RIVERHEAD, NY — A state of emergency declared by Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar over migrants and asylum-seekers that she said could be headed to the area has sparked an outpouring of response.
Last Tuesday, Aguiar declared the state of emergency, the town said, based on information received and in response to reports that the New York City Department of Homeless Services has, or will arrange for, the transportation and relocation of undocumented migrants and/or asylum seekers to hotels or motels within the Town of Riverhead
New York City Mayor Eric Adams or a representative on his behalf has reached out to Riverhead motels and hotels to assess their availability for delivering migrants, Aguiar said.
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The state of emergency is the first to be declared in response to the migrant issue on Long Island.
Riverhead Town code does not allow the use of transient motels for use as residential housing, she said — and migrants will “face refusal and/or eviction,” resulting in widespread homelessness, the supervisor said.
She ordered that all hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfast facilities, inns, cottages, campgrounds, or any other transient lodging units allowing short-term rentals do not accept migrants or asylum-seekers in Riverhead Town.
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“Relative to the surrounding townships on the East End and throughout Suffolk County, Riverhead has done more than its share when it comes to housing the homeless, providing services and offering affordable housing and our resources — and taxpayers simply cannot withstand further demand on our public services,” Aguiar said.
The health and safety of the residents of Riverhead remains Aguiar’s primary concern and top priority, she said.
The migrants and asylum-seekers have come from the nation’s southern borders, arriving in New York City without the ability to provide for their basic needs, she added.
“The federal government has failed or refused to anticipate, appreciate and react to the volume of migrants overwhelming the southern border,” she said — “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 federal government has relocated migrants to “sanctuary cities” such as New York City, which, on May 5, “as a result of federal mismanagement of asylum seekers and migrants,” and exacerbated by sanctuary city policies, “the mayor of the City of New York conceded that ‘the city now faces an unprecedented humanitarian crisis,’” exporting migrants to Orange and Rockland Counties, Aguiar said.
“There is nothing humanitarian about a sanctuary city sending busloads of people to a rural town that does not have infrastructure to care for them, especially since social services funding is not available to undocumented individuals,” Aguiar wrote.
The news sparked a flurry of protest.
OLA of Eastern Long Island, an immigrant advocacy group, wrote on social media: “OLA of Eastern Long Island is concerned with both the possible misuse of the law for political gain by Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and possible discrimination based on people’s country of origin and on their status as migrants and/or asylum seekers. Actions like that of the supervisor serve to fan the flames of hate, anger, discrimination, and misinformation. OLA urges East End political leaders to adopt a humane, non-discriminatory approach toward asylum seekers and migrants in our community.”
The Riverhead Democrats issued a statement: “We are opposed to chaos; when the State of New York develops and shares a comprehensive, coordinated strategy for handling undocumented migrants in which receiving communities have a full voice we need to be part of that process. It is our understanding that no coordinated strategy for handling undocumented migrants now exists or is likely to in the foreseeable future.”
The statement added that, “to the extent locations in Riverhead are in fact ‘agreeing,’ as Supervisor Aguiar now claims, to accept such migrants, they should not do so unless and until every aspect of this coordinated strategy occurs.”
Patch called seven hotels throughout Riverhead and only one hotel, whose representative asked not to be named, said that a city official had called to inquire about migrants, but it was not on his shift, he said. One said he had been told by management that there was “potential” for them to arrive, after they’d heard about Aguiar’s state of emergency, but none had done so. Four said no one had called, and one hotel representative refused to comment.
The Riverhead Dems added, in their statement: “Unsurprisingly, we are also opposed to hysteria, which appears to be a point of departure between us and the current administration. Rather than obtain and share the facts, Supervisor Aguiar has again conflated stoking fear among residents with governance. Unwilling to lift a finger to protect Riverhead from suffocating uncontrolled overdevelopment that we will have to live with every day for decades, she is instead all in on a hot button issue that — albeit important — may well be manufactured.”
The statement, signed by Andrew Leven and Rene Suprina, candidates for the Riverhead town board, brought up the fact that Curtis Sliwa had claimed migrants were headed to Riverhead on a televised show.
Sliwa ran for New York City mayor against Adams, who ultimately won the seat.
