NEW YORK—In a city where nearly 200,000 illegal immigrants have arrived in less than two years, the issue of border security, alongside increased crime, is looming large over the Feb. 13 special election in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.
The two candidates vying for the U.S. House seat—held by Rep. George Santos until he was ejected—are Tom Suozzi, a Democrat who held the seat for six years prior to Mr. Santos, and Republican Mazi Pilip, a Republican member of Nassau County’s legislature.
The candidates hold divergent views on the illegal immigration issue and Ms. Pilip has accused Mr. Suozzi and fellow Democrats of helping to cause the crisis.
“Thanks to Biden and Suozzi’s open border policy, 200,000 migrants have arrived in New York,” Ms. Pilip said during a news conference on Feb. 7, when she received the endorsement of the National Border Patrol Council.
“In fact, a migrant tent city was built right here in Queens Village to house 1,000 migrants,” she said.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said the organization chose to endorse Ms. Pilip because Mr. Suozzi is in favor of sanctuary cities.
“He was for ensuring that New York police could not interact with federal agencies as it pertained to illegal immigrants in his district,” Mr. Judd told The Epoch Times.
Mr. Suozzi called the endorsement “illogical.”
However, Mr. Suozzi bears the stigma of belonging to a party that many voters believe allowed the crisis to develop on its watch, observers say.
“Immigration and the economy will be foremost on voters’ minds in Tuesday’s special election,” John Ketcham, director of cities at the Manhattan Institute, a public policy research organization, told The Epoch Times.
By his estimate, there are now 67,000 illegal immigrants in city shelters, and more than 174,000 have flooded into the city since the spring of 2022.
The Third Congressional District, which partly overlaps with northeastern Queens and includes many towns and suburbs easily accessible from the city, has become a flashpoint for public outrage over out-of-control immigration and crime.
Viral images of the Jan. 27 beating of two New York City police officers who had responded to the reported theft of handbags at a Times Square store have made national headlines and have outraged citizens in the city and far beyond.
Santos’s DownfallIn a 311–114 vote on Dec. 1, 2023, members of Congress expelled Mr. Santos following a 23-count federal indictment that alleged a lengthy record of fraud, lies, and misuse of public funds; it was only the sixth time in the institution’s history that such a move has happened.
Overloading the SystemThe huge numbers of illegal immigrants and the inadequacy of an overwhelmed city bureaucracy to meet even their basic needs have conspired to produce troubling scenes of people sleeping on sidewalks outside intake centers while waiting for the processing of their claims.
For voters in the Third District, it may only be a matter of time before they begin to witness such scenes on the streets of their towns and suburbs, along with an increase in crime.
“Though many residents have not felt the impact of the migrant crisis in their communities directly, they’re concerned about the potential for unchecked immigration to strain state and local resources,” Mr. Ketcham said.
Regardless of where they live, voters cannot help feeling overwhelmed with shock and disgust as images of incidents like the Times Square attack play on their screens.
“The recent alleged attack on two NYPD officers by a group of migrants has also heightened voters’ sense that the situation is spiraling out of control. Calls from elected officials of both parties, including Gov. Hochul, to deport the perpetrators signal an understanding that a broad swath of the electorate is fed up,” Mr. Ketcham said.
In agreement with this general view is Michael Alcazar, a former New York City Police Department (NYPD) detective who now teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
“More voters are listing immigration and open borders as their top policy concern. Blue states like New York are experiencing this crisis firsthand. Many New Yorkers are questioning the decisions by their leadership,” he told The Epoch Times.
“Open borders and the migrant crisis have been the headlines, given the recent criminal events in New York City. The hunt for law-breaking migrants who fled New York City has created a sense of national crisis that has taken hold among a large segment of the population,” Mr. Alcazar said.
“And, to add insult to injury, the recently introduced plan for the distribution of debit cards to migrants has New Yorkers questioning Mayor Adams’s priorities.”
Regardless of where they may stand on other issues at play, the cumulative effect will make itself felt in the special election, he believes.
“It’s the atmosphere of lawlessness that concerns citizens. I feel the migrant crisis is changing voters to lean more conservative,” Mr. Alcazar said.
