An overflow of foreign migrants outside New York City's main...

An overflow of foreign migrants outside New York City's main intake center last summer. The process to evict some of the migrants began Wednesday under a new policy that limits stays to 30 days in the homeless shelter system. Credit: Marcus Santos

New York City’s first shelter evictions of foreign migrants began Wednesday under a new policy that limits to 30 days what had previously been a perpetual right to room and board at public expense.

The policy — which essentially ends the city’s decades-old and unique in-the-nation right to shelter — applies on a rolling basis: This week, about 250 adult migrants — about 30 on Wednesday alone — became ineligible to reapply and are now subject to eviction, absent extenuating circumstances, according to Kayla Mamelak, a spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams.

A deal to allow the policy was announced in March between advocates for the homeless and the Adams administration. The mayor and his lawyers have argued that the 1981 legal decree — under which the Koch administration agreed that the city would provide room and board for any man in need in need of a bed, a settlement that was later expanded to include women and children — could not have contemplated an unending influx of the needy from around the globe seeking shelter. The March deal does not eliminate the right to shelter for the traditional homeless population — or for foreign migrant families.

Since spring 2022, more than 198,500 foreign migrants have come to the city. Some of those migrants, though not all, had been bused to New York, a so-called sanctuary city, by officials in certain red states on the southern border in protest of President Joe Biden’s border policies. Thousands more migrants have been bused to other sanctuary cities such as Denver, Chicago and Washington, D.C. 

There are about 65,800 migrants who are still in city-provided shelters, costing New York City billions to house, clothe, feed, treat and otherwise care for them.

Last year, Adams began chipping away at the right to shelter by issuing so-called 30- and 60-day notices that evicted migrants after those periods, depending on the circumstances, and requiring them to navigate red tape and wait for a new shelter placement. Still, under that policy, migrants could apply and obtain shelter indefinitely.

But it was the deal in March that granted the city the ability to cap migrants’ shelter stays altogether. Among the extenuating circumstances under which migrants can stay: proof that within 30 days they will get housing, relocate out of the city, are scheduled for immigration proceedings, are recovering from a serious medical procedure or have a forthcoming one, according to Mamelak.

Most of the migrants who have come to the city are from Latin America, but others are from Africa and China.

Newsday reported in June that most migrants are unlikely to file for asylum, and even among those who do, few of the claims, which take years to be processed, are likely to be successful: being poor and wanting a better life is not a basis for asylum. An unknown number of migrants are likely to stay in the United States, living illegally, the report said.

On Tuesday, Adams defended the stricter rules as needed to contain a spiraling crisis that has forced the city to open more than 200 sites to house the migrants, including shelters, tent cities, hotels and converted office buildings.

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