Sliwa, on his May 16 segment for 77WABC’s “Rip and Read” podcast, said he broke the news about the migrants headed east. “The city of New York is in negotiations with owners of property in Riverhead.”
Sliwa added that he believes Riverhead is gang-riddled with MS-13 members and the 18th Street gang. He first brought the Guardian Angels to Southold and Greenport in 2014 after a gang shooting in Southold; patrols were later sent to Riverhead, Hampton Bays and Southampton. On the podcast Tuesday, Sliwa said, “Riverhead is flush with illegals. MS-13 gang members who are situated in Riverhead to visit the gang’s shot callers in the Suffolk County jail.”
When asked if he had spoken with Aguiar about what he’d announced Tuesday, Sliwa told Patch he’d “talked to the supervisor later that same day on the phone.”
Aguiar told Patch that she’d received intelligence from numerous sources in City Hall and explored all. “I spoke to many people and gathered my facts,” she said, not naming Sliwa. “I am sorry I am not releasing my sourcese for those who favor illegal immigration to have the opportunity to lash out on those who believe in legal immigration,” she said. “It’s not how the intelligence field secures our country.”
But she assured that she “spoke to everyone possible on all levels of government and anyone who took my call to inquire.”
Sliwa and Aguiar next appeared together on Newsmax.
On that show, Sliwa urged those around the country to “do what Yvette did. She checked with everybody” and then told New York City Mayor Eric Adams not to send the migrants to Riverhead.
Aguiar said the emergency order puts restrictions in place so the town can act if migrants are staying at motels or other facilities longer than the town code allows.
“Just like they did in Orange County. If these individuals are violating our code, we can go into court and get an injunction,” she said. “Exactly like Orange County did.”
Last Tuesday, it was decided “for the time being” New York City will not be allowed to house migrants in Orange County.
State Supreme Court Judge Sandra B. Sciortino granted the county’s application for a temporary restraining order, which stopped the mayor of New York City — for the time being — from sending asylum seekers to Orange County, according to a spokesperson.
As modified by the court, the temporary restraining order allows the 186 asylum seekers already at the Crossroads Hotel and Ramada by Wyndham in the Town of Newburgh to remain in Orange County.
In the Riverhead Dems statement, Leven and Suprina added: “We call on Supervisor Aguiar to actually govern. Which locations have ‘agreed?’ What have they agreed to? What specific information does Supervisor Aguiar have that is precipitating a state of emergency (other than a general call for help from Suffolk County), 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.”
Suffolk County legislators also spoke with Patch.
Legislator Al Krupski, who represents Aguiar’s district, said while he’s not a lawyer and cannot speak to the legalities of the situation, said there was a general meeting of the legislature in Hauppauge Tuesday.
“The concerns,” he said, include logistics. “You can’t just move people around,” he said. “There are concerns for the health, welfare and safety of both them and the commuity. You can’t just bring people here and leave them on the corner. You need infrastructure, housing, public safety, schools, medical attention. The question is, if they are coming, by whose authority? How many and how long?”
Krupski said he personally has had no verification that any migrants or asylum seekers were coming. He said he spoke to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone last week, who also hadn’t heard about any migrants arriving.
Krupski pointed to the well-orchestrated efforts of the county during the pandemic and said similar efforts should take place in this case. “It’s a matter of trying to figure out if we are going to do something, or not? I don’t know. No one’s really sure of what our role in Suffolk County will be yet.”
Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming also spoke with Patch: “It is truly unfortunate that the supervisor has taken such an extreme step when we understand that there currently is no plan in plce to move individuals from New York City to Suffolk County,” she said.
While Fleming said there is “no question” that the immigration system is “broken and that the federal government must come up with humane solutions that protect the public safety of our communities. But taking alarmist steps such as this is a solution in search of a problem. It is extreme overreach and gets in the way of reasonable management of the circumstances, and unnecessarily stirs up far, when instead, a competent, steady hand on the wheel is what is needed.”
The Suffolk County Legislature is reportedly set to hire counsel to weigh in on the migrant issue, according to Newsday.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell weighed in: “Town supervisors simply do not have the authority to declare either a state of emergency or executive order in this case. It’s not supported by law and unenforceable. I know that many people are concerned and it’s certainly understandable given our lack of resources or accommodations; however, I will not give them a false sense of security by issuing a toothless order.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told Patch that he had signed on to a statement by the Suffolk County Supervisor Association, which supported Aguiar’s position.
