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Federal government will allow NY to use former military airfield to house migrants, Hochul says

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks with reporters at the State Capitol in Albany on Aug. 21, 2023.
Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks with reporters at the State Capitol in Albany on Aug. 21, 2023.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Monday that she has made some headway in getting President Joe Biden’s administration to help New York with its migrant crisis by agreeing to allow the state to use a former U.S. Navy air station in Brooklyn to house asylum-seekers.

She said the federal Department of the Interior has agreed to allow New York to open Floyd Bennett Field to house up to 2,000 migrants who are single adults.

“This is a big step. Because the answer one month ago was no,” Hochul said. “I'm viewing this as a significant development by the administration in Washington to acknowledge that we need more help here.”

Hochul said the site has air conditioning, heating, and more bathrooms than some of the sites that are currently being used. She added it will free up other sites for families.

“It opens up the hotel rooms and other shelters; hotel rooms where young men might be in there now,” said Hochul, who added that families can then “backfill” those rooms.

“It’s starting to move people out of the system,” she said.

The announcement may ease the pressure on New York City to house migrants in hotels outside of the city, including in upstate regions.

Hochul, speaking on Spectrum’s NY1 a few days ago, indicated that she does not agree with Mayor Eric Adams’ policy, saying, “putting someone in a hotel on a dark, lonely road in upstate New York and telling them they’re supposed to survive is not compassion.”

It took months for the federal government to agree to free up the site. The governor said she has been asking for help on a daily basis and was on the phone until 11 p.m. Sunday trying to finalize the details.

Hochul still has not received permission to waive a six-month waiting period before the asylum-seekers are permitted to apply for jobs.

The governor also announced that the state will pay $20 million to fund more caseworkers to help the migrants with paperwork so that they can at least be ready to seek employment after the waiting period is up.

“And then, the state has said we will find them jobs,” said Hochul, who added the state has already agreed to establish a resettlement program.

“Where we'll pick up the costs for one year and find them locations once they've achieved the status of applying,” she said.

Hochul said farms, restaurants and other businesses around the state face a worker shortage, and she believes the asylum-seekers would be a good fit.

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless issued a joint statement, saying that they are encouraged by the developments, though they say the “devil is in the details” and they’d like to know more about how the arrangement will work.

The groups said they hope that it’s “the beginning of the governor galvanizing the full weight and authority of the state” to address the migrant crisis.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.