UPDATE (May 18, 2023)
Due to the rapidly-changing nature of the city’s migrant situation, the story will be regularly updated after press time.
The contentious federal order Title 42 ended in the U.S., stemming the flow of asylum seekers at the southern border. That had little effect, it seems, on New York City’s handling of how to effectively house people still arriving in the city by the hundreds.
In the chaos, Mayor Eric Adams has called to start bussing people upstate to other counties and considered rollbacks to the right-to-shelter order. Both ideas were met with immediate backlash from two groups: suburban Republicans and city elected officials.
“It’s definitely affecting people who are fleeing violence and other things happening in their country. Right now our main focus is to help those people that are already here because they are being welcomed with hate and hurtful words,” said Nelcy Garcia, who co-chairs Proyecto Faro Community Fridge in Rockland County, New York.
Garcia is originally from the Dominican Republic. She immigrated to the city when she was 15 years old, and worked hard to become a social worker and get U.S. citizenship. She said she feels incredibly targeted since Rockland County Executive Ed Day issued a state of emergency order that banned asylum seekers from being housed in northern municipalities while spewing racist rhetoric.
New York’s Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus followed suit, issuing an order that banned asylum seekers as well. A Supreme Court judge upheld the order to block New York City from sending anymore asylum seekers upstate. There are 186 single adult men already staying at two hotels in the county who are allowed to stay.
“We don’t have to be so divided. We have to come together,” said Garcia.
While Title 42 dates back to the 1940s, the provision was first used just three years ago. Former President Donald Trump employed the policy at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to occlude southern border entry and expel migrants under the pretense of public health. Such a process circumvents the typical legal right to request asylum.
But 42 isn’t exclusive to 45. President Joe Biden inherited and maintained the policy up until recently, even as a federal judge struck it down last winter. While the filled NFL stadiums, lack of mask mandates, and anachronistic vaccine passports indicated the country’s unofficial “end” to COVID-19 public health measures for some time now, Title 42 only expired last week.
“Denying rights and resources to people arriving in desperate need and fervent hope will not replace action needed from the President, who has failed to provide sufficient federal funding or a national response,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said in a statement, “or the Governor, who has failed to support the city, and therefore the state, by coordinating with other municipalities. Instead, this action will only harm our newest, aspiring, and long-term New Yorkers and shift, not solve, the crisis.”
Williams and other electeds are adamantly against rollbacks to the ‘right to shelter’ law.
In a continued and hurried response to the crisis, Adams has renewed calls to the state and federal government for additional support.
He opened the city’s ninth Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center (HERRC) at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan last week. The hotel, which has been closed for nearly three years, will hold about 175 rooms for children and families seeking asylum—not nearly enough for the amount of people arriving that need to be provided shelter by city law.
“New York City has now cared for more than 65,000 asylum seekers — already opening up over 140 emergency shelters and eight large-scale humanitarian relief centers in addition to this one to manage this national crisis,” Adams said in a statement. “Without federal or state assistance, we will be unable to continue treating new arrivals and those already here with the dignity and care that they deserve.”
The Mayor’s Office also reached out to city partners for potential emergency shelter sites through an email memo last Tuesday, May 9. They began commandeering school gyms, dorms, and other suitable city-run spaces as emergency sites to house asylum seekers this past weekend. A few impacted council members and residents were upset that they were given little notice as to where people would be placed in their districts.
Councilmember Sandy Nurse (District 37) serves the Cypress Hills, Bushwick, Ocean Hill, Brownsville, and East New York neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Parents whose children attend youth programming at the NYPD Community Center on Pennsylvania Avenue in her district were panicked when they were first told that the center might be closed down to house asylum seekers.
Nurse said that the real issue was that going into the summer months, these programs were necessary to promote public safety in the surrounding community. The city did a walkthrough of the space, which isn’t configured for housing, and decided not to place people there.
“The one thing we do need to be aware of is that the admin is doing this across the city, so there is every possibility that one of our school gyms will be converted into temporary shelter,” said Nurse.
The same situation played out on the opposite side of Brooklyn for Councilmember Ari Kagan (R-District 47). He serves Bensonhurst, Coney Island, and Gravesend. Kagan confirmed the school gym at PS 188 was closed to temporarily house about 75 migrant men and women. He learned that the city was moving people into the gym from a resident that posted on Facebook.
“Sometimes I’m getting more information from my own constituents than from City Hall,” said Kagan.
Kagan, who is an immigrant himself, said that the situation is not sustainable and that the federal government should be providing more assistance.
Adams has since reversed his plans to house asylum seekers in school gyms after days of angry parent protesters this Wed, May 17. The Adams administration briefly floated the idea this week of placing people on Rikers Island, highlighting the desperation of the situation, but that was also met with swift backlash from community members and advocates.
Additionally, a Manhattan police facility retrofitted to house migrants short-term drew criticism from both homeless advocates and NYPD union Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York (PBA) after they learned it would accommodate families earlier this month. Issues ranged from proper accommodations to a reportedly functional shooting range on-site.
“Yet another societal problem has landed in New York City police officers’ laps, and the ‘solution’ is terrible for everyone involved,” said outgoing PBA president Pat Lynch. “It is a significant security risk to house civilians in an active, working police facility, which means a large contingent of police officers will need to be posted there for both the safety of the migrants and the security of the building. It’s a waste of resources and a frankly inhumane arrangement. This decision need to be rethought.”
The Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless said in a joint statement, that they learned the city had multiple families with children sheltering at the NYPD’s former police academy building in Manhattan. “A facility only appropriate for single adult men,” they said, “The city cannot shelter families with children in congregate settings. Private sleeping quarters are required for families’ safety, for mothers to privately nurse newborns, to reduce the transmission of infectious diseases, and to prevent sexual assault.”
Nationally, the Biden Administration warned of “unlawful” pathways to the U.S., boasted about the arrest of more than 10,000 smugglers, and imposed stricter conditions following the expiration of Title 42.
“This administration has led the largest expansion of legal pathways for protection in decades, and this regulation will encourage migrants to seek access to those pathways instead of arriving unlawfully in the grip of smugglers at the southern border,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
But such criteria includes bureaucratic measures like applying for asylum in stopover countries on the way to the United States. Failure to comply means blocked asylum applications, a minimum half-decade ban on reentry, and potential criminal charges.
Ariama C. Long and Tandy Lau are Report for America corps members and write about politics and public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep them 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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