Chairman Rich Schaffer and Vice Chair Angie Carpenter released the following statement: “The Suffolk County Supervisors Association wants it understood that the issue regarding migrants and their placement in New York State is the sole responsibility of our federal government officials…the President, and both Houses of Congress. They all need to step up, stop finger pointing and finally figure out how to handle this issue. Fix the system like we have been asking them to do for years. It should not, and cannot be left to local governments to shoulder this burden, or take on the responsibility for this issue.”
In response to Suffolk County supervisors joining together in a non-partisan stance on this issue, Aguiar said: “I am pleased to have the support of my fellow supervisors on this critically important issue and will continue to preserve the health, welfare and safety of all Riverhead residents. This catastrophe is not of our own doing and I will not stand by and let the federal government’s mismanagement of this issue fall on the shoulders of the Riverhead tax payers. No way, not on my watch!”
Rep. Nick LaLota also lauded Aguiar’s effort. “Thank you to Riverhead Supervisor Aguiar for taking affirmative steps to keep our community safe. 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,” said LaLota. “We are a compassionate nation, one with rules and laws that no one is above. Those who entered the country illegally, or who are manipulating our asylum laws, should not displace law-abiding taxpayers from their government services. Veterans, the homeless, the mentally impaired, and other Americans in need deserve better.”
When asked if migrants were being sent to Riverhead and if so, how many Fabien Levy, press secretary to New York City Mayor Eric Adams, responded: “As we’ve been saying for months, we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.”
New York, he said, has opened more than 150 emergency sites, including nine large-scale humanitarian relief centers, to serve over 70,000 asylum seekers that have arrived.
“Every day, we receive hundreds of additional asylum seekers and we are out of space,” he added.
New York City has done and will continue to do its part, he said, but more help is needed.
“We need counties, cities, and towns across the state to do their part as well, especially when New York City is willing to pay for shelter, food, and more. In most areas, we’re not even asking localities to help manage a quarter of 1 percent of the asylum seekers that have arrived in New York City, and again with New York covering the costs,” Levy said.
Many elected officials, community groups, and faith institutions have been overwhelmingly supportive and enthusiastic about welcoming these new New Yorkers to their cities and towns, he added.
“We are grateful for their support and that of the many elected officials who know that new immigrants have been and will continue to grow local economies and enrich local communities. We will continue to communicate with local elected officials as we open move to other sites,” Levy said.
Riverhead, with a population of 36,000, is not ‘capable of receiving and sustaining any number of immigrants whom New York City seeks to export,” Aguiar said last week.
Moreover, once placed in Riverhead, there is no reason to believe that the migrants will leave, she said.
Riverhead already bears the burden of a disproportionate share of low-income housing, Aguiar said.
“There is a reasonable apprehension of immediate danger of public emergency of hundreds, or potentially, thousands of persons being transported to the Town of Riverhead,” Aguiar said.
Meanwhile on Monday, Adams called for an expedited work authorization for asylum seekers.
He thanked Governor Kathy Hochul for her help. Adams said last week, 5,800 people came to New York City last week, with, 4,200 the week before.
“This is what we are up against. This is a symbol of our nation, as the governor alluded to, the lady that sits in our harbor welcomed countless numbers of immigrants to these shores throughout generations. 1 million in 1907 alone, a million people went through that amazing island we call Ellis Island, also called the island of hope, the island of opportunity. That hope did not dissipate merely throughout the years and generations, that hope is still alive.”
Hochul said she had a call with counties slated for Monday afternoon. “I look forward to sharing with them my sentiment that based on what I saw here this morning, any rejection of migrants coming is also hurting their employers. And in rural areas, it’s hurting their farmers, it’s hurting their small businesses, it’s hurting their main streets. I just want to help enlighten them that I understand hesitation of the unknown, but these individuals are coming with full financial support backing them, so there’s not a burden financially on the local communities. I’m not sure that’s understood by everybody.”
With reporting by Jeff Edwards.
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