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Old Bikes + New Immigrants = Warm Welcome

Two dozen asylum-seekers — some of the city's newest and poorest residents — were given donated bikes yesterday as part of the "Asylum Seeker Bike Program" created by Bike New York and the Adams administration.

12:00 AM EDT on June 29, 2023

Anderson Muñoz gets his bike, courtesy of Bike NY and City Hall. (And that’s Manuel Castro, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, giving him the helmet). Photo: Auden Oakes

Welcome to New York — now get on that bike!

Two dozen asylum-seekers — some of the city's newest and poorest residents — were given donated bikes yesterday as part of the "Asylum Seeker Bike Program" created by Bike New York and the Adams administration.

Eventually, 200 bikes will be doled out — crucial for helping the newest New Yorkers get around a complicated city with a (relatively) expensive transit system.

“A lot of them don't have any means of transportation, and they're not really working, so it's hard for them to move around,” said Diana Perez, a volunteer for Mixteca, a Brooklyn-based immigrant assistance group. “We have people who have gotten tickets for jumping and for not paying the MTA. … They don't have employment, so a lot of them just go to whatever job they can find, for instance, delivery.” 

The initiative began in January when Bike New York reached out to the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs to offer assistance to the asylum seekers in the form of donated bikes refurbished by Recycle a Bicycle. The Department of Transportation and Kryptonite, the lock company, donated locks, lights, and helmets.

A spokeswoman for the immigration office said that asylum seekers have additional challenges beyond merely being a stranger in a strange land.

“This wave of migrants is quite different from the previous waves of migrants since many of them do not have support systems here,” Shaina Coronel said at the launch event, which was at Mixteca's headquarters in Sunset Park. And New York is a difficult city to navigate. “Getting acclimated to New York City is a huge learning curve that [the migrants] have to go through,” she added.

A bike is a perfect device in this situation, advocates said.

Etienne Demosthene checks out his new (recycled) bike. Photo: Auden Oakes

“I know how powerful a bike can be. It can be a way to get to work or the park, but it is also an opportunity for these migrants to go to their appointment with their immigration attorney," said Hildalyn Colon-Hernandez of New Immigrant Community Empowerment. "They have to get there, and this gives them the freedom to discover New York City.”

Etienne Demosthene, an asylum seeker from Haiti, accepted his bike on Wednesday with great excitement and also great familiarity, given how common cycling is in his native land.

“It’s very important for me to have a bike because it’s a way for me to get to work, and also to get some exercise,” he said.

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