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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

The End of Title 42 Comes for Our Cities

Advocates for the homeless are always saying that the problem is caused by housing shortages; the migration surge will make the problem exponentially worse.

Homeless tents near White House during winter
(Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In a condensed symbol of the ruling party's contempt for American citizens, officials in New York City have reportedly kicked twenty previously homeless veterans out of city-provided hotel rooms to make room for two busloads of migrants.

The migrants were dropped in the city after Title 42, the pandemic-era emergency measure giving agents legal authority to turn away migrants at the border, expired on Monday. Now, putative asylum seekers are being shipped from overrun border towns to cities across the country, straining those cities' educational and health care systems and displacing their homeless residents from city-funded hostels and shelters.

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Importing thousands of poor and vulnerable people will exacerbate the worst features of life in American cities, which are already grappling with surges in crime and public disorder. Between 2019 and 2022, violent crime in major cities spiked across the country. New York and Philadelphia, for example, saw violent crime increase 36 and 38 percent in that span, respectively.

We know from the limited social science available—the powers that be do a good job of hiding the ball on this—that homelessness is associated with an increase in crime. And even as cities spend more and more on their homeless populations, the number of homeless people nationally has increased 3 percent since 2015, which sounds small until you're sitting in a subway car. Advocates are always saying housing shortages cause homelessness. If that is even partially true, the migration surge will exponentially increase homelessness in our cities.

Cities with already limited affordable-housing supplies have had to accommodate migrants who were released into the country before Title 42 expired. Now, they are expecting thousands more. Since shelter systems have limited beds, and cities only have room for so many shelters, a surge in poor migrants without work authorizations or means of sustaining themselves will both increase the demand for shelter and, consequently, the number of people living on the streets.

It is not as though cities were unprepared. Border towns especially have for weeks been battening down the hatches to weather the inevitable surge. El Paso retrofitted an abandoned convention center and two middle schools to serve as shelters for the migrant wave. But even with those provisions and the help of a Biden-authorized enforcement team, more than 7,000 migrants were reported as "gotaways" in official data.

From the perspective of maintaining urban order, the problem isn't just the gotaways, but those who are captured, many of whom have been bused to other cities to lessen the strain on border towns as migrants await their asylum hearings. New York, for example, reportedly expected upwards of 1,000 migrants to be dropped off this week alone, as the city refurbished the Roosevelt and other vacant hotels to accommodate the expected arrivals. Officials say the city already has more than 40,000 migrants in custody, and Mayor Eric Adams has suspended the city's right-to-shelter law to ease the burden on its social services system. Adams has shipped several busloads of migrants to nearby suburban counties, which, predictably, have declared states of emergency in an attempt to prevent the transfers.

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While New York is a wealthy city, other cities grappling with the migrant surge are not. The small New England city of Portland, Maine, for example, with a population below 70,000, has had to house over 1,000 migrants since January of this year. It is reportedly bracing for more following the expiration of Title 42, as migrants already comprise more than 70 percent of the city's homeless-shelter residents.

Reports call those migrants "asylum seekers." That is true inasmuch as they have outstanding asylum claims, but it distorts the reality of what is happening at the border. Many of the people entering the United States are not fleeing persecution, and if they are, they are not content to stay in Mexico or some other safe third country.

Many of the people crossing the southern border are coming to the United States for economic opportunities and the prospect of a better life. It is perfectly understandable that they would want to do so, and if I were in their place, I'm sure I would do the same. A Christian in a wealthy nation should feel an obligation to these people.

But as veterans are kicked out of their housing and the urban poor are asked to tolerate more crime and disorder, Americans might reasonably ask whether those economic migrants have a reciprocal duty not to abuse our asylum system, violate our laws, and create chaos in our cities. The Biden administration is aware of those questions, and has already answered—to the tune of homeless veterans frog-marched out of a hotel to make room for the global poor.

Editor's Note: The New York Post and other outlets reported on a claim made by New York state representative Brian Maher, citing a nonprofit organization, that fifteen veterans had been displaced from city-supported housing by migrants. This reporting had been the basis of TAC's commentary. Maher has since accused the head of the nonprofit of lying about the service histories of the individuals alleged to have been displaced.

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