This week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams began a four-day trip to Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia. He plans to visit the Darién Gap, a dangerous jungle in the Colombia-Panama border region that over 300,000 migrants and refugees have crossed this year, mostly heading to the United States. Mayor Adams wants to tell people seeking to migrate to New York that the city is “at capacity.”
Adams’ words harm the people he represents, as immigrants comprise nearly a third of New York’s population. As a New York City resident and daughter of an Ecuadorian immigrant, I find his rhetoric harmful.
Hopefully, this trip will give Adams a better understanding of the human rights crises in the region that push many people to leave and seek asylum in the US.
Over 350,000 Venezuelans have crossed the Darién Gap since January 2022, the largest number for any nationality. They are fleeing Venezuela’s humanitarian emergency, which has undermined access to food and medicine, as well as abuses by security forces, armed groups, and gangs.
Haitians are the third-largest group crossing the Darién. Criminal groups in Haiti are responsible for widespread killings, kidnappings, and sexual violence, all of which have dramatically increased in 2023.
Human Rights Watch visited the Darién in 2022 and 2023, where researchers witnessed hundreds of people, including children and pregnant women in need of medical assistance, walking for days. Gang members had robbed, threatened, and, in hundreds of cases, sexually abused many of these migrants. They arrived in Panama dehydrated, with sores and swollen ankles.
Instead of attempting to discourage migration, Adams should urge the Biden administration to end deadly US migration deterrence policies, rescind its abusive “asylum rule,” and expand safe and legal pathways for migration. The Biden administration should end policies that have led to unsafe conditions for migrant children and implement fair procedures where migrants can be assessed for family relationships and their need to seek asylum, allowing them to be received in safety and with dignity. Adams and other US mayors should also redirect funds from migration deterrence efforts to humanitarian groups, shelter systems, legal support, and other resources for newly arrived migrants.