Blanca, an asylum seeker with two daughters, must leave the New York City shelter she has called home for the past year after Christmas to make room for new arrivals.

The 35-year-old, whose real name and country of origin have been withheld for her safety, is facing a torturous vicious cycle.

As the asylum application of her and her eldest daughter are being processed, she does not have a work permit and could not work anyway as she has no one with whom to leave her youngest, who is nine months old.

"I'm going through a very difficult situation," she tells AFP at the Little Sisters of the Assumption migrant aid center in Harlem, north of downtown Manhattan and its gleaming skyscrapers.

The association helps her with food, clothing, and above all the complex bureaucracy she must overcome to obtain asylum.

"I don't know what's going to happen to us," she said, crying.

But she is clear that she cannot return to her country, from which she fled to escape the violent gangster father of her teenage daughter, now a New York high school student.

Blanca is one of 66,000 asylum seekers currently in shelters in New York which, according to Mayor Eric Adams, must "manage a national asylum seeker crisis largely on its own".

Adams has said that the deteriorating situation threatens to destroy the city.

Since April 2022, more than 142,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Latin American nations including Venezuela, and others from the African continent and China, have arrived in the city.

Many of them traveled on buses chartered by authorities in Republican-controlled states which have sought to protest Democratic President Joe Biden's migration policies.

- 'Give her shelter' -

Adams said the migrant crisis will cost the city $5 billion this year and another $7 billion in 2024. He warned that such spending was unsustainable because it came out of budgets for security, youth and the elderly.

The United States' creative and financial hub of 8.5 million people, New York is required to provide shelter for those in need, a policy that has been chipped away at in recent years.

To accommodate the 3,000 new asylum seekers who arrive every week on average, Adams has limited shelter stays to one month for lone migrants and two months for families in the 210 city shelters.

After Christmas, thousands of families like Blanca's will have to start the process of finding new housing from scratch.

"They have to give her shelter," said Lucia Aguilar, a worker at the LSA center who is helping Blanca apply for social housing and benefits to which she is entitled because her young daughter was born in the United States.

Adams, traveled to Washington to raise funds from the national government on Thursday, has called for expedited work permits and a federal strategy to share the cost nationally.

Three million jobs are vacant nationwide and more than five million asylum seekers have arrived in the past three years, according to Adriel Orozco, a policy advisor to the American Immigration Council, a Washington-based non-profit organization.

Like Adams, Orozco urges a "coordinated response" from the federal government so that cities like New York, Chicago, Denver, San Diego and Los Angeles do not have to be responsible for so many newly arrived migrants.

But that would require action from the deeply divided Congress, without which "the federal government can only do so much" Orozoco warns.

- 'Long game' -

So dire is the situation that Adams traveled to Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia to tell people there that New York "has reached capacity."

But many asylum seekers continue to head for the Big Apple because of the relative ease with which they can obtain documents including identity cards, work permits and driver's licenses compared to other states.

After six months in Texas, Ayoub Chaikhi, 28, decided to head for New York because "they really help migrants with their paperwork."

"Then maybe I will return to Texas -- or go to Hawaii," Chaikhi, a Moroccan who hopes to be able to provide for his wife and son who have stayed behind in Chile.

As he waits in freezing temperatures for the second night in a row outside a municipal office in southern Manhattan to be granted a bed in a shelter, Chaikhi is undeterred.

"We solved bigger problems," he said with a wry smile.

"You just have to be patient and play the long game."