Mayor Eric Adams and other elected officials rallied in Foley Square Thursday morning, calling once again for the federal government to expedite work authorization for asylum seekers, more than 56,000 of whom are staying in city shelters.
“Let them work. Give them the opportunity to contribute to our society,” Adams said. “We know the American dream works. We know the possibilities of it.”
But as the mayor left the stage, he was confronted by immigrant activists with NYC Ice Watch calling out several recent NYPD raids at migrant shelters where unregistered mopeds had been confiscated in droves.
“We think it’s very hypocritical that Eric Adams is stealing the work vehicles of migrants while publicly calling on them to go to work,” said Sergio Uzurin, spokesperson for the group.
“Every time a moped gets stolen by the NYPD, the migrant has to spend money replacing the $1,000 moped that they have been saving up to get out of the horrible shelter system and into an apartment or a room,” he added.
Uzurin pointed to at least three raids in the past week — one at The Row Hotel, a shelter for migrant families, one at a shelter for migrant adults in Bushwick, and a third at a family shelter on the Upper East Side — where advocates claim dozens of unlicensed mopeds were confiscated.
Spokespeople for the NYPD and Adams’ office didn’t immediately return a request for comment, though at Thursday’s rally federal clarified federal action is needed so asylum seekers can get work legally.
“We see people come here all the time just to contribute to our society. And we cannot create a black market,” Adams said.
The vast majority of asylum seekers have not begun their applications to seek asylum, city officials said, which kicks off a minimum six month waiting period before work authorization could be granted by the federal government.
Desperate to work but without legal authorization, many migrants have been absorbed into New York City’s voracious gray market economy, landing gigs in construction, restaurants and food delivery through apps like Uber.
But many operate the mopeds without licenses or don’t have them registered with the New York State DMV, advocates say. Though migrants are eligible to get licenses and permits to legally drive mopeds through the state’s so-called Green Light Law, many don’t know that.
“They think that, ‘Oh my God, I, I have not been able to fulfill some of the issues with my immigration documentation, I cannot do anything,” said Hildalyn Colón Hernández, with New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) which hosts regular orientations for new migrants explaining how to apply for permits and license among other subjects.
The proliferation of electric and gas mopeds and in recent years is a divisive and thorny issue that’s prompted calls for ramped up enforcement of people riding in sidewalks or bike lanes. Community complaints have also been directed at migrant shelters where dozens of mopeds often clutter sidewalks nearby.
NYPD officials have touted the creation of a new unit called the NYPD Community Response Team with more than 200 dedicated officers tasked, in part, with confiscating illegal bikes across the city.
While the crackdown is by no means exclusively targeted at migrant shelters, advocates say they’ve seen the shelters targeted repeatedly his spring, with another spike in July after a bloody crash among moped drivers on the Manhattan Bridge bike path and as police precincts across the city ramped up enforcement on unregistered mopeds over the past several weeks.
Colón Hernández said many migrants who’ve had their bikes confiscated by the NYPD find their way to NICE in Queens, looking for help to figure out how to reclaim them. She tries to assure them it’s not going to happen in a day, but it is possible.
“There is a pathway that they can have their documentation together,” she said.