ALBANY — Upstate New York communities could play a role in providing housing to some of the thousands of migrants who have flooded into New York City in recent weeks, according to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY.
It’s an idea that is generating mixed reactions from upstate leaders as New York City Mayor Eric Adams has declared a “humanitarian emergency” to deal with the estimated 18,600 migrants who have arrived in the nation’s largest city since April.
On Tuesday night, hundreds of the migrants found shelter in tents erected on Randall’s Island, on the East River between East Harlem and the South Bronx.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, criticized Gillibrand’s proposal, contending it will only “exacerbate” what she called a crisis at the nation’s southern border with Mexico.
“I absolutely oppose this disastrous plan and I will stand up for families in New York’s 21st District who should no longer have to suffer for the Far Left in both Washington, D.C. and Albany incentivizing illegal immigration into New York,” Stefanik said.
Discussions about bringing new immigrants from New York City to upstate towns and cities have been percolating since Gillibrand’s offered the suggestion Sept. 16, generating publicity in the New York Post. The newspaper said the cost of housing the migrants could be underwritten with federal block grants to the host communities.
Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest said a small group of leaders from the nonprofit sector, the business community and government representatives have had informal talks about providing a local response to the wave of migrants coming to New York.
“It would be a bit premature to say we’ve got a plan in place,” Rosenquest said Tuesday. “But it is something we’re actively working towards.”
Many of the 18,600 migrants who have arrived in New York City came in by the busload, with the transportation arranged by the Texas city of El Paso. Mayor Adams has said his administration never asked El Paso to send the migrants to his city.
Officials in Texas say the migrants are choosing their destination, and the city provided them with the transportation.
In declaring a state of emergency, Adams estimated the cost to his city government for responding to the needs of the migrants will reach $1 billion. He is seeking federal aid.
Dennis Poust, spokesman for the Catholic Conference of New York, representing the state’s Roman Catholic bishops, said Catholic Charities, one of its major programs, has experience in assisting asylum seekers, and “is ready and willing to help out” should government officials seek its involvement.
He said he was unaware of any plans now being made for upstate communities to absorb some of the migrants now getting temporary shelter in New York City.
Before any firm plan emerges to relocate migrants to upstate communities, said Sen. Pete Oberacker, R-Otsego County, representatives of those communities should be consulted and given an opportunity to share their concerns and input.
“Many of the communities I represent are already extremely stretched and the new costs and security concerns that this plan would involve must be fully discussed with community leaders and residents first,” Oberacker said. “Our local elected officials, schools, non-profits, first responders, and police, just to name a few, could all offer valuable input that has to be considered.”
In Niagara Falls, local Schools Superintendent Mark Laurrie, said two non-profit agencies, Jewish Family Services and Journey’s End, are both prepared to assist in relocating refugee populations. But initial expectations that Niagara Falls would receive the “overflow” from Buffalo resettlements have not come about, largely because of a shortage of available housing.
“We haven’t received any refugees even though we have done a lot of preparation work in terms of training teachers,” Laurrie said. He said the school district hired an English as a Second Language teacher. “But the kids never came,” he added.
CNHI sought elaboration on Gillibrand’s plans. But the senator’s office did not respond to questions about her involvement with the migrant issue.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, queried about the suggestion that some migrants could find homes upstate, said: “Governor Hochul remains concerned about the safety and well-being of asylum seekers who are coming to our state, and we continue to coordinate closely with the City on the immediate response and support their requests for federal assistance.”
In the decade from 2010 to 2020, U.S. Census figures show the upstate region, particularly in rural counties, lost population. Out of 50 upstate counties, all but 11 saw population declines.