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Despite a lack of progress, Hochul says she hasn't given up on federal help for NY's migrant crisis

Gov. Kathy Hochul, speaking in Syracuse on Friday, June 2, 2023, said she's still asking the White House for help in dealing with the state's migrant crisis .
Darren McGee
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul, speaking in Syracuse on Friday, June 2, 2023, said she's still asking the White House for help in dealing with the state's migrant crisis .

Gov. Kathy Hochul and other state and county leaders have made little progress over the past week on getting help from the federal government, as asylum seekers continue to arrive in New York City, and Mayor Eric Adams continues to send some of them to other parts of the state.

Hochul has been asking the federal government, including aides to President Joe Biden, a political ally, to help.

She said now that the federal debt ceiling crisis has been averted, she plans to renew her efforts.

“We’re very strongly pursuing the options that we believe are available,” Hochul said Friday.

In addition to more money to help house and feed the migrants, Hochul said a “top priority” is waiving the 180-day waiting period required before an asylum-seeker can apply for jobs.

The governor, speaking in Syracuse, said there are plenty of agricultural jobs open now that many of the migrants could fill.

“(If) we get people these expedited work permits, I guarantee you, the farms not far from here, and the hotels and the restaurants, they'll have the workforce that they've been begging for,” Hochul said. “This is an opportunity.”

So far, though the governor has not received any answers.

Meanwhile, local government leaders say there continues to be confusion over New York City’s busing of migrants to upstate locations. About 72,000 asylum-seekers have entered the city in the past year, many coming from Texas, where state leaders are encouraging them to leave. Around 300 have been sent to other locations.

Several Republican-led counties in New York issued orders barring local hotels from accepting the migrants, after Adams authorized the busing to hotels in Orange and Rockland counties, which have GOP county executives.

Democratic-led Albany County issued a similar ban, saying they want to make sure that the proper support services are in place before allowing hotels to accept the migrants. Despite that, a few dozen migrants were bused to a hotel in the Albany suburb of Colonie, which is governed by Republicans. Later, another busload arrived at a hotel in Albany, which is a sanctuary city for immigrants.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who did not have a say on where the migrants were sent, said she has concerns about the location in her city. The hotel has been the subject of multiple police calls in recent years, and she worries that unscrupulous people might try to take advantage of the migrants.

“This is a vulnerable population,” Sheehan told WAMC News. “I want to ensure that they are not subjected to people coming to try to take advantage.”

The county executive, Dan McCoy, has threatened to sue, to prevent further buses from coming, unless the county has support services already in place.

Steve Acquario, the executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, said counties are frustrated with the lack of coordination over the busing of the migrants and need the federal government to step up and assist with housing and feeding the asylum-seekers and reducing the waiting time until they can legally work.

They are also calling on Hochul to take better charge of the situation.

The governor said she’s holding weekly conference calls with county executives from around the state. She said some are simply asking for more clarity about when and where the migrants might be arriving.

But Hochul said she’s disappointed in the lack of welcome from others. She said they have created “hysteria” and a “false narrative” around the migrants, who have all entered the country legally and have undergone criminal background checks in their home countries. She said New York and the nation were built by immigrants, and she wishes that those objecting to the asylum-seekers would see it that way.

“I ask them to simply ask where their parents and grandparents came from,” Hochul said.

In response, Rockland County Executive Ed Day said in a letter that it’s unfair to label the counties’ reactions as “bigoted” when they are simply angry that the mayor of New York is “attempting to dictate” what happens outside the city’s limits in what he said is a “home rule state.”

Hochul also said she is continuing to talk about whether dorms at the State University of New York campuses could be used to temporarily house migrants. She said logistics are still under discussion.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.