Three busloads of asylum seekers arrived at the Port Authority on Wednesday morning, marking the latest episode in what has become a national showdown between President Joe Biden and Democrats like Mayor Eric Adams on one hand and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been sending the buses north while attempting to draw attention to immigration and border issues.

City officials said the buses carried 80 to 100 immigrants, many of them from Colombia and Venezuela. They mostly appeared to be men in their 20s, though an official in the mayor’s office of immigrant affairs said the group also included children.

The arrivals, coming on the heels of two other buses of immigrants in recent days, created a classic New York spectacle: TV crews and other press members surrounded each bus as it pulled up on busy Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, where pedestrians streamed past, car horns and jackhammers occasionally piercing the humid morning air.

We’ve had this enforcement-only approach for decades that’s funded detention and deportation. And yet, migration keeps going. And the humanity of people whose lives are at stake isn’t being fully considered.
Alina Das, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU

A bus carrying asylum seekers from Texas arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan.

The assembled police officers implored journalists to avoid training their cameras on the faces of the migrants as they exited the buses – a reminder that asylum seekers, by definition, are looking to remain in the U.S. instead of being deported to a country where they fear persecution or harm.

City officials contend that many of the new arrivals also come from Mexico, Honduras and Argentina. They were processed inside the building, handed clothes and toiletries, and then dispatched to their next destinations, usually a shelter.

A helping hand

The scene drew onlookers as well.

One bystander, John Torres, rode a bus all the way from Maryland to greet the new arrivals. Torres said he was originally from Colombia and had spent time traveling throughout the region and encountered migrants heading north.

“When I go to a bus stop in South America, I see people waiting, I see people hurting. I see people coming through Panama, I see how much pain they’re going through. It just breaks my heart.”

His plan was to hand over cash to migrants at the Port Authority, ”maybe 20, 30 dollars each.”

“It’s just the right thing to do,” said Torres, who tows cars for a living. “We can’t just sit there and watch.”

The scene also drew demonstrators, some taking aim at Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat.

Ashwin Rastogi, a member of the mutual aid group Artists Athletes Activists, held a sign stating, “Adams! Fix the Housing Crisis: House Migrants & Unhoused NYorkers Now.”

“The mayor is using this as a game against the city’s own homeless population,” Rastogi told Gothamist, “saying, ‘All these migrants are coming, they’re using up the shelter spots, that’s why we can’t take care of our own homeless.’ It sounds like a political game, it sounds like a talking point.”

“It’s very upsetting,” said Rastogi. “It’s very disheartening.”

For his part, Adams has voiced confidence in estimates that more than 4,000 asylum seekers have arrived in the city in recent months, placing a strain on the city’s shelter population. He has also downplayed the impact of evictions spurred by soaring rents, saying that evicted New Yorkers constitute less than 1% of the shelter population.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and others have pushed for more clarity and a breakdown of the 4,000 figure while emphasizing the role of high housing costs on homelessness.

Gov. Hochul speaks

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Manhattan, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she's been in regular contact with the mayor and Catholic Charities about the resettlement efforts. She reiterated her call for further federal assistance to help account for the influx of asylum seekers.

"This is a state that's built by people who've come here from elsewhere," Hochul said. "That is our strength. And we're going to make sure that anyone who finds their way here is protected, we'll take care of them and they're very welcome here."

The spectacle has played out at the national level as well. Although many Democrats have used the ongoing controversy to paint Abbott as an anti-immigrant politician who’s trying to score political points with his conservative base, some immigrant rights activists said the situation points to failings among Democrats as well.

Alina Das, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at NYU, said that many activists had hoped for the Biden administration to “truly turn the page” after the open hostility of the Trump administration to immigrant communities.

Instead, Das said, Democrats had allowed Republicans like Abbott to set the terms on immigration.

“There’s still an acceptance in many circles in the Democratic Party of the need for border security, painting immigrants as threats to the country,” she said. “We’ve had this enforcement-only approach for decades that’s funded detention and deportation. And yet, migration keeps going. And the humanity of people whose lives are at stake isn’t being fully considered.”

A group of people from Central and South America seeking asylum wait in line to be helped by mutual aid volunteers outside of Port Authority early on Wednesday, August 10. The group of 80-100 traveled from Texas by bus.