Hotel and motel operators in Riverhead Town said today they are not taking in homeless migrants from New York City and have not been solicited by anyone to do that, contrary to Supervisor Yvette Aguiar’s statements, including those in her executive order issued last night declaring a state of emergency due to the “immediate danger of public emergency of hundreds, or potentially, thousands of persons being transported to the Town of Riverhead.”
Aguiar said last night she heard there are three locations in Riverhead that agreed to house the migrants. She said she did not know where the locations were. She did not identify the source of her information.
Representatives of five Riverhead hotels and motels contacted by RiverheadLOCAL today — including some currently providing emergency housing for Suffolk residents in need — denied being solicited by NYC officials to take in homeless migrants who have recently crossed the nation’s southern border. Representatives of three hotels called could not be reached and did not return calls. Community Housing Innovations, a White Plains-based organization that provides homeless housing services could not be reached for comment.
Aguiar’s emergency declaration prohibits all businesses operating transient lodging and campgrounds in the town from housing migrants and/or asylum seekers.
Aguiar said in an interview last night that she “heard that there was going to be well over 1,000” people bused into the town imminently.
“We got word tonight that they were putting certain people on buses, and it made me act. But it’s been somewhat confirmed,” Aguiar said.
She said her emergency declaration was based on an “advisory” sent by Adams to Suffolk County asking to support the busing of migrants. Read emergency declaration below.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said today that he has not been contacted by the city. A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Homeless Services referred a reporter’s inquiry to Mayor Eric Adams’ office; the mayor’s office did not immediately return an email requesting comment for this article.
Aguiar said last night that NYC talk-radio host Curtis Sliwa was reporting the city was planning to bus migrants to Riverhead. Aguiar said those reports were confirmed by “various sources” she did not name. She also said she spoke to Sliwa directly.
Council Member Tim Hubbard said in an interview this afternoon that Sliwa’s commentary on his WABC radio show/podcast yesterday was “the basis” for the emergency order issued by the supervisor last night.
“Now, how he knew that I have no idea, but that’s the information we went off of,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard, the Republican Party’s candidate to succeed Aguiar as town supervisor, said he thinks the emergency order is “a good thing to do” to protect the town. “It’s proactive,” he said.
“There’s no harm in doing it. If it doesn’t happen, no harm whatsoever. It’s just we want to be prepared. And we want people to know that we are not open as a sanctuary city or a sanctuary town.” Hubbard said.
“We don’t have the infrastructure, quite honestly, to handle thousands of people coming in here. And nor, quite honestly, should we have to. This is a federal problem that should have been taken care of on the federal level. And it hasn’t been,” Hubbard said.
The council member also expressed concerns about migrants and asylum-seekers who might be coming into the town because they are not “vetted,” he said.
“There are no background checks. We don’t know if we get criminals, rapists — we have no idea what we’re getting,” Hubbard said. “I don’t agree to just let everybody come in. Because I think that’s an extremely poor move, no matter what city, town or village does it. These people are just coming from God knows wherever, just flooding across the border. We don’t know anything about them. We don’t know what kind of diseases they may have. We don’t know any of that. And why should Riverhead be the recipient of that? We should not,” he said.
During Sliwa’s radio show/podcast yesterday, he framed the claims of migrants being bused into Riverhead as “breaking news.”
“There are a number of locations in Riverhead, in which speculators, landowners, owners of SROs, hotels, buildings that are not fully occupied, have reached out to Eric Adams’ administration and they are saying they will accept illegals,” Sliwa said.
Sliwa urged his producer to contact Bellone and the “leaders of Riverhead” to “find out what’s going on.” He said migrants were being housed in exchange for political campaign contributions.
Sliwa did not return a call seeking comment last night.
Sliwa repeated his claims this morning as a guest on Sid and Friends in the Morning, another WABC radio talk show. During that show, Sliwa praised Aguiar’s response.
Aguiar’s executive order, roughly three pages long, like Sliwa’s commentary, contains strong political rhetoric. It attacks the federal government’s response to the end of Title 42, saying that it “failed or refused to anticipate, appreciate and react to the volume of migrants overwhelming the southern border and has failed to defend the sovereignty of the Nation, resulting in thousands of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the U.S. border virtually unchecked.”
The order also attacks Adams’ response to the migrant crisis and New York City’s “sanctuary city” policies, which limits the role of local law enforcement in enforcing federal immigration laws.
Hubbard said today the supervisor had “found out that Mayor Adams had sent out something to all agencies, schools and lodging agencies and whatnot within the state, asking for people who would, you know, want to take people in.”
But Riverhead school Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said he had not been notified by New York City or Suffolk County about any migrants coming from NYC to Riverhead. He said classroom space is “tight” in the school district.
“I don’t know how accurate this is,” he said when told about the reports of migrants being bused into the district. “…for me, my sole focus is doing what I can for the kids of the district. And if we were going to have an increase in our student population, I just want to be able to be prepared for that so that we can meet the needs of students and families.”