Mr. Ketcham and Mr. Alcazar both noted that voters care about issues besides crime and unchecked illegal immigration. However, that doesn’t necessarily play to the advantage of Democrats, because many people believe that the party has also alienated voters with its stances on other issues.
“Some local issues will also feature in voters’ decisions, such as congestion pricing,” Mr. Ketcham said. Some Democrats in New York City and other parts of the state support a controversial congestion tax, which some service-sector drivers and operators say will make their jobs and livelihoods harder.
“Ms. Pilip attacked Mr. Suozzi’s decades-long support for congestion fees, though he recently backtracked on charging drivers earning between $75,000 and $100,000,” Mr. Ketcham said.
Although the inflation rate has decreased since last year, Mr. Alcazar still sees it, as well as what he sees as Democrats’ mishandling of the economy, as a major hurdle for the party in this special election. And, given the amount of money going to the housing, feeding, and other services for the vast and growing illegal immigrant population, the issue doesn’t exist in a void, he said.
“As far as inflation goes, this is a nationwide issue which is affecting the middle class more than any other class. I do see a shift [in sentiment], because resources are being transferred to the immigrants,” Mr. Alcazar said.
“This is where I see a possible change in Democrat cities. This could have a major impact upon future elections.”
The Politics of BlameWhile many people concur on the growing public concern about illegal immigration and crime inside and outside the New York metropolitan area, some voters are bound to ask which of the major political parties is putting forward concrete and workable solutions, as opposed to simply exploiting the issue for partisan gain.
“I think there are a few things going on here, some that give an advantage to Republicans and some to the Democrats,” David Carlucci, a former New York state senator who now works as a political consultant, told The Epoch Times.
“I would say that the migrant issue is definitely front and center. And here you have Republicans in Congress using a political tool called blame, and they’re using that too exclusively.”
Republicans said the package was too weak; it still allowed 5,000 illegal immigrants to enter the country every day. But voters in New York, faced with the immediate consequences of the massive influx and desperate for a fix, may see it differently.
In Mr. Carlucci’s view, some voters may view with distaste what they see as Republican intransigence in the face of efforts to address the illegal immigrant crisis at a national level. GOP candidates may also end up paying a political price for going after President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and not putting the concerns of ordinary citizens first, he said.
“They may think it makes sense to blame Biden and Mayorkas, but Democrats are saying, ‘Look, we’ll come to the table and pass immigration reform,’ but Republicans shut it down. They’ll spend their time impeaching everyone until there’s no one left to impeach. So I think that Republicans in Congress are throwing this race away, and throwing their majority away by these political tactics,” Mr. Carlucci said.
Republicans did gain three seats in New York’s midterm elections in November 2022, which Mr. Carlucci believes, was partly due to widespread concern over policies and stances associated with the Democrat elite in Albany, the state capital.
Among these issues were bail reform, which many people saw as contributing to higher crime rates. The GOP could have continued to parlay popular dissatisfaction with progressive policies into an electoral advantage, however, in the face of the current impasse in Washington, Mr. Carlucci said, voters may see Republicans as having dropped the ball.
He sees the illegal immigration crisis as a wasted opportunity for Republicans.
“I think people are very fearful and anxious about what it means for their community and their country, but the fact that Republicans have been transparent that they’re not really interested in solving the problem—they’re just interested in political persecution—that gives the Democrats such an advantage,” Mr. Carlucci said.
Compared to other members of his party, Mr. Suozzi enjoys a reputation as a moderate, according to Mr. Carlucci. Mr. Suozzi doesn’t belong to that wing of the party associated with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has many ardent supporters within the 14th District that elected her, but is also highly unpopular with many voters both within and outside her party.
“Suozzi has been more of a moderate candidate. He definitely does not embrace the left wing of that party, and that will make him hard to beat,” Mr. Carlucci said.
Another liability for Republicans in the special election is that Mr. Santos was one of theirs. Voters in the Third District haven’t forgotten that, he said.
The campaigns of Ms. Pilip and Mr. Suozzi didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.