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Effort to block migrants draws protest, no vote at Suffolk legislature

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

By Vera Chinese and Michael Gormley

Immigration advocates gathered outside the Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday speaking out against efforts to block asylum-seeking migrants from being sent here. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp.

Immigration advocates on Tuesday denounced plans to block asylum-seeking migrants from being sent to Suffolk County, as county legislators held off on a vote on the effort and state officials said no final decisions had been made about where to shelter them.

Approached by a reporter Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul would not confirm or deny that Stony Brook University was among State University of New York campuses that would be used to temporarily house migrants.

Hochul, a Democrat, said last week her administration was evaluating public colleges and other state and federal sites.

Hochul also wouldn’t comment on whether the state could override local laws aimed at blocking their admission.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Eric Adams' administration asked a state court to suspend a judicial mandate that essentially requires the city to provide shelter to whoever needs it. The administration cited in part the resistance of neighboring jurisdictions to helping house migrants.

Advocates held a news conference at the William H. Rogers legislature building in Hauppauge to criticize efforts to keep migrants from being sent to Suffolk. They opposed an announcement from Republican legislators on Sunday that the legislature would vote soon on hiring a lawyer to explore legal options to block their arrival.

“The right to seek asylum is a human right as is the right to seek shelter, security and safety and to be treated with basic human dignity,” said Jessica Greenberg, legal services director at CARECEN, an immigration legal services provider with offices in Hempstead and Brentwood. “As New Yorkers, we know this and we are proud of it.”

Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said Sunday the lawyer would "pursue any and all legal options available to protect the unfunded location of any asylum-seekers in Suffolk County.”

He did not specify a date for the vote, and none occurred at the legislature's regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.

“There's nothing that is happening right now that leads us to believe we have to take immediate action," McCaffrey said before the meeting.

A procedural measure to hire a lawyer was expected to be filed with the clerk of the legislature Wednesday morning.

Legislators did not offer new details on their plan Tuesday. But more than three dozen members of the public took the podium during the meeting, some defending migrants and others saying legislators should do whatever they can to prevent their arrival.

“The infrastructure of Suffolk County cannot have busload after busload after busload of people that came up from the border and finding housing and any other type of resources they’ll be needing,” said resident Scott Norcott.

“Jesus didn’t say help the stranger if he has proper documentation,” countered Susan Steinmann.

McCaffrey said the legislature could vote at its next general meeting, scheduled for June 6, or hold a special meeting to do so. An attorney has not been chosen.

Adams' administration has been running out of room for the hundreds of migrants arriving daily and is looking to every county in the state for help. As of mid-May, the administration had not yet asked Suffolk and or Nassau counties for assistance, according to Adams' deputy for health and human services.

The decades-old judicial mandate essentially requiring New York City to provide shelter is one of the only such mandates in the nation.

The city's efforts to enlist help from other areas of the state "are meeting with local resistance including executive orders and related legal challenges that, even if of questionable merit, effectively hamstring the city's efforts at modest burden-sharing at a time when the city has reached the extended outer limits of its shelter capacity, both in terms of sites and staffing," according to a letter from the city's legal department asking the court to consider suspending the mandate.

Tuesday evening, the Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless issued a statement saying they’d oppose the request.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, said earlier Tuesday he would convene an intergovernmental task force headed by his chief deputy county executive, Lisa Black, to coordinate with the state.

Hochul said she has told local officials that asylum seekers will have “full financial backing” when they enter communities throughout the state.

“We support Governor Hochul’s coordinated and humane approach to addressing the asylum seeker issue with its focus on ensuring local taxpayers do not bear the cost, rather than the city’s recent efforts to bus people to random hotels,” Bellone said in a statement.

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