Cultural Watch

Mayor Adams and Gov. Hochul call the migrant influx ‘unprecedented’ – historians disagree

The Gothamist, Ramsey Khalifeh, September 19, 2023

Both Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have described the influx of migrants and asylum seekers into New York City as unprecedented.

“We are facing an unprecedented state of emergency. The immigration system in this nation is broken. It has been broken for decades. Today, New York City has been left to pick up the pieces,” Adams said last month.

Hochul, also speaking in August, said the “unprecedented migrant crisis” required a “historic humanitarian response.”

But is the more than 100,000 migrants who have entered the city’s care since last year actually unprecedented?

Interviews with scholars and a Gothamist review of immigration data dating from the 19th century to the present shows that the number of migrants entering the city is not unusual.

Ellis Island processed 100,000 immigrants in just a single month in April 1907, when much of the legal framework around modern immigration did not exist.

ust a year before – in April 1906 – nearly 45,000 migrants passed through Ellis Island in one week.

Back then, neighborhoods like the Lower East Side were overburdened by an influx of migrants due to a lack of space, with more than 700 people per acre, according to the Library of Congress. Today, census data shows the neighborhood has about 136 people per acre.

Between 1996 and 2001, an average of 111,828 immigrants settled in New York per year, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.

In 2011, around 95,000 migrants entered New York City, according to a report by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Alan Kraut, a historian with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, said the political fight surrounding the current influx of migrants is different from generations past. Some of the migrants have arrived at the Port Authority aboard buses from the southern border sent by Republican governors – pawns in a larger debate about immigration policies.

Read More: The Gothamist