Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar on Friday again extended a declaration of a state of emergency in the town that bans all places of lodging from housing “migrants and/or asylum seekers” and prohibits all shelter facilities from displacing persons currently housed in the facilities in order to provide shelter to other persons.
Also on Friday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone proclaimed a state of emergency in Suffolk.
Bellone’s state of emergency prohibits the owner of any hotel, motel, multiple dwelling or shelter in the county from contracting with any external municipality to provide housing or accommodations for asylum-seekers without permission from the County of Suffolk.
The county executive’s order does not seek to block the housing of asylum-seekers in Suffolk. Rather, it seeks to coordinate with the state to provide temporary housing for asylum-seekers who’ve been documented and are legally released into the United States. The order allows the temporary housing provided the state “authorizes and releases the necessary financial resources for all costs associated with relocation and temporary housing of asylum seekers.”
The county order establishes an intergovernmental team led by Chief Deputy County Executive Lisa Black to coordinate with the state and local nonprofit organizations “regarding resources that are available to assist in meeting the challenges faced by those impacted by this ongoing situation.”
The intergovernmental team will include representatives of the county social services agency, the county attorney’s office and the county police department, a Bellone spokesperson told RiverheadLOCAL yesterday.
There has been no official request from New York City to Suffolk County to house asylum-seekers in the county, according to Bellone’s spokesperson, MaryKate Guilfoyle.
The administration is not aware of any instances of asylum-seekers being sent by New York City to Suffolk County for temporary housing, Guilfoyle said.
“Basically it is codifying what we have said before. An uncoordinated effort — busing people to random places is not the way to handle it,” she said.
The order authorizes county agencies, coordinated by the intergovernmental team, to work with the state “regarding temporary housing of individuals who are documented and legally released into the United States and are on the path to become eligible to enter the workforce,” provided that the state covers all costs associated with housing the asylum-seekers.
Bellone’s order follows a State of Emergency declaration issued by Gov. Kathy Hochul May 9 directing the implementation of a comprehensive emergency management plan and directing state agencies to take appropriate action to assist affected local governments and individuals in responding to the crisis created by the transport of asylum-seekers to New York State.
Hochul yesterday extended the emergency declaration through June 26. She also authorized the use of the state-owned former Lincoln Correctional Facility in Harlem for temporarily housing asylum-seekers. The state in March issued a request for proposals to redevelop the 10,000-square-foot former minimum security prison, which during World War II was used to house both immigrants and soldiers before it became a jail.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams has been seeking help from other municipalities for sheltering asylum-seekers and migrants bused to New York City by the governors of Texas, Arizona and Florida beginning last spring. According to Adams, more than 65,000 homeless migrants and asylum seekers had been bused to NYC — before the May 11 termination of a Trump administration pandemic-era policy that prevented asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. while awaiting decisions on their asylum applications. The Trump policy, known as Title 42 ended when the COVID-19 public health emergency expired.
After NYC contracted with hotels in Rockland and Orange County to temporarily house asylum-seekers, the county executives in those counties issued executive orders, on May 6 and May 8 respectively, attempting to block the practice.
Orange County sued the NYC and the owner of a hotel that had already accepted asylum-seekers from NYC.
Elected officials around the state have lined up along party lines on one side or the other of the controversy, with Republicans backing the Republican county executives of Rockland and Orange counties and Democrats supporting the governor’s call for a coordinated statewide response.
Aguiar issued a state of emergency declaration in Riverhead late in the evening on May 16. She expanded and renewed it on May 22 and renewed it again on Friday. Under state law, the order expires after five days and can only be extended by a new order.
Aguiar initially said her order was “based on information received and in response to reports that the New York City Department of Homeless Services has, or will be arranging for the transportation and relocation of undocumented migrants and/or asylum seekers to hotels or motels within the Town of Riverhead,” according to a press release from the supervisor’s office issued May 16.
In a phone interview after the press release was issued, Aguiar said her order was an effort to prevent “well over 1,000“ asylum-seekers from being bused into town from New York City. She also said she had information that three locations in Riverhead Town had agreed to house the individuals.
“We got word tonight that they were putting certain people on buses, and it made me act,” the supervisor said in the May 16 phone interview.
All four council members of the all-Republican Riverhead Town Board, support Aguiar’s order.
Migrants never came. Hotels and motel operators in Riverhead denied contact with New York City to house migrants. Aguiar and Town Board members said after Tuesday that the order was a “proactive” move.
Local advocates for the Latino community in Riverhead have condemned Riverhead’s emergency declaration, arguing that it spreads fear and puts both asylum-seekers and current Latino residents of the town at risk. OLA of Eastern Long Island called on the town to rescind the emergency order, which it called illegal, and urged the state attorney general to bring criminal and civil actions against the town for misconduct by Riverhead officials.
Last Sunday, the Republican Presiding Officer of the Suffolk County Legislature Kevin McCaffrey called a press conference at the county legislative auditorium in Hauppauge to announce that the legislature would hire a special counsel to explore possible legal action to prevent NYC from sending asylum-seekers to Suffolk. He was joined by First Congressional District Rep. Nick LaLota (R-Amityville), who condemned the Biden administration’s border policies and NYC’s sanctuary city policy as the causes of the current situation in the state.
Riverhead Town Council Members Tim Hubbard and Bob Kern attended the press conference, as did Deputy Supervisor Devon Higgins.
McCaffrey did not offer a resolution to hire a special counsel at the legislature’s general meeting on Tuesday, which was preceded by a press conference and demonstration by immigration advocates, who also addressed the legislators.
McCaffrey the next day said acting on a resolution to hire a special counsel was not urgently needed, according to a report by Newsday.
“There’s nothing that is happening right now that leads us to believe we have to take immediate action,” the paper reports McCaffrey said on Wednesday. On Friday, McCaffrey said he would call a special meeting in the coming week to vote on hiring an attorney, according to Newsday.
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