OLA of Eastern Long Island, a Latino advocacy organization, said in a statement it “is working to learn the facts regarding whether migrants from NYC are being bused to Riverhead by the Adams administration.”
“What is most troubling is Supervisor Aguiar’s jump to declare a state of emergency, which serves only to create alarm, potentially harming any asylum seekers that may arrive on the East End and further dividing our communities,” Minerva Perez, the organization’s executive director said. “OLA will continue to watch the situation closely.”
The situation surrounding immigration policy has been politically charged and divisive for decades, increasingly so in recent years with heated debate around building a border wall, cracking down on illegal entries and limiting even legal immigration.
After the Republican governors of states like Texas, Florida and Arizona began busing border-crossing migrants to New York and other states led by Democrats last spring, NYC Mayor Eric Adams found his city struggling to house an estimated 65,000 migrants bused to New York by other states. With the looming expiration of Title 42, a Trump-era COVID-19 policy used to turn back migrants at the southern U.S. border without offering asylum protections, Adams began scrambling to find more space to shelter migrants in anticipation of a new surge after Title 42 expired. The policy expired last week.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said today the Adams administration had been contacting hotels across the state to find available shelter space. But he said Suffolk County had not been contacted by the city.
After NYC officials arranged to house two busloads of migrants at a hotel in upstate Newburgh, in Orange County last week, the county sued the city and the hotel and yesterday won a temporary restraining order blocking any additional busing to Orange County.
According to Bellone, Gov. Kathy Hochul held a conference call with county executives, local officials and Adams after the Newburgh incident to discuss soliciting facilities for housing migrants without the consent of the counties. The governor called for a coordinated response by government at all levels, Bellone said.
Reaction to Riverhead’s emergency declaration, like positions on the larger issue of immigration reform, seem to split along partisan lines.
Republican NY-01 Rep. Nick LaLota praised the move. “Thank you to Riverhead Supervisor Aguiar for taking affirmative steps to keep our community safe.” LaLota said in an emailed statement. “Long Islanders should not have to bear the weight of the mess at the border created by the Biden Administration or the sanctuary city policies of New York City,” LaLota said.
Riverhead Democratic candidates for Town Council Andrew Leven and Rene Suprina criticized Aguiar’s emergency declaration in a statement sent to the press today as hysterical and stoking fear among residents.
“We call on Supervisor Aguiar to actually govern,” the statement reads. “Which locations have “agreed?” What have they agreed to? What specific information does Supervisor Aguiar have that is precipitating a state of emergency … and from whom did she obtain it (other than Curtis Sliwa)? Otherwise stated, this may be a serious problem. Or not. And if it is, we need a serious response. Not a hysterical one.”
The candidates said migrants should only be accepted in Riverhead if there is a coordinated strategy, which they acknowledged does not exist for handling undocumented migrants.
Bellone, a Democrat, said today, “The immigration system is broken and the federal government must act to fix it by securing the border, providing a pathway to citizenship and enacting rational immigration standards. On the local level, we will continue to work with the state and not-for-profits to help address this crisis in a responsible and humane way.”
Curtis Sliwa, the inflammatory right-wing talk show host who Aguiar said alerted her to the reports of migrants coming to the town, was a candidate for New York City mayor in 2021 and lost to Adams.
Sliwa also has a brief but memorable history in Riverhead.
After a series of violent muggings of Latino men on the North Fork in 2014, former Supervisor Sean Walter reached out to Sliwa to discuss bringing a patrol of the Guardian Angels, the unarmed crime prevention organization Sliwa founded in 1979, to Riverhead.
Sliwa claimed in an interview with RiverheadLOCAL that Riverhead is “the epicenter of the street gang activity that plagues” the North Fork. That claim was disputed by Riverhead’s police chief, who said that street gangs were not as prevalent in Riverhead as Sliwa suggested.
The supervisor saw the patrol as a means of outreach to the Latino community, intended to make residents feel safer and as an alternative to joining a gang for local youth.
But the idea drew opposition from Town Board members, the Riverhead police union, some downtown business owners and the Riverhead BID Management Association, who expressed concern that the organization’s presence would lead visitors to believe the area was unsafe.
Still, four Guardian Angel recruits started patrolling the streets of Riverhead in 2015, but faded away after a while.
In recent segments of his WABC radio show/podcast, Sliwa said the county correctional facility is filled with members of the MS-13 and 18th Street gangs. Sliwa continues to peddle unsubstantiated claims of Riverhead as a gang-infested community, claims that Riverhead Chief of Police David Hegermiller denies.0
“Riverhead is flush with illegals,” Sliwa said on his show yesterday. “There are a lot of folks who have MS-13 who actually stay in Riverhead, so they can visit their shot-callers, the generals of the gang, who are housed in the Suffolk County Jail.”
Editor’s Note: This article was amended after initial publication to clarify that Sliwa hosts a WABC radio show, which is then turned into a podcast.
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