New Yorkers’ quality of life hit by migrant crisis

A majority of New Yorkers believe that the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants to the city since April 2022 has now turned into a full-blown crisis, according to a recent poll for Newsweek, with many saying their presence is impacting their quality of life.

Nearly half of respondents (45 percent) to a Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll conducted on behalf of Newsweek between May 12 and 14 said that the large number of migrants now living in New York City had “a significant amount” of impact on the quality of life for permanent residents. Some 30 percent said they had “a fair amount” of impact and 17 percent said their impact equated to “a small amount,” while only 8 percent believed it had no impact at all.

More than 180,000 migrants have passed through New York City since the spring of 2022, according to city officials, with most coming from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and a smaller percentage having made their way to the U.S. from China and countries in Africa.

Nearly half of New Yorkers think that the arrival of nearly 180,000 migrants to the city in the past two years has had a significant impact on their quality of life, according to a recent…

Newsweek illustration/ Getty Images

While New Yorkers have been welcoming of migrants, trying to face up to a growing emergency, the city’s efforts to meet the flow of new arrivals and provide shelter for all have been costly and tiresome—and the poll shows they’re taking a toll on residents.

How New Yorkers Feel About the Migrant Crisis

Some 64 percent of New York City residents responding to our poll agreed that the city is facing a migrant crisis, whereas only 11 percent thought that wasn’t the case.

Baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and members of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) were more likely to think New York City was facing a migrant crisis than the younger generations, with a total of 76 percent against 61 percent for Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), 65 percent for millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and 45 percent for Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012).

Residents also thought that the arrival of so many migrants had impacted the city’s crime rate and affected tourism.

Some 40 percent of New Yorkers said the presence of migrants was having a significant impact on the experience for tourists visiting the city, while 34 percent said they were having a fair amount of impact and 17 percent said they were having only a small impact on tourism.

Some 41 percent believed that the increased number of migrants in the city was having a significant impact on its crime rate. Some 31 percent said the impact was “fair,” 18 percent said it was “small” and 10 percent said the presence of migrants had no impact at all on the New York City crime rate. The poll was conducted among 974 eligible voters in New York.

But the data coming from the city’s authorities do not entirely back up their beliefs.

According to the latest data from the New York Police Department, the city saw reductions in overall crime through the first quarter of 2024. As of March, murder was down 19.4 percent, burglary dropped by 17.4 percent and grand larceny decreased by 7 percent compared to a year earlier. Felony assault was up 5.5 percent and robbery was unchanged.

Last year, the NYPD said that overall crime was down by a percentage point in 2023 compared to 2022. While murders were down 11.9 percent, assaults had increased by 6.3 percent and grand larceny by 15 percent.

The New York City Tourism + Conventions, the tourism authority of the five boroughs of New York City, shared a report with Newsweek showing that New York City’s tourism industry is booming and has had a strong recovery since the pandemic. Last year, it generated $74 billion in economic impact with more than $48 billion coming from direct spending, and attracted 61.8 million travelers. That was a recovery of 93 percent of New York City’s record 2019 visitation levels.

The ‘Untenable’ Situation of Randall’s Island

Despite the fact that this data appears to minimize the impact of migrants on the city’s crime rate and tourism industry, respondents to our poll are not the only New Yorkers thinking that the large presence of migrants in New York has negatively impacted them and city officials should have handled the situation differently.

Among those complaining about it are Nancy Neff and Jonathan May, co-chairs of the Randall’s Island Park Alliance—a nonprofit organization and New York City’s partner in maintaining and operating Randall’s Island Park.

The park has hosted a temporary shelter for 3,000 people since August 2023—but now Neff and May are asking Mayor Adams to remove the temporary shelter structure for the sake of both local residents and migrants by August 8, when the current license expires.

In a letter sent to Mayor Adams on May 20 and shared with Newsweek, Neff and May wrote that the situation in the park is “unsustainable” and they were ready to take legal action should the shelter not be removed in the summer.

“We are aware of the large influx of migrants into the city over the last two years and understand that the city faces an unprecedented challenge. We are empathetic to the people who have migrated to our great city seeking a better life and to this administration, which shoulders the responsibility for caring for so many of them,” they wrote.

“But using parkland to house 3,000 people in a temporary structure on an island is not the answer. It is to the detriment of all—those temporarily housed in the park, along with the thousands of New Yorkers being denied access to parkland. Moreover, it is illegal, and it is time for it to end.”

The two also complained of an increase in crime in the island, including “lesser everyday offenses” that go uncovered by the media. In January, a man was stabbed to death in the island’s migrant shelter. Migrants staying at the shelter told Fox 5 at the time that they didn’t feel safe staying there.

Mayor Adams has repeatedly acknowledged that the city is facing a “humanitarian crisis.” In response to a request for comment on the Randall’s Island Park Alliance’s request by Newsweek, Adams’ office shared a press conference from May 21 where the mayor said he has received numerous requests from officials to be welcoming to migrants but “not on my block,” saying that this position reflected their “hypocrisy.”

An Evolving Situation

As of last month, there were still around 65,000 migrants in city shelters, most of whom are families with children—but this number might soon be dropping following the implementation of Mayor Eric Adams’ administration’s new eviction policy.

On Wednesday, the city began a new wave of evictions affecting adult migrants who were given a 30-day notice in April as the city tries to push people to find alternative housing and not rely on accommodation paid by the city as per its right-to-shelter mandate. New York City is obligated to provide shelter to anyone who’s homeless, including migrants, as established by the landmark 1981 Callahan v. Carey case.

The arrival of nearly 200,000 migrants to New York in the past couple of years and the city’s obligation to find shelter for all of them has put near-unbearable pressure on the city’s shelter system as well as its schools and budget.

But New York City Comptroller Brad Lander thinks that the city has more to gain than to lose from the arrival of migrants. In its report titled Facts, Not Fear, which the comptroller’s office shared with Newsweek, the comptroller says that immigrants, “regardless of status, strengthen our economy as workers, entrepreneurs, tax payers and consumers” and “drive population and workforce growth.”

New York City
People walk through the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus where a new migrant shelter is set to open on March 04, 2024 in New York City. Nearly half of New Yorkers think that the…

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In an interview with NYCLU last month, Lander said that the arrival of migrants is keeping the city’s population growing and helping its economy. “Our revenues have been growing by more than we are spending on shelter for asylum-seekers,” he said. “That doesn’t solve all the problems because other expenses are growing as well. And we’re losing federal pandemic aid. But that’s a significant fact. And if we can keep the economy growing, we can think about how to make the investments that benefit everyone.”

Others agree that the city might enrich itself thanks to the latest wave of migrant arrivals.

“History suggests that the current rhetoric of the migrant crisis is not new. If you look back at the heyday of mass migration in the early 20th century—the days of ‘huddled masses yearning to be free’—you’ll find very similar ideas,” Nara Milanich, a professor of history at Barnard College, told Newsweek.

“The Commissioner-General of Immigration in 1905 warned that the city was facing ‘one of the gravest crises of [our] history,’ citing the crime, disease and poverty that newcomers had supposedly brought to the city.

“A century later, we have forgotten that rhetoric, and we now celebrate those immigrants as having helped forge the identity of our city. We take our kids to Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum to learn about them,” she added.

“I firmly believe that one day, we’ll remember this latest influx of immigrants in the same way, as a moment that has helped to create the social and economic fabric of the city. One day we may celebrate arepas as a quintessential New York delicacy the way we do bagels,” Milanich said. “Immigration does not challenge the identity of the city: historically speaking, it enriches it.”