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Upstate counties react against plans to relocate New York City asylum seekers

 Broome County Executive Jason Garnar joined a growing number of counties in attempting to thwart New York City Mayor Eric Adams' plans to relocate asylum seekers upstate.
Vaughn Golden
Broome County Executive Jason Garnar joined a growing number of counties in attempting to thwart New York City Mayor Eric Adams' plans to relocate asylum seekers upstate.

Broome and Schuyler counties joined other upstate counties Thursday in declaring a state of emergency and corresponding executive order meant to bar hotels, motels and short-term rental establishments from contracting with New York City to house asylum seekers.

The move comes the same day the federal COVID-19 emergency order, as well as the Trump-era Title 42 policy are set to expire. Title 42 allowed federal authorities to deport migrants arriving in the U.S. to Mexico to await asylum hearings. The expiration of the order is expected to lead to a surge of migrants arriving at the southern border. A memo obtained by CBS2 shows that New York City officials anticipate as many as 800 asylum seekers to arrive in the city per day after the expiration of Title 42.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams originally threatened to bus migrants out of the five boroughs as early as last week. On Thursday, busses of asylum seekers arrived at a hotel in Newburgh in Orange County, despite an executive order similar to Garnar’s issued earlier this week.

Garnar’s three-page order went into effect at noon Thursday. It specifically bans hotels, motels and multiple dwelling units from entering into a contract with municipalities other than Broome County for the purpose of housing migrants and asylum seekers.

“Broome County has struggled with finding housing for residents in our own community,” Garnar told reporters in a press conference Thursday afternoon. “On certain days we have even seen our emergency shelters completely full. The bottom line is that if New York City sends hundreds of people into Broome County, it will absolutely break our social service system. As Broome County executive, I have a responsibility to my community to ensure that county residents who are in need have the resources they need for themselves and for their families. Our residents are first and foremost priority.”

The executive order allows for the Broome County health director to issue licenses to facilitate housing for asylum seekers under certain circumstances. The licenses, the order spells out, would only be issued if the municipality sending migrants agrees to fully fund their stay and provide for them to return to that municipality within 15 days.

Should hotels ignore the order and choose to contract with the city, they could face fines of up to $2,000 per day per asylum seeker being housed, according to the order.

The order, which first reported by WSKG Thursday, will remain in effect for 30 days unless its renewed. Garnar said he would possibly seek to have the county legislature work to codify the order as a statute.

“The Legislature was updated today on the Executive Orders issued by County Executive Garnar and the developing situation regarding the relocation of migrant populations by New York City,” Broome County Legislature Chairman Dan Reynolds, a Republican, told WSKG in a statement. “The Legislature will continue to monitor the situation and work with the County Executive to examine all short and long term options to address this issue.”

Broome County Sheriff Fred Akshar, speaking alongside Garnar Thursday, said deputies were in the process of reaching out to hotels and motels around the county to ensure they were aware of the order and consequences should they violate it.

Akshar also said the sheriff’s department would attempt to intercept and “turn around” busses of asylum seekers if it learns they’re being routed to Broome County, though he stressed that deputies wouldn’t be pulling over vehicles indiscriminately.

“It would require us to have probable cause to do that,” Akshar said. “We would have had to have received some actionable intelligence that we would have turned into a lawful stop of that vehicle.”

Despite his persistence that the county isn’t ready to support large groups of asylum seekers, Garnar said emergency contingency plans remain in place, similar to those enacted following the 2011 flood and other disasters.

“Typically, what we would do in storms or floods or anything like that, working with our usual partners, the American Red Cross, identifying buildings that we would be able to accommodate people,” Garnar said, pointing to local fire stations as a potential option. “All those types of things, we’d pull out the kinds of plans that we incorporate for this particular crisis.”

A few hours after Garnar formally announced Broome County’s order, Schuyler County Legislature Chairman Carl Blowers and County Administrator Fonda Chronis followed suit, issuing a similar measure.

Schuyler and Broome joined several other counties outside the five boroughs that had already issued emergency orders surrounding the asylum seekers. They include Orange, Rockland, Oneida, Rensselaer, Chemung and Tioga Counties.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) sued Orange and Rockland counties, the first to attempt to block the city from sending asylum seekers, in federal court Thursday. Their suit argues that the executive orders violate equal rights and due process protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

“Orange and Rockland County’s Emergency Orders egregiously violate migrants’ rights,” Amy Belsher, director of immigrants’ rights litigation at the New York Civil Liberties Union, wrote in a press release. “Migrants have every right to travel and reside anywhere in New York, free of xenophobic harassment and discrimination. People are not political pawns – both counties should welcome migrants into their communities, not unlawfully bar them from seeking refuge.”

A spokesperson for the NYCLU declined to indicate whether it would expand its lawsuit to include the other counties that have issued similar orders to Orange and Rockland counties.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is also defending Mayor Adams’ decision to bus the asylum seekers upstate.

"There's a lot of stress involved in this, so yes, he's taking unprecedented action, but these are unprecedented times," the governor told reporters at an event Thursday.

Hochul also opened up the door to using state-owned facilities to help house migrants from the city.

Earlier this week, Hochul signed an executive order of her own to deploy an additional 500 National Guard members and financial resources to assist New York City with the situation.

According to reporting by POLITICO, Newburgh Supervisor Gil Piaquadio also floated the idea of housing asylum seekers at SUNY New Paltz.

Garnar said he also views using Binghamton University, another SUNY campus, as a temporary measure, and one that still lacks any details. Commencement ceremonies at Binghamton University are set for this coming weekend, meaning residential facilities are beginning to be cleared out now.

“I would ask New York City if they’re doing that with their own colleges. They have a multitude of colleges in the city and I haven’t heard them doing anything with that,” Garnar said.

Members of Congress representing the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley took their own tack on the situation Thursday in calling for the federal government to issue a disaster declaration for New York state in order to free up resources from FEMA.

Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-19), Rep. Mike Lawler (R-17) and Rep. Pat Ryan (D-18) were among those calling for the federal government to intervene.

Molinaro, who represents Broome County, said he supports Garnar’s emergency order.

“Moving migrants to Upstate New York without notice, resources, or approval is inhumane, illegal, and will put tremendous strain on services in the Southern Tier. County Executive Garnar was right to take action and today I voted to support Broome County by passing a commonsense border security and immigration package. It’s incumbent on leaders at all levels of government to work across party lines to compassionately address this issue.”

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.