ALBANY, N.Y. — Mayor Eric Adams said he would consider housing migrants in a closed Hudson Valley prison during a call with county officials Thursday as New York City struggles to find accommodations for thousands more asylum-seekers expected to arrive following the expiration of a federal border policy.
In an audio of the call obtained exclusively by POLITICO, Adams made it clear that his administration desperately needs assistance from neighboring counties as the city has already provided housing, food and other services to more than 65,000 asylum-seekers over the past year.
The situation is so dire that Adams didn’t rule out the suggestion from Newburgh Supervisor Gil Piaquadio that the mayor consider vacant housing at SUNY New Paltz as well as the shuttered Downstate Correctional Facility in nearby Fishkill, Dutchess County.
“It would take a little bit to make sure it don’t look like a prison because you don’t want it to look like we’re housing people in a prison, but that would be a great shelter,” Piaquadio, a Republican, said on the call.
Adams, a Democrat, responded: “Nothing is off the table. If anyone has alternative locations, we’re open to listening. We’re not taking anything off the table at all. We’re going to look at both of those locations you mentioned.”
New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, a fellow Democrat, said the prison should not be considered as a space to house migrants. “Some things should be off the table,” he said in a statement to POLITICO.
Fabien Levy, an Adams spokesperson, referred to comments made by Adams earlier in the day about how the city has run out of hotel space and is now looking at all manner of unorthodox locations to house asylum-seekers including a former military airfield, a psychiatric center in Queens and warehouses.
“Everything is on the table,” Adams said at an unrelated press briefing. “When you get 4,200 people in one week I mean — that is an oh-shucks-moment. And I’m only saying shucks because I’m being televised.”
Last week, Adams’ office indicated it planned to send about 300 migrants to Rockland and Orange counties, leading to intense criticism by the Republican county executives over the move and subsequent court fights to block it.
The Adams administration started moving asylum-seekers out of the city Thursday when a busload of migrants, at the objection of local leaders, showed up at an Orange County hotel.
“We’re at the point now where frankly we need help,” Adams implored the local officials on Thursday’s call. “And this is a national issue, and I’ve called out the White House. It’s a congressional issue for not having real immigration reform. All those things are important, but right now I’m dealing with a crisis that is going to cripple the economic engine of the state — it’s going to impact your municipalities as well as New York City.”
The call Thursday got tense when county leaders railed against Adams’ decision, calling it hastily done and bereft of details on how the program would work or whether the migrants have been probably vetted. The city will pay for the migrants’ housing and care by contracting with the hotels and other service providers, but counties said they don’t have the resources to help.
“Zero cooperation. I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor,” said Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. He added that he was led to believe from the city and the state that the shipping of migrants to Orange County was on pause, only for a busload to show up Thursday.
“You know who’s not getting a pause? Eric Adams. I’m not getting a pause,” the mayor responded. “I’ve had 500 people dropped off today. I got them coming through the airports, I got them coming through the bus terminal, I got them coming up I-95.”
Republican Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin suggested Adams is trying to score political points by trying to send the migrants to GOP-led counties.
“We should have had this conversation a long time ago, and you should have been upfront with the counties, and I’m not going to let it go that you sent them to two GOP county executives and bypassed Westchester,” McLaughlin said.
“Thanks a lot, Steve,” Adams said.
“No response right?” McLaughlin followed.
“You didn’t ask me a question. You gave me a sermon,” Adams said.
Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters Thursday she continues to work across the state to find facilities to house the asylum-seekers and help them get jobs.
“We’ve been working so hard with the mayor’s office, trying to find sites that are closer to where people are arriving and where there are services,” Hochul said. “That’s what we’ve continued to do, look at state properties. I’ve talked with the federal government about federal properties, and trying to stand up more sites.”
Meanwhile, a group of 40 to 60 asylum-seekers arrived midday Thursday to a quiet hotel just off the New York State Thruway in the Town of Newburgh.
Some said they were concerned by the lack of transportation in the area and the fact that the closest supermarket is a 3-mile trek from the hotel. But they were in good spirits, and several men who ventured outside the hotel said they’ve had a warm welcome.
Alejandro Dervis Rivas, a single 31-year-old from Venezuela, said he’s been in the country roughly five days since crossing the border in El Paso, Texas. The former military sergeant said he left to provide a better life for his parents and siblings back home.
Rivas said he first took a flight from Texas to Seattle and then landed in New York City where he was sent to a hotel. At the hotel, he received a brochure from the front desk about moving to Newburgh.
“We were told it was a four-month stay, while you wait to get permission to work. That’s it,” he said in Spanish. “We just arrived, and they have not explained to us what there is here, or what resource they are giving us.”
After the call, Piaquadio said in an interview with POLITICO that he wanted more information about the backgrounds of migrants coming to his town. He again offered up the college in New Paltz and the Dutchess County prison as options to house more migrants.
In Dutchess County, unused space in the county jail was repurposed as an emergency shelter during the pandemic.
“The hotel is in a residential neighborhood; there are no services to walk to. You have a gas station, a small diner,” Piaquadio said. “It’s not a great location for people without a vehicle.”