On Thursday, Mayor Eric Adams confirmed reports of Senegalese migrants moving into the controversial pilot ​​Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center (HERRC) built on Randall’s Island in response to southern border officials bussing asylum seekers to New York City. 

“What happened was that we’re using the HERRCs to all asylum seekers and migrants, no matter where they’re coming from,” said Adams. “We’re using the HERRCs to do the process as we continue with the appropriate measures, making sure we give the housing that’s needed. 

“And this was brought to our attention, some of the imams reached out to us and stated that some asylum seekers and migrants were living in terrible conditions, and we responded accordingly. So no matter who the asylum seeker is or the migrant may be, we are going to follow the same process.”

The shelter, often dubbed as a “tent city,” was initially constructed in Orchard Beach. But flooding, community pushback in the Bronx and drama over contracting Trump border wall developers on the project set the process back. By the time the facility was relocated to Randall’s Island and open to migrants, the buses from the southern border already eased up due to federal concessions to restrict Venezuelan entry. 

Shortly after the shelter opened, Adams told 1010 WINS on 92.3 FM the city’s long-term plan was to dismantle the HERRC but would use the facility for other purposes for the time being. Currently, there are no accurate official cost estimates for the Randall’s Island center.

In Central Harlem, State Sen. Cordell Cleare hosted a forum to address migrant housing in the West African enclave often dubbed Little Senegal. Stakeholders present included Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Manuel Castro, Senegalese Consul General Elhadji Ndao and Assemblymember Al Taylor. Gov. Kathy Hochul was scheduled to appear but did not.

“We have been working on the conditions on West 116th Street and we have asylum seekers and we have other things that are happening,” said Cleare. “There’s an impact to this neighborhood. And it put us in a situation where we didn’t know what to do. So we said we’ll collect folks, we will make sure that we have the right agencies in place, make sure that people have the right information, know where to go, know what the rules are, know where to get help.”

“We’ve seen in other locations where it’s not the same type of warm or welcoming atmosphere, but here in New York, we see the efforts that the Mayor’s Office is doing,” said Ndao. “We are very aware of all the efforts on Randall’s Island and some hotels that are taken by the public offices to make sure that the dignity of these people is taken care of.”

The officials beckoned migrants in Harlem to avoid transporting any packages or driving strangers for money, which can preclude any potential pathway to citizenship. Castro promised expanded legal services on the way along with increased Wolof resources for West African migrants. And there was a call for donations of cold weather clothes given many migrants come from warmer temperate climates than New York City. 

Also addressed was the community concern that asylum seekers were prioritized over other marginalized groups already in New York City. 

“If you can feed five, you can feed six, if you can sleep seven, you can sleep eight—all this stuff and their math and what they do, we can feed each other,” said Taylor. “I know that from living and I’m not saying this is right what they’ve done to us, but we will not let our brothers and sisters lie in the scenario that they’ve dumped them in. That’s inhumane. They didn’t ask for it. Our job is to help them and hold those accountable that [are] doing that.

“Because if you want to think about this, you really want to get the goat about something, get up and go vote because those folks down in Texas are doing that deliberately to get you ticked off and what are they doing this atrocity that they’re doing? They’re using human beings as tools and trafficking in their evilness.” 

Castro told the Amsterdam News that southern border officials are intending to sow division by chartering migrants to New York City.

“This is exactly why Gov. Abbott [was] misleading asylum seekers and coercing them into coming to New York—this is what they wanted to do,” he said. “They wanted to foster obstruction, confusion and tension. But what the vast majority of New Yorkers knew not to fall for that. 

“There are people that feel ‘well, what about us?’ or have questions and some of them are valid if they’ve always felt a sense of disenfranchisement. But I think most New Yorkers are able to say, ‘well, no, actually, these are people that are being taken advantage of, and let’s welcome them with humanity.’”

Supplies and new/packaged clothing can be donated to asylum seekers in Harlem via the Office of Manhattan Borough Pres. Mark Levine at: 431 W. 125th St. New York, NY 10027 Mon.-Fri. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

There’s also a downtown drop-off point at 1 Centre St. 19th Floor (South Side), New York, NY 10027 Mon.-Fri. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1

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