Migrant Moves: Riverhead Bid to Block Asylum Seekers Prevails as NYC Drops Lawsuit
Town of Riverhead officials cheered New York City’s decision to drop a lawsuit seeking to overturn the town’s effort to keep the Big Apple from sending an influx of migrants to the East End.
The city had filed the lawsuit after Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar signed an executive order on May 16 that prohibited local hotels lodging facilities to be used to house asylum seekers for whom city officials have been struggling to find shelter. Aguiar vowed to continue renewing the order until the end of the year, when her term in office ends.
“Not only would this type of emergency housing be in violation of our codes, but in addition it would limit hotel space during our busiest tourist season thereby threatening the existing local jobs and the economy our community depends on,” Aguiar told reporters during a news conference outside of Riverhead Town Hall on Thursday, September 14.
Agiuar issued the state of emergency following the expiration of Title 42, the policy that had allowed the U.S. to quickly deny entrance to migrants seeking asylum at the southern border since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers have sought refuge in the city, which has spent $2 billion and opened dozens of emergency shelters, turning to tent facilities, school gyms and parks to comply with a New York State law requiring housing for the homeless.
Riverhead was one of dozens of local governments — including Suffolk County — across the downstate region that NYC sued to overturn similar migrant-blocking efforts as the city eyed the suburbs to ease the overflow. Suffolk officials did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit being dropped.
The city dropped the suit just as NYC Mayor Eric Adams urged President Joe Biden, who was in Manhattan to attend the United Nations General Assembly, for federal assistance in addressing the influx of international migrants. Adams warned recently that the migrant crisis would “destroy New York City.” The Democrat has insisted that the more than 100,000 who have arrived so far are welcome, but he has said the cost of housing tens of thousands of people could be as much as $12 billion over the next three years. Adams has rejected allegations from advocates of using migrants as “props” in an ongoing bid for federal money.
Gov. Kathy Hochul last month also implored Biden to take urgent action to help her state absorb the surge of migrants who have strained resources and filled homeless shelters. In a rare public address, Hochul said she had sent the president a letter asking him to expedite work permits for migrants and provide financial resources to help care for the estimated 100,000 asylum seekers who have come to the state in the last year, mostly to NYC.
“The reality is that we’ve managed thus far without substantive support from Washington, and despite the fact that this is a national, and indeed an inherently federal issue,” Hochul said in a speech delivered in Albany. “But New York has shouldered this burden for far too long.”
Veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Biden not meeting with Adams while he’s here doesn’t “bode well” for New York. The continued lack of federal aid, he said, will hurt Democrats’ chances of retaking swing district House seats they lost in last year’s midterm elections.
“That New York has not received its fair share of assistance is a federal problem, but now it’s a state problem and it really will hurt Democrats in New York state,” Sheinkopf said. “Because people are not going to forget, they’re just not. And the worry in the suburbs about New York City’s migrant problems seeping over is not an insignificant one. So it’s not the best move by the president.”
A recent poll commissioned by Tusk Philanthropies and conducted by Hart Research Associates found that a majority of state residents in swing districts support granting work permits to migrants — something Biden has so far failed to do.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately return an emailed request for comment.
New York has always prided itself on its ability to absorb waves of immigrants, but it has struggled to handle the thousands who have come over the past year, many on buses paid for by the state of Texas to rid itself of people entering the U.S. across the southern border.
New York Democrats initially blamed Republican governors of southern states for the crisis, but have increasingly sought to characterize it is a national problem that should be solved by the federal government.
The situation has also provided Republicans in the state with a new political front from which to attack Democrats after an election year where the GOP made gains by criticizing Democrats as slow to respond to concerns over crime.
U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota (R-Rocky Point), the congressman who represents the East End, has been vocal on the issue, agreeing that Suffolk shouldn’t share the city’s tab for advertising itself as a sanctuary city.
“Fairness requires that those New York City officials, not suburban and rural counties who have rejected sanctuary city policies, incur the financial, public safety and education costs with the predictable result of their failed policy choice,” LaLota wrote in a letter to Adams and Hochul. “Like my father taught me as a child: ‘You break it, you bought it.’”
Aguiar, who declined to seek a third term and finishes out her time in office on New Year’s Eve, said the town’s resources need to be preserved to assist its own homeless population, which includes veterans and three encampments.
The supervisor said: “I am glad that this chapter has concluded and now our actions and protecting our community from the fallout created by New York City’s chaos for asylum seekers, and attempt to mitigate a federal issue here in our town has come to a close.”
-With Ethan Stark-Miller and Associated Press