A day after Mayor Eric Adams repeated his message that the migrant crisis would destroy New York City, he seemed intent on proving his point.
Mr. Adams, a former police captain, put on a bulletproof vest with a Fendi scarf tucked underneath it on Monday and accompanied an early-morning police raid in the Bronx, tied to a major robbery ring where many of the participants were believed to be recent migrants.
Police officials called it the “largest robbery pattern plaguing the city,” with a group of thieves on mopeds or scooters snatching cellphones and purses in at least 62 incidents, most involving female victims.
The police said the thieves were “migrants who have recently arrived in the United States,” and who “predominantly live in the migrant shelter system.”
Mr. Adams’s participation, promoted by the Police Department’s social media account, amplified the notion that the surge of migrants was wreaking havoc on the city. But critics, including immigration advocates, called the raid a political gimmick and said it was a troubling escalation of Mr. Adams’s xenophobic rhetoric toward migrants over the last year.
“His most recent stunt with the N.Y.P.D. sends the wrong kind of message to New Yorkers about our newest arrivals and incites fear of police among asylum seekers,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
Still, the mayor’s police commissioner, Edward A. Caban, said at a news conference on Monday that “a wave of migrant crime has washed over our city.”
Late last month, a police officer and a lieutenant sustained minor injuries after being attacked in Times Square by a group of men who, according to a law enforcement official, were recent migrants who lived at city-provided shelters.
And Mr. Adams, a Democrat entering his third year in office with a dismal approval rating, has repeatedly thrown himself into the national debate over the migrant crisis. He appeared on Monday to welcome an opportunity to show that he was holding migrants who commit crimes accountable.
“Generals lead from the front,” Mr. Adams said at a news conference.
The raid was conducted at the home of Victor Parra, 30, a Venezuelan accused of coordinating the robberies. The police said they believe that Mr. Parra entered the country last year and recruited recent migrants who still live in shelters.
Officers discovered 22 stolen phones at the residence, Joseph Kenny, the chief of detectives, said at the news conference. Mr. Parra was not home, and there is a warrant out for his arrest.
In text messages on the messaging platform WhatsApp, Mr. Parra would tell his crew what type of phones he was looking for, then text the group, “‘I have money, I’m available, go get ‘em,’” Chief Kenny said. Mr. Parra paid between $300 and $600 for every stolen phone and gave them to an accomplice who hacked into the phone owners’ bank accounts, Kenny said.
The migrant crisis has presented an enormous challenge for Mr. Adams. The mayor has blamed budget cuts to libraries and other key city services on the city’s high costs of caring for migrants and said last September that the migrant crisis would destroy the city.
On Monday, Mr. Adams attempted to reassure New Yorkers that the vast majority of migrants follow the law.
“A small number of people are breaking the law and having a huge impact on our public safety, and that is why we zeroed in on them,” Mr. Adams said.
It is not known how many crimes have been committed by recent migrants, but it does not appear that they have contributed to a severe increase in crime. Felonies remain lower in 2024 than last year, and petty and grand larcenies are basically unchanged, according to police records.
Yet in a national television interview on Sunday with CBS, Mr. Adams was asked if he stood by his comments that the migrant crisis would destroy New York City. “Without a doubt,” he said and continued his pleas for more federal aid for cities.
The message seemed to resonate with a group of Republican elected officials who gathered in Times Square on Monday to draw attention to the recent attack that the police said was committed by migrants. The officials called for the city to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport those responsible.
When Mr. Adams was asked if he should dial back his rhetoric on migrants because it could hurt President Biden, he said that it was his job to fight on behalf of New Yorkers.
“This is not anti-Biden,” he said. “There are failures on all sides of the aisle.”
Basil Smikle, director of the Public Policy Program at Hunter College, said he could not recall either of Mr. Adams’s recent predecessors, Bill de Blasio or Michael R. Bloomberg, going on a similar police raid. He believed that Mr. Adams was probably trying to bolster his tough-on-crime image after a political defeat last week in a showdown with the City Council over two criminal justice bills.
“I think the timing is really important here — he’s trying to show solidarity with the Police Department in the wake of the overriding of his veto,” Mr. Smikle said.