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Inhumane conditions reported at large migrant shelter in New York City


Some 90,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since the spring of 2022. Single adult migrants are allowed to stay in a shelter for two months, after which they have to reapply. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports on conditions at the city's largest shelter.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: From the outside, the tall white building looks like any other hip, new Brooklyn living space. Hundreds of migrant men sleep here every night. And with a total capacity of 1,400 people, it's a sort of megashelter. Here's Mayor Eric Adams.


ERIC ADAMS: We have no more room in the city.

GARSD: New York, Adams says, is overwhelmed.


ADAMS: And we need help from the federal government. We've been very clear.

GARSD: NPR spent several days speaking to asylum-seekers here. Many say conditions are dire.

DAVY: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Davy (ph) is 26. He says he's fleeing armed conflict in Colombia. He's been living in the building for over a week. He asked that his last name be withheld for fear of retaliation.

DAVY: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: Davy says there's two bathrooms per 90 people. Parked outside, there are two trailers with showers for the entire building. On this day, many people are eating chips and a water. They say that's lunch. Other times, they say, the food has gone bad. What upsets Davy the most is the security guards.

DAVY: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: He says, "I understand enough English to know they're insulting us." Dozens of migrants told NPR they've experienced physical harassment and insults. Professor Elora Mukherjee teaches immigration law at Columbia University.

ELORA MUKHERJEE: For at least 40 years, New York City has provided a right to shelter to all people, regardless of their immigration status, who need a place to stay for the night.

GARSD: She says immigration policy in New York is undergoing a historic shift.

MUKHERJEE: And the recent changes announced by the mayor are devastating.

GARSD: New York City government did not respond to NPR's inquiries on this matter. Conditions here are so distressing, some would rather sleep under a nearby highway overpass. Others have no choice. There's a homeless camp of nearly 20 migrant men there. Among them is Jose Antonio (ph). He says he left Venezuela escaping government harassment.

JOSE ANTONIO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: "Eighty people using two bathrooms," he says, "it's a health hazard." When he arrived at the building a few weeks ago, it was still under construction. He says it didn't even have lights.

ANTONIO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: He got into a fight to use the bathroom and was asked to leave. He now sleeps out here. During the day, he's been working odd landscaping gigs. But work is where the federal immigration bureaucracy labyrinth gets even more complicated. The soonest an asylum-seeker can get a work permit is six months after they apply for asylum, but applying for asylum can take years. A lot of the men here are renting scooters to work for food delivery apps. By noon, the orders start pouring in.


GARSD: The men start heading out.


GARSD: It's a dystopian scene - asylum-seekers staying in a shelter and under a bridge, delivering pricey meals throughout New York. A few days later, they say the police sweep the camp. Here's footage.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: For several hours, the men say, they are driven around the city on a bus.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: They sent NPR messages from inside the bus. They said they were being taken to two different shelters and turned away.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

GARSD: The migrants were dropped off in Brooklyn again, walked back to the highway overpass to the camp. Many of their belongings were gone. One man says his immigration papers, cell phone and clothing - all missing.

Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.

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