County leaders split on response to New York City’s migrant crisis

Republican legislators in Suffolk County said on Sunday that they intend to hire a lawyer to explore legal options to prevent migrants and asylum seekers being bussed daily to New York City from being relocated to to the county.

 Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, in a statement, said he does not support this initiative.

“The public has every right to be angry about the policy failures that led to this crisis, but I urge everyone not to direct that rightful frustration at the families who are coming from desperate circumstances and legally seeking asylum,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement, according to Newsday.   

The legal uncertainty over what could be done — or should be done — echoed a similar scenario in Riverhead, where last week Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar issued a controversial executive order declaring a state of emergency in an attempt to forestall the placement of migrants in local hotels and motels. Riverhead officials were castigated at a town board meeting the following evening by several irate residents who opposed the order.

Kevin McCaffrey, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, said during a contentious press conference Sunday that was broadcast on the legislature’s Facebook page that “New York City made a conscious decision to call themselves a sanctuary city. Suffolk County did not.”

Mr. McCaffrey went on to say that “several counties across the state have commenced litigation and successfully obtained temporary restraining orders,” but noted that “our county executive has signaled he is not prepared to take those actions.”

“This is not an anti-immigration stance,” McCaffrey said, to loud jeers of “yes it is!” from the audience.

“We recognize this is a country of immigrants,” he continued. “This is about the failed immigration policies of the federal government.” 

Mr. McCaffrey said that county officials have not spoken directly to anyone in New York City government, but said city agencies were contacting hotels and motels in Suffolk with an offer to fund housing for at least a year for large groups of newly-arrived migrants and asylum seekers. 

“They have called every hotel and motel in the state of New York,” he said.

McCaffrey also rejected a potential plan suggested by Gov. Kathy Hochul to house migrants on SUNY campuses.

“You know that’s not going to happen,” he said. “Our SUNY students are not going to be displaced.” 

Mr. McCaffrey said that absorbing large numbers of migrants and asylum seekers is “an unfair burden to the residents of Suffolk County.”

Mr. McCaffrey said that the minimum wait for an asylum hearing is two years and that, ultimately, 90% of claims from asylum seekers are denied. He didn’t specify his source. “I’m not sure they’re going to pack up and go home,” he said.

A Syracuse University data research center analysis asserts that asylum denials peaked in 2019 and have been falling since.

Republican Congressman Nick Lalota was initially shouted down when he tried to speak. After several minutes, he was able to continue.

“We are a nation of immigrants. We are proud about our immigrant heritage,” he said. “We are also a nation of rules and laws … [and] we must continue to be a nation of rules and laws.”

Lalota went on to say that “this is an issue that has been self-created out of Albany and New York City.

“And those folks who have created this mess owe the responsibility to pay for this mess.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams suggested on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday that every U.S. city should share in the burden of housing migrants and asylum seekers.  

“We have 108,000 cities, villages, towns,” Mr. Adams said. “If everyone takes a small portion … it is not a burden on one city.”