Mayor Eric Adams tries to walk back comments calling migrants ‘excellent swimmers’ following backlash

One immigrant rights group called the comment by New York Democrat ‘racist’

Michelle Del Rey
Thursday 16 May 2024 00:41 BST
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Mayor Eric Adams Calls Migrants 'Excellent Swimmers'

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has walked back comments he made calling migrants “excellent swimmers” while discussing a shortage of lifeguards.

The remark stemmed from conversations the mayor had with migrants in shelters, he said in an interview with a reporter from The City, noting that in one instance, he asked a group of people how many of them knew how to swim and hands went up.

On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams tried to walk back remarks in which he referred to migrants as ‘excellent swimmers’
On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams tried to walk back remarks in which he referred to migrants as ‘excellent swimmers’ (AP)

“We have these capable people who know how to swim from West Africa, from Ecuador, from South, Central America, from Mexico and we have a shortage of lifeguards,” Mr Adams said. “We need to allow people to work… If we start planning now we could be prepared next year.”

Mr Adams faced backlash this week for his initial comments on the subject that he made at his weekly news conference on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams tried to walk back remarks in which he referred to migrants as “excellent swimmers”.
On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams tried to walk back remarks in which he referred to migrants as “excellent swimmers”. (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“How do we have a large body of people that are in our city and country that are excellent swimmers and at the same time we need lifeguards,” he said. “The only obstacle is that we won’t give them the right to work to become a lifeguard.”

Murad Awawdeh, president and CEO of the New York Immigration Coalition, called the comment “racist”.

“New Yorkers are looking to Mayor Eric Adams to unite our city, not foment more division,” he said. “His comments on asylum seekers being ‘excellent swimmers’ implies that because some immigrants had to swim or wade across water on their dangerous journeys to seek safety in the US, that they would make good lifeguards.

“The Mayor should not be making light of the perilous and often life-threatening journeys people are forced to make to escape violence and persecution.”

Mr Adams’s comments were also challenged by at least one conservative lawmaker.

Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn publicly posed the question: “Do other Democrats like Joe Biden think breaking the law is qualification for employment in our country?”

In fiscal year 2023, the US Border Patrol encountered over 2 million people crossing the border illegally, according to enforcement statistics posted on the agency’s website. Over 200,000 migrants have arrived in New York City over the last two years.

Building off his controversial comments, Mr Adams suggested that migrants could fill other vacant roles in the city, including nursing and food service positions.

“Why people want to just hang onto swimming when I listed that we need to allow people to work...” he said, trailing off. “Let people work.”

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