Peter King

Yes, we’re a nation of immigrants, but . . .


The ongoing influx of undocumented immigrants into New York City now threatens not just to overwhelm the city, but to spread into the suburbs, as we have already seen in Rockland and Orange counties, raising serious quality-of-life issues.
Let me make it clear from the start. America is a nation of immigrants. They have always been the lifeblood that gives America its unique sense of determination and ingenuity. I am a grandson of immigrants. Like the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, I consider America to be more a mosaic and stained glass window than a melting pot.
No country has more legal immigration than the United States. Having said that, we cannot be a nation without borders or one that allows entry to unlimited numbers of migrants. There must be an orderly process and procedure for immigration, not just to safeguard our society and communities, but for the welfare of the immigrants. We cannot financially afford the surge of undocumented immigrants we are seeing today.
Coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, our economy was straining to recover. Mental health and education needs caused by Covid had to be met and paid for, with diminished revenues. Crime in our streets had to be brought under control to protect our residents and to make cities safe for people to return to work and play. Housing had to be provided for the growing numbers of homeless, including America’s veterans. Adding 60,000 undocumented immigrants to New York City is unsustainable, especially since we have virtually no idea who these people are and what physical, mental and educational needs they have. Nor do we know the criminal histories some may have.
While the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants are good people, some are not. I saw examples of the negative results of uncontrolled illegal immigration on Long Island in 2014 and 2015, when there was a surge of undocumented minors across the southern border. A significant numbers of those kids were sent by the federal government to communities such as Brentwood and Central Islip, many of whose residents are hardworking immigrants from Central America. This put a severe burden on the local school districts, which had to accept these kids on very short notice while addressing their unique educational and psychological needs and deficiencies as well as the language challenges.

Despite Rep. Steve Israel and I making requests and introducing legislation, the Obama administration refused to provide these school districts with any added funding. There was also the chilling reality that a number of these young people were connected to the MS-13 gang, which was recruiting new members and carrying out brutal acts of violence against other students. In the 18 months from the fall of 2015 to the spring of 2017, MS-13 carried out a reign of terror in the immigrant community, brutally murdering 25 mostly young people.
You can understand why residents in communities in Brooklyn and Staten Island are so opposed to large numbers of undocumented immigrants being housed close to schools and neighborhood facilities.
This crisis of undocumented migration would be severe enough if there were any end in sight. Instead, more buses of immigrants arrive at the Port Authority every day. New York City Mayor Eric Adams wants to lessen the city’s burden by sharing it with neighboring counties, which are no more able to provide the necessary services than the city. Not surprisingly, Rockland and Orange counties are resisting through legal proceedings, and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has made clear his opposition to Adams’s plan.
The only answer to this humanitarian crisis is for the Biden administration to secure our porous border as quickly as possible. Despite the president’s protestations, he doesn’t need congressional authorization to get the job done. He has the necessary power and authority.
Congress will not consider legislation on undocumented migrants already in the country until there is assurance that the border is secure, and the asylum system is reformed so that just claiming asylum won’t provide long-term sanctuary until hearings are held years in the future. Our challenge must be to stop illegal immigration while ensuring that America remains a nation of immigrants.

Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.