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New York state is becoming a battleground for migrant rights


New York City has received up to 50,000 migrants in the last year or so and says it's at capacity. Officials have started sending recent arrivals to neighboring cities and towns, and that's causing tension. Several local governments say they cannot handle the financial burden. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: On a spring afternoon in Yonkers, Justine Sugrue (ph), an 83-year-old retired nurse, stopped by the Ramada Inn to see how she could help out.

JUSTINE SUGRUE: I came to drop off some clothing. I think everybody wants to help.

GARSD: But she says she's confused about how to help. No one, not even officials, seem able to tell her what's going on. Chaotic seems to be the operative word when it comes to migrant policy in New York. A few days ago, the city sent several vans - up to a hundred migrants - to neighboring Yonkers. Here's Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano.

MIKE SPANO: We were given little to no notice. There's no plan. Still today, there's really no plan.

GARSD: He says Yonkers is going to step up.

SPANO: And we're going to treat the refugees the way they ought to be treated. They're human beings. And we're - Yonkers is a hospitable community.

GARSD: But Yonkers already has its fair share of economic woes, and he's told New York City officials it can't shoulder the cost of social services for new arrivals. The question of housing for migrants has been heating up across the state. Governor Kathy Hochul has asked the federal government to open certain military facilities. She's also requested expedited work permits for asylum-seekers to become financially self-sufficient.


GARSD: About an hour north in Newburgh, the mood towards migrants is different. Residents Linda Sheeler (ph) and Marlene Conley (ph) say they're worried. Conley says...

MARLENE CONLEY: I have compassion, but I don't have compassion. I don't know. I just think it's...

LINDA SHEELER: It's uncertain.

GARSD: A few days ago, New York City sent about 180 people to hotels here. For Sheeler, it's a matter of resources.

SHEELER: You know, years and years and years ago, they - the Statue of Liberty - bring your homeless, your helpless. But now it's a different world. And we can't do that. We can't do that anymore. There's - where are we going to put everybody?

GARSD: This county and neighboring Rockland County both declared states of emergency. That helps get financial aid quicker. The counties also sought restraining orders against New York City, stopping it from sending any more migrants. The orders were temporarily granted by a state Supreme Court judge. Here's Rockland County Executive Ed Day.

ED DAY: This is incentivizing illegal immigration, and it does nothing to support our infrastructure or the hardworking citizens we elected to serve. It is only draining taxpayer resources.

AMY BELSHER: That's just blatantly discriminatory and unconstitutional in a number of respects.

GARSD: Amy Belsher is with the NYCLU, who is suing both counties. She also thinks concerns regarding 180 or so people arriving in a town of nearly 30,000, like Newburgh, boiled down to political showboating.

BELSHER: I think that there is no real state of emergency as is being declared in these counties. This is actually not a very large number of people especially compared with the large numbers that are in New York City right now.

GARSD: Far away from the political arguing in this lush green town of Newburgh, where many migrants have landed, at least for now, some locals say they feel the tension. Activist Ignacio Acevedo is also with the NYCLU.

IGNACIO ACEVEDO: I've been screamed at to go back to my country. This is my country. It's the first time I have experienced so much vivid hatred. That tension always existed a little bit here, but now it's multiplied.

GARSD: He understands it's a difficult economy for some, but...

ACEVEDO: When we have our neighbor moved in, we should at least go say hello. It doesn't cost you anything.

GARSD: Regardless of politics, he says, that's what good neighbors do. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jasmine Garsd is an Argentine-American journalist living in New York. She is currently NPR's Criminal Justice correspondent and the host of The Last Cup. She started her career as the co-host of Alt.Latino, an NPR show about Latin music. Throughout her reporting career she's focused extensively on women's issues and immigrant communities in America. She's currently writing a book of stories about women she's met throughout her travels.