Asylum-Seekers Arrive at LaGuardia Airport, Unsure Where to Go Next
Texas charities are now sending migrant families to NYC on airplanes, not buses — yet airports lack the migrant support amassed at Port Authority Bus Terminal.
After about 15 days in Houston, Alejandro Suarez and Maria Roa arrived Friday at LaGuardia Airport with their 10-year-old boy and 6-month-old daughter.
They stood among the revolving baggage carousels at Terminal B, as Suarez made calls to a person he did not know who would get them to wherever they’d be going next in their journey, which had so far taken them from Venezuela to New York City over the course of two months.
Suarez said a nonprofit organization had provided his family with a place to stay while in Houston, at what he described as a sort of hotel. They also received a few options about where to head next. One was a flight to Queens.
Asked where he was headed in New York, Suarez said in Spanish, “What I’d tell you would be a lie because I don’t really know. It could be a shelter.”
Chartered buses carrying migrants to Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal have been the focus of local aid efforts since last summer, when Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott chartered buses to cities with Democratic mayors including New York, sparking a political feud.
But an untold number of migrants are arriving at LaGuardia and JFK airports, after receiving tickets from aid groups, and are arriving in the five boroughs with little guidance on next steps.
For months now, Adama Bah and Power Malu have volunteered at Port Authority, welcoming and helping migrants as they step off buses, both chartered and commercial, as well as others who go to the transit hub for help.
Both Bah and Malu are constantly on their phones helping coordinate rideshares for those migrants who land in area airports — which are also run by the Port Authority — to help get them to the shelters.
“We’re getting constant calls from employees, and even Port Authority Police Department, at the airports,” said Malu, executive director of the aid group Artists Athletes Activists. “They’re constantly finding migrants just, like, stranded, sitting around, looking for help to get to shelter to find their way through the city. And so they call us.”
More than 65,000 asylum seekers have passed through New York City since last year, and many have remained, relying on more than 140 shelters and eight humanitarian relief centers coordinated by the city government. About 41,000 remain in the city’s care, according to the city.
In contrast to the steady stream of buses that arrived from Texas in previous months, activity this weekend at the Port Authority bus terminal was modest, the Daily News reported, with just three buses arriving Saturday.
The region’s three airports and the Manhattan bus terminal are run by the Port Authority, a bistate agency overseen by New York and New Jersey. But the airports so far lack the service infrastructure set up over months by relief organizations at the bus station.
Port Authority’s press office directed questions to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
At Port Authority, a makeshift welcome center managed by volunteers, the National Guard and the staff from the city’s Office of Emergency Management helps new arrivals with clothes and food, as well as information about shelter and transportation.
At LaGuardia Airport, the aid efforts are more impromptu. One airport worker at Terminal B said she has seen an increase in the number of migrants coming by plane in the last month, then gathering either in baggage claim or at the general welcome center on the first level. She said volunteers come and help them get to their next destination, sometimes giving them rides.
Venezuelans Anthony Rivero and Stefany Hurtado, with their 2-year-old son, David, also arrived at LaGuardia from Texas on Friday. They crossed the border into the U.S. from Matamoros, Mexico, which lies across from Brownsville, Texas.
Rivero said that the previous day, they went to 7000 San Pedro Blvd. in San Antonio, an address that corresponds to a shelter managed by Catholic Charities, where they were set up with free travel to New York City departing at 6 a.m., with a layover in Chicago. They had spent the prior night sleeping in a bus terminal in Texas, he said.
A friend who arrived in the five boroughs five days earlier recommended they look for a police officer once they landed and ask for help.
“I don’t have a dollar, not even one,” Rivero said. “So I have to look for people to help us.”
Steering New Arrivals
Mayor Eric Adams and other city officials have been preparing for a significant increase in the number of migrants entering the U.S. and making their way to NYC after last week’s expiration of emergency order Title 42, a pandemic measure that prevented many migrants from entering the U.S. to seek asylum.
A spokesperson for the mayor, Fabien Levy, acknowledged in a statement to THE CITY that airports are a significant point of entry.
Levy said: “A network of activists are organizing large-scale arrivals of asylum seekers to New York City via plane, bus, and other modes of transportation — taking advantage of city and state laws and luring them here with false promises. As a result, we have reached the limit of new shelters we can open.”
In response to the forecasted influx of migrants, Adams issued an emergency order last week that suspends aspects of New York City’s right-to-shelter policy in order to increase flexibility in siting emergency shelters. Nontraditional locations in use or under evaluation include school gyms, an unused prison, and hotels in New York’s Hudson Valley.
But first, the new New Yorkers have to get out of the airport.
On Friday, Suarez joined a video call with Bah. With her limited knowledge of Spanish, Bah tried to usher Suarez and his family to the dropoff area. He switched his phone’s selfie lens to the front-facing lens so that Bah could see where he was going and better instruct him.
As they stepped outside of the second level to the garage’s rideshare pick-up area, Suarez lost reception. He asked THE CITY’s reporter to dial Bah’s phone number, and when he had difficulty talking to her, this reporter helped translate.
The family finally connected with the next leg of their journey when Bah sent a screenshot to the reporter from the Uber app, communicating that the driver would arrive at the “G” bay of the Terminal B pick-up area.
The driver confirmed that the car was hailed by Bah, and then shared where the family, like so many before them, would be dropped off: the city’s PATH intake center for homeless families in The Bronx.