and show Texas how America works.

This article was originally published in State of the Planet.