Supervisor Yvette Aguiar at a Sept. 14 press conference outside Town Hall, surrounded by Council Member Frank Beyrodt, Council Member Ken Rothwell, Assembly Member Jodi Giglio, Council Member Tim Hubbard and Council Member Bob Kern. Photo: Alek Lewis

New York City has discontinued the actions it filed against the Town of Riverhead and the County of Suffolk and most of the other counties it sued in June, seeking to invalidate their emergency orders banning the relocation of migrants and asylum-seekers to their jurisdictions.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced the discontinuance of the lawsuit at a press conference this morning outside Riverhead Town Hall, surrounded by the rest of the Town Board and Assembly Member Jodi Giglio.

“I am glad that this chapter has concluded and now our actions and protecting our community from the fallout created by New York City’s chaos for asylum seekers, and attempt to mitigate a federal issue here in our town has come to a close,” Aguiar said.

The supervisor vowed to continue renewing her emergency order, first signed on May 16, until the expiration of her term of office Dec. 31. Aguiar is not seeking a third term of office.

“I have and I will continue to work tirelessly until December 31, 2023 to protect my community, including the homeless population in our own hometown,” Aguiar said.

The emergency order by state law expires after five days.

The voluntary discontinuance of the action against Riverhead was filed in Suffolk Supreme Court yesterday. The same notice of discontinuance was filed in the action against the County of Suffolk on Aug. 31.

The voluntary discontinuance followed an order last month by a State Supreme Court judge in New York County splitting the cases against the various counties and the Town of Riverhead into separate actions and changing the location of the individual proceedings to the municipalities’ home counties. New York City on June 8 had filed one action in New York County against Riverhead Town and 30 counties across the state, including Suffolk, asking a court to invalidate executive orders that “wall off their borders” to block the city from arranging housing for asylum-seekers in their jurisdictions. The city argued the orders violate state and federal laws, including those protecting civil and human rights under the United States Constitution.

MORE COVERAGE: NYC hauls Riverhead Town and 30 counties into court for attempting to ‘close their borders’ to asylum-seekers

The city had struggled to find temporary housing for tens of thousands of asylum-seekers bused there between April 2022 and April 2023 by the State of Texas and the City of El Paso, the complaint states, and acknowledged it was considering placing some people temporarily in hotels outside of the city. The city claims in its filing the temporary placements would have “no cognizable harm” to the communities.

Riverhead and the counties all successfully sought a change of venue to their own counties.

After the judge granted the motions to change the venue, severing the one case into many actions dispersed across the state, the city determined it was in its best interest not to challenge most of the emergency orders and opted to discontinue them, a NYC spokesperson said today.

Aguiar said the discontinuance is not a cause for celebration, though it is a victory, she said, for “home rule” over what she said was an attempt by NYC to usurp the town’s zoning laws.

“Nobody should try to circumvent our own zoning,” she said. “We understand our town. We understand the intricacies. We understand the people. And I don’t think somebody in New York City should govern our town laws,” she said.

“The executive order state of emergency became necessary when I became aware New York City planned to bus asylum seekers to our hotels and other lodging facilities within the Town of Riverhead on May 16, 2023,” Aguiar said. “Specifically, I became aware the City of New York was in the process of busing homeless asylum seekers to Riverhead, to be housed in our local hotels for periods in excess of what is permitted according to our town code, and without rental permits,” she said. That would have violated our town codes, and “in addition, it would limit hotel space during our busiest tourist season, thereby threatening the existing local jobs, the economy that our community depends on,” Aguiar said.

MORE COVERAGE: Hotel/motel operators in Riverhead deny contact with NYC about housing homeless migrants, as Aguiar’s state of emergency draws praise, scorn

“We need to protect our community from New York City’s poor decisions and not appropriately addressing the federal and the city’s humanitarian crisis,” Aguiar said. “The executive order state of emergency declaration prohibits hotels and other short term lodging facilities from accepting homeless individual specifically asylum seekers to the town of Riverhead, and further directed that homeless shelters in our town not displace our own homeless who need shelter,” she said.

“I’m not sure if anybody here knows, but most of the homeless population here Riverhead are veterans,” Aguiar said. “And we need to take care of the people who serve our country who served our country when some of them with PTSD, and are ill and need assistance. We need to take care of our homeless here,” she said.

Giglio said she was at Town Hall this morning “to support the supervisor and the Town Board in their efforts to protect the homeless population that we have here in Riverhead.” Shelter is “hard to find, hard to come by,” Giglio said.

“The supervisor works very closely with Maureen’s Haven and all of the venues and not-for-profits that try and place homeless people,” Giglio said.

The issue arose and entered the national spotlight after NYC Mayor Eric Adams, already struggling to house the estimated 65,000 migrants bused to New York by states like Texas, Florida and Arizona since last spring, sought more space to shelter migrants in anticipation of a surge following the expiration of a COVID-era federal policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait outside the U.S. while their asylum petitions are heard and decided, a process that could take years.

“We have spent more than $2 billion to date, and, with approximately 60,000 asylum seekers still in our care, expect to spend $5 billion this fiscal year alone without substantial aid from our state and federal partners,” a City Hall spokesperson told RiverheadLOCAL today. “In the absence of a national decompression strategy to address the flow of asylum seekers, New York City has been forced to undertake our own decompression strategy,” the spokesperson said, explaining that a “decompression strategy is the term we use to describe a coordinated effort to distribute asylum seekers more effectively and fairly, both statewide and nationwide.”

The city, through a contractor, entered agreements with hotels in Orange and Rockland counties to house migrants/asylum seekers without permission from municipal authorities. The county executives there issued emergency orders and the counties filed lawsuits to invalidate the city’s action and prevent additional relocations. Those lawsuits remain pending in Orange and Rockland counties.

Separately, the New York Civil Liberties Union in May filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against both counties, seeking an injunction to prevent the Rockland and Orange county governments from interfering with housing for migrants and asylum-seekers within the counties. That action remains pending in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.

According to online court records all but two lawsuits arising from the action filed in June by the city against Riverhead and 30 counties have been discontinued.

Quint Nigro contributed reporting.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from the City of New York provided after its initial publication in response to an earlier request for comment.

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