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Kathy Hochul Declares State of Emergency Over Migrant Influx

The declaration will allow state and local officials to more quickly distribute allocated funds for the nearly 37,000 immigrants temporarily residing in New York City, including 1,500 arrivals in just the last week.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul standing in front of a podium.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday, May 9, declared a state of emergency due to "the arrival of increased numbers of migrants seeking shelter" in New York City amid an escalating controversy over Mayor Eric Adams' decision to send asylum seekers to a handful of upstate communities.

The declaration will allow state and local officials to expedite the distribution of funds from $1 billion provided in the recently enacted state budget to address the challenge that Hochul described as an "already large-scale humanitarian crisis." The move follows last week's expiration of Title 42, the federal policy that previously allowed the U.S. to reject asylum seekers without a hearing.

Meanwhile, a number of upstate communities — including its self-declared "sanctuary cities" — are awaiting guidance from state and federal officials amid the bitter political fight over where asylum seekers arriving in overmatched New York City should reside, at least temporarily. The city is temporarily housing nearly 37,000 immigrants from the U.S.- Mexico border, according to the state. That includes roughly 1,500 in just the past week.

Hochul's office is anticipating several thousand additional individuals each week seeking shelter — "a disaster emergency to which local governments are unable to adequately respond, creating a threat to health and safety, which could result in the loss of life or property," her declaration said.

The state Association of Counties requested a briefing from Hochul's office over the weekend to help provide information on logistics and health and safety questions, according to Mark LaVigne, spokesman for the association. During a regularly scheduled budget meeting on Monday, county executives were collectively searching for answers. By Tuesday afternoon, the association expected to speak with the governor's office.

"Issues like this trickle downhill and we are the seat of government that provide health human services for those in need," LaVigne said Monday. "We need some partners in government to help address this issue."

State lawmakers recently agreed to provide New York City with $1 billion to support its efforts to house and provide social and legal services for asylum seekers who have arrived to the city, sometimes as a byproduct of Texas officials sending migrants from its state to New York.

While lawmakers agreed to the funding for New York City, a proportional increase for upstate cities and counties was not a part of the final budget agreement.

"We tend to provide patchwork support, but I think it would be fair of us to provide some resources to these counties and municipalities," said Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, a Queens Democrat who often leads her conference on immigration issues and is fighting for expanded health care for undocumented people.

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins pointed the focus on funding to the federal government and highlighted the Legislature's role in securing the $1 billion for New York City.

It is unclear when Adams decided on the strategy to send some asylum seekers to upstate communities, and whether it had already been decided on during the state budget negotiations that concluded earlier this month.

"We are aware the city has limited space available to shelter additional asylum seekers and are working with Mayor Adams on solutions to that problem as we continue to push for a federal response," Hochul spokesman Avi Small said in a statement Monday.

The connection between the potential influx of asylum seekers upstate and the municipalities that call themselves "sanctuary cities" has offered additional political and financial tension in recent days.

Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin declared his own state of emergency just before Hochul's announcement. It declares that no hotel or municipality — including Troy, which is home to much of the county's immigrant population — are allowed to enter into a contract to house migrants.

"Pick a different city picture other than Troy for your illegal invasion advertising," McLaughlin tweeted Monday at Adams, who in recent days began sending groups of the documented immigrants out of the city as its service infrastructure has been stretched beyond capacity. The Republican's message prompted Adams' communications director, Maxwell Young, to respond: "Bigotry, idiocy and legal ignorance all in one tweet."

McLaughlin's blast was prompted by a picture of Troy's downtown that was used as a cover page for an internal informational guide from New York City calling for "four-month temporary housing options for asylum seekers" in nearby New York counties.

But despite the image on the materials, Troy is not listed as a county where Adams currently intends to send asylum seekers. Instead, it's in Rockland and Orange counties, places where Republican officials have quickly rejected any efforts from the city and have declared their own states of emergency in an attempt to stop them.

Adams' spokesman Fabien Levy said the administration currently has no plans to send asylum seekers farther north than Rockland and Orange counties.

"At this time, New York City is interested in finding additional suitable locations within current chosen communities and potentially new communities to house the expected influx of asylum seekers," Levy said in an email.

The mayor's office noted "racist rhetoric" aimed at sanctuary cities should not be misconstrued with the situation affecting asylum seekers, who have legal papers from the federal government and are not "undocumented."

McLaughlin, however, asserted asylum seekers are to be sent from New York City to Buffalo and Syracuse. Adams' office said it had no such plans yet. A spokesman for Erie County Executive Marc C. Poloncarz declined an interview on the subject. A spokesman for Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon did not immediately return an interview request.

"Although we have had preliminary discussions, we are awaiting specific plans from New York state so that we may make appropriate decisions," Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy said in a statement early Tuesday. He declined to be interviewed on the subject.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, in a statement, said since her time in office she has sought to "ensure Albany is a welcoming place for those seeking a better life for themselves and their families."

Her office did not specify whether it has engaged in any recent communications with Hochul's office in preparation for a potential acceptance of asylum seekers from New York City, given Albany is one of the few sanctuary cities upstate.

Sheehan has long defended the city designating itself a sanctuary city. "If we want to continue to have a vibrant economy, we have to be welcoming to everybody," Sheehan said on Fox News when she sparred with then-host Tucker Carlson in January 2018.

The city has welcomed Ukrainian and Afghan refugees in recent years. Area Democrats frequently seek to remind the public the contributions the refugees make to the community and local businesses.

Spanish-speaking individuals who seek asylum in Albany and the larger metro area are often connected with Capital District Latinos. It has already seen individuals who have come from the southern border sent from Texas to New York City and then bused up to Albany. One person arrived with the clothes on his back and in dire need of emergency health care, said Dan Irizarry, chairman of the nonprofit.

Irizarry assailed what he described as racist fear-mongering from elected officials.

"Don't we have enough violence, anger and hatred already all over the country that we need somebody to create a fake crisis so they could score political points?" Irizarry said in an interview Monday.

Capital District Latinos helps to connect people with stable housing, adequate health care and any legal representation they may need to be able to gain lawful employment. Its recent request for comprehensive funding for its work from the city of Albany, through available federal infrastructure dollars, was rejected.

"Sanctuary city is a great idea," Irizarry said. "But it seems to be a point where it's just virtue signaling, unless you have a plan in place."

(c)2023 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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