New York Starts Handing Out Prepaid Debit Cards To Illegal Immigrants

New York City officials on Monday started handing out pre-paid debit cards to illegal immigrants as part of a $53 million pilot program that has drawn criticism over whether the prospect of “free money” is incentivizing more unlawful border crossings.

The first batch of the cards were given out on March 25 to a handful of families and that will expand to roughly 460 people by next week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ office confirmed to Fox News.

The Epoch Times previously reported on the pre-paid card program, under which New York City awarded a $53 million contract to a company called Mobility Capital Finance to create and distribute the pre-paid cards, called immediate response cards.

Under the program, the cards would first be delivered to the Roosevelt Hotel, the first touchpoint for illegal immigrants arriving in the city, with records indicating that the first to receive the cards will be families with children under the care of NYC’s Housing Preservation and Development agency.

City Hall said that the pre-paid cards can only be used at bodegas, grocery stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores and recipients will have to sign a pledge promising to use the cards only to buy food and baby supplies.

The program has faced criticism, including over the use of taxpayer funds to provide services to people who entered the country by flouting the law, and over fears that they would incentivize illegal immigration.

Mixed Messages?

New York City Mayor Eric Adams defended the use of the prepaid cards during an in-person media availability in Albany on March 26.

Mr. Adams was asked by a reporter whether the prepaid cards provide potential migrants an appealing reason to come to the United States and so whether the program sends a mixed message, given the mayor’s stated attempts to dissuade illegal immigrants from coming to New York City.

“No, it sends a mixed message when it’s distorted,” the mayor replied. He said he gave his team a clear directive to bring down costs related to the provision of services to illegal immigrants in the Big Apple by 30 percent—and that the cards are part of that initiative.

Mr. Adams called the cards a “cost-effective” win-win that saves taxpayers over $600,000 per month, or $7.2 million per year.

“We’re going to do away with food waste and we’re going to put money back into the local economy,” he said.

Mr. Adams argued that criticism isn’t a good enough reason not to press ahead with the program.

“If we didn’t do things because poeple are going to critique us, we wouldn’t have gotten thousands of people off our streets that are homeless, we would not have removed our encampments, we would not have taken thousands of guns off the street,” he said. “We’ve got to do it right.”

He was then asked a follow-up question about the problem of word getting back to the border or further south that basically “free money” is being made available to families and therefore incentivizing more illegal immigration.

Mr. Adams said it’s unavoidable that information will get back to friends and family in South American countries that even rudimentary conditions in New York shelters are better than the dire conditions some people are fleeing.

“That’s going to go back,” he said, adding that, “we have to find the right combination—delivery of services, with the same level of dignity, and do it in a way that’s cost effective.”

“And I’m not hearing from my colleagues down in Ecuador or Columbia or Mexico that everybody is running to New York because they’re going to get a food card,” he added. “I’m not hearing that.”

Febien Levy, the deputy mayor for communications at Mr. Adams’ office, added that there’s an effort underway to inform people at the border by handing out flyers that there are no unlimited free services for people once they cross into the United States.

“There’s no free money. These are not ATM cards, you can’t take cash out. If anyone has that idea, they’re wrong,” Mr. Levy said. “This is for food and baby supplies only.”

The prepaid card program comes as taxpayers in New York City face sharp cuts to services such as policing and education because the city has had to divert money to cover expenses associated with the influx of illegal immigrants.

New York City Councilman Joe Borelli criticized the program, telling Fox 5 NY when the program was first announced that providing illegal immigrants with services on the taxpayer dime sends the wrong message.

“We’re just giving this migrant population more free stuff at the expense of New York City taxpayers,” he told the outlet.

Mr. Adams has pushed back on this message, arguing that the program would save New York around $7 million per year compared to New York officials physically handing out food to illegal immigrants, 

The mayor insisted at the briefing that the assistance is justified to alleviate a “humanitarian crisis” that has gripped the city as around 180,000 asylum-seekers have come since last spring.

Amid the influx, Mr. Adams has walked a fine line between empathy and criticism. For instance, he warned in September 2023 that the unending influx of illegal immigrants would “destroy New York City.”

He has also pleaded for federal help, lamenting that the Biden administration’s lack of action was leaving cities to fend for themselves.

Authored by Tom Ozimek via The Epoch Times,

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