ORANGETOWN, N.Y — A migrant crisis that has been largely contained to the southern border and to the nation’s biggest cities just arrived in the suburbs.
Two New York counties have declared states of emergency in a bid to halt New York City’s attempt to move asylum-seekers to vacant hotels in their communities, and one is already taking its fight to court.
While the national struggle over immigration policy has pitted state versus state, New York is now having a battle between county and city over how to handle the crush of asylum-seekers and the strain they are putting on local services and budgets.
All of it comes as the federal Title 42 program is ending Thursday, which is expected to bring even more migrants to the city and perhaps elsewhere in New York.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who says his city is “is being destroyed by the migrant crisis,” wants to move 300 recent arrivals to Orange and Rockland counties starting as soon as Wednesday. More than 61,000 migrants have arrived in the city since last spring.
The Democratic mayor’s effort has created a firestorm in the politically important Hudson Valley suburbs. Both counties’ states of emergency aim to shut down any hotel operation that allows migrants from the city to be moved there after Adams announced his plans Friday.
“I think we’re going to have a standoff in the next 24 to 48 hours because I just got word that the city said, ‘screw Rockland and Orange, we’re sending these people up,’” Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus, a Republican, said in an interview Tuesday with POLITICO.
By late Tuesday, a judge in Rockland County Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the hotel and its owner blocking it from housing “an influx of individuals without housing from the City of New York or any other municipality” unless permitted by local laws, the order read.
New York City spokesperson Fabien Levy said the city will allow the hotel to decide how to move forward, “but our plan is still to move a small number of asylum seekers to Orange County (on Wednesday), barring any security issues.”
“All this temporary order shows is that (the Rockland County executive) is incapable of demonstrating a shred of the humane and compassionate care New York City has shown over the past year,” Levy said in a statement about Ed Day, the Republican county executive.
Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul issued an executive order on Tuesday allowing local governments to more easily access $1 billion allocated in the recently approved state budget to help municipalities support asylum seekers. She also pledged an additional 500 National Guard members to provide support.
Hochul sought to urge calm and address criticism she isn’t doing more to help, saying the state would work with Adams to find places for new arrivals, such as state-owned facilities, and only in communities willing to host migrants.
“We are in communication with the mayor’s team and also helping him find locations within the city limits, opening up state property and talking to other counties that are interested in having people come,” she told reporters late Tuesday.
Moving migrants to the suburbs
A three-page brochure shows a colorful fall photo of upstate New York (although it is mistakenly a picture of Troy near Albany) and promises asylum-seekers an opportunity for four months of free housing, meals, laundry services and medical care at two hotels.
“New York has arranged for temporary housing and support services to help you and other asylum seekers,” the brochure reads, showing photos of two hotels in Newburgh and Orangeburg about an hour outside New York City.
Local leaders said Adams called them on Friday to tell them of his plans and that the city would pay for the program. Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny said it was not a request, it was more of a courtesy call.
“He basically told me about the program that New York City is doing, where they are decompressing the situation in the city,” she said in an interview. “He was very much like, ‘We are looking to do this, you may or may not get some migrants.’ He said it’s in a hotel, and the city would pay for everything.”
By Friday afternoon, a member of the Adams administration told Kenny her town could get more than a 100 men sent to a hotel located next to one of the area’s college campuses. However, she said they never gave her a final count, and the hotel they picked has a 340-person capacity.
“This all could have been prevented if we got ahead of it and they said, ‘Look we have this program and this is how it works,’” Kenny, a Republican, said. “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, the county is going to have financial consequences from this if it goes through.”
The issue has caused Republicans in particular to rip Adams.
“Unless we deal with the border, there are going to continue to be migrants coming to New York City. And what’s the mayor’s plan? Just dump them off and other communities after decrying the fact that Southern governors were doing that very same thing?” GOP Rep. Michael Lawler, who represents the region, said in an interview.
Adams “called it quote unquote, ‘morally bankrupt.’ So it’s morally bankrupt when border states do it, but it’s OK when the city of New York does it?”
Rockland County spokesperson Beth Cefalu said the county doesn’t see a realistic plan from the city to house migrants at the Armoni Inn & Suites in Orangeburg.
“The state of emergency prohibits hotels/motels from providing this type of housing without a special permit by the county and municipalities from housing migrants here without an agreement with the county. The City of New York’s plan to house them longterm at hotels also violates local town zoning laws,” Cefalu said in a statement.
While the brochure claims the individuals will have access to community-based organizations and religious institutions, Cefalu said the county’s nonprofit organizations have not been contacted by the city. Kenny said she is not aware of any nonprofit in her town that have been contacted by the city.
Levy said Rockland and Orange County executives “have sadly not met their moral mandate and have responded with opposition when each has been asked to care for less than one fourth of 1 percent of the asylum-seekers who have come to New York City when, once again, New York would be paying for shelter, food and services.”
Local officials prepare
The Orangeburg hotel earmarked to house the asylum seekers is located behind St. Thomas Aquinas College, just off a busy main street. On Tuesday afternoon, the hotel was a desolate scene with a few cars in its lot.
The grounds were cluttered with the plastic packaging for mattresses that Kenny said were brought in over the weekend. She believes this is all preparation for expanding the hotel’s capacity, by turning single rooms into doubles for more people.
Kenny said her opposition to Adams’ plan is not rooted in politics.
The supervisor would be open to assisting the migrants in the town if there was a viable plan in place. But receiving an out-of-the-blue call from Adams on Friday morning was not the way, she said. She noted that having individuals stay in the hotel for more than 30 days is a violation of the town code, and not something she could allow.
“I’ve been asked if I think the mayor targeted us because we’re a very Republican, conservative town. No, I don’t think that, I think that it was a hotel that worked and he was desperate,” she said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with politics.”
Westchester County Executive George Latimer said the county is assessing its resources and looking into ways it can assist New York City. But the Democrat said many of the hotels in Westchester don’t have the capacity or the need to participate.
Manuel Castro, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, testified at a hearing Wednesday that the city didn’t pick Westchester to send migrants at this moment because there didn’t appear to be any immediate availability.
Latimer said if the county were to help out, it would have to be done with communication and time to prepare the infrastructure necessary to provide migrants with wrap-around-services while they stay in the region.
“We understand New York City is in a crisis situation and we’re prepared to be helpful at some level, and everybody will have their own strategies,” Latimer said in an interview.
Latimer said they are assessing their ability to provide services and how many migrants they could support. When asked about a potential declaration of emergency in Westchester, he said it’s not something that he would consider, being that he does not have the authority to prevent hotels from doing business with the city.
“My mindset is these are not terrible people. Let’s not treat them as if they are less a class of people. But compassion has to be framed by practicality. And practicality is: What kind of resources, how you’re going to feed them, are they going to do work. We’re going to make sure we have proper police protection; all those things have to be in place,” Latimer said.
On the other hand, neighboring Putnam County Executive Kevin Byrne, a Republican, said he has been in communication with Rockland and Orange counties to look into the resolutions they passed for their order of emergencies.
He said if necessary he was poised to do the same in Putnam. He said the Hudson Valley needs a regional approach, and he’s been in communication with the neighboring Dutchess County executive about the available options.
“Although there has been no communication (from New York City), we want to make sure that we’re prepared with the appropriate level of response,” Byrne said.
Anna Gronewold and Joseph Spector contributed to this report.