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Advocates warn that Long Island is not ready for an influx of migrants

Security and staff personnel mill around The Crossroads Hotel where two busloads of migrants arrived hours earlier, Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Newburgh, N.Y. New York City Mayor Eric Adams touched off a furor north of the city by announcing last week that the city would temporarily send north up to 300 single, adult men to two hotels in suburban Rockland County and neighboring Orange County. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo
Security and staff personnel mill around The Crossroads Hotel where two busloads of migrants arrived hours earlier, Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Newburgh, N.Y.

Despite the absence of any formal plans to send asylum seekers from New York City to Nassau and Suffolk counties, advocates warn Long Island is not prepared to handle an influx of migrants.

About 800 migrant children arrived last year and enrolled in Long Island schools according to SEPA Mujer, an immigrant support group. Today, Martha Maffei, the group's executive director, said she receives daily calls from people looking for help that the counties can’t provide.

“Long Island does not have capacity in the shelters,” Maffei said. “There is an immense lack.”

As New York City scrambles to find housing for roughly 65,000 migrants sent from southern states since last year, county executives in Suffolk and Nassau have yet to articulate a plan. Nassau’s Bruce Blakeman, a Republican, said migrants are not welcome. Suffolk’s Steve Bellone, a Democrat, said he will deal with the issue in a "fiscally responsible and humane way."

Meanwhile, New York City has been sued over its plan to bus migrants into the suburbs of Rockland and Orange counties. And in the Town of Riverhead on eastern Long Island, an executive order issued this week prohibits shelters and other facilities from accepting any asylum seekers from the city.

The order is a preventative measure to make sure the town’s homeless are not displaced to make room for incoming migrants, according to Republican Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

“This is a federal issue,” Aguiar said. “This is a New York City issue. If the mayor of New York City accepted these individuals, he shouldn't be sending them to towns that he knows nothing about.”

Aguiar said a few locations in the town had verbally agreed to accept asylum seekers, but said she could not reveal the source of the information as it was told to her in confidence. However, hotel and motel operators tell Riverhead Local that they have not been asked by anyone to house migrants from New York City.

“The order now will hopefully prevent any signed agreements,” Aguiar said. “We don't have the facilities, we don't have the resources, we don't have the infrastructure to be overwhelmed with this type of housing issue.”

SEPA Mujer’s Maffei said she understands why towns might want to act alone in blocking hotels from housing migrants, but she said that’s not a permanent or humane solution.

Riverhead Town Democrats called Aguiar’s executive order a “hysterical” overreaction.

“Rather than obtain and share the facts, Supervisor Aguiar has again conflated stoking fear among residents with governance,” the group said in a statement.

Directing all state agencies to assess space for migrants, Governor Kathy Hochul said Wednesday that SUNY campuses might be able to provide some housing relief, but only until students need the space.

“At Governor Hochul’s direction, we are assessing whether there are SUNY resources available to help with the arrival of asylum seekers," a SUNY spokesperson said.

Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.
Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.