New York will close migrant ‘tent city’ less than a month after opening

Migrants will be moved into a midtown hotel, a move welcomed by immigration advocates as officials work towards more permanent shelter solutions after thousands of asylum seekers arrived in the city

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 11 November 2022 23:26 GMT
Related video: New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency in October to respond to an influx of people seeking asylum

Less than a month after it opened, New York City Mayor Eric Adams will close a parking lot-sized temporary shelter intended to bolster the city’s already-strained shelter system after thousands of people seeking asylum, many bused to the city from Texas, unexpectedly arrived in the city this year.

Roughly 23,800 people seeking asylum have arrived in the city in recent months, according to the mayor’s office, but that rate has started to slow, prompting the closure of the so-called “tent city” in a parking lot on Randall’s Island.

Instead, people using the Randall’s Island shelter will be moved into 600 rooms at the Watson Hotel in midtown Manhattan beginning next week.

“We continue to welcome asylum seekers arriving in New York City with compassion and care. This Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center will provide asylum seekers with a place to stay, access support, and get to their final destination,” Mayor Adams said in a statement.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Health and Hospitals will continue to run the site with bilingual staff, according to officials. City Limits first reported the move.

The administration’s shelter plans faced intense criticism from members of the city council and immigrant rights’ advocates, arguing that the temporary structure flouted a right-to-shelter mandate and reflected a moral failure on the city’s responsibility to house vulnerable migrants, including thousands of people bused from the US-Mexico border by Republican governors in what critics have called a cynical political stunt to protest Democratic-led immigration policies.

Fewer people seeking asylum in the city follows White House plans to deport Venezuelan migrants to Mexico under a public health provision invoked by former president Donald Trump’s administration, which used the obscure law to summarily expel people at the US-Mexico border despite long-standing international asylum edicts.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has bused people seeking asylum in the US to Democratic cities on the East Coast to provide what he has called “much-needed relief” to border communities, an act of apparent protest that has stranded thousands of people in New York, Chicago and Washington DC.

Millions of people have fled Venezuela in the wake of the country’s political and economic collapse, driving dangerous, often months-long northern journeys through Central America and Mexico where migrants risk cartel violence, trafficking and abuse.

Workers construct a shelter facility on New York’s Randall’s Island in October. (AFP via Getty Images)

US Customs and Border Protection encountered 182,704 people on the US-Mexico border in September, marking 15 per cent increase from the previous month, “driven largely by an increased number of asylum seekers fleeing authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.”

But Venezuelans arriving at the southern border no longer are able to wait in the US with families or other connections in the country while their asylum claims are processed. But as many as 24,000 Venezuelans could be accepted into the country through US airports, similar to US policy for admitting Ukrainians after Russia’s invasion.

The move has faced significant criticism from immigration advocacy groups warning that the same Title 42 programme has exposed hundreds of people seeking asylum to dangerous conditions, including threats of violence and kidnapping, on the southern border.

“While failing regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua continued to drive a new wave of migration across the western Hemisphere, the number of Venezuelans arriving at the southern border decreased sharply nearly every day since we launched additional joint actions with Mexico to reduce irregular migration and create a more fair, orderly and safe process for people fleeing the humanitarian and economic crisis in their country,” according to a statement from CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus.

New York City is currently accommodating 17,500 people seeking asylum, according to the mayor’s office.

“People who seek asylum in our city deserve to be treated with dignity, care and compassion, and we always believed this was more appropriate,” according to a statement from City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who said she is “pleased” that the city is using a shelter model that was initially recommended by the council.

“This is the right approach for these intake services, and there remains important work and policy changes for the city to advance that move people out of shelter,” she added.

The tent site on Randall’s Island opened after an initial facility on a flood-prone lot on Orchard Beach was scrapped.

A similar structure on Randall’s Island was designed to temporarily house up to 500 single men, according to the Adams administration. It was unclear how many people have used the facility.

“We applaud the City’s decision to close the Randalls Island encampment and relocate existing and future asylum seekers to a new location better suited to ensuring they have ready access to mass transit and the supportive services they need to more fully integrate into New York City life,” Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said in a statement.

He added that it is “imperative” for city officials to quickly offer permanent housing to longtime shelter residents “and others stuck in the city’s overburdened shelter system.”

More than 52,000 people are living in New York City shelters on a given night, according to Coalition for the Homeless, while thousands of others live in other shelters, on the streets and in subway stations and trains.

The organisation’s 2022 report examining the state of homelessness in the city underscored officials “continued failure to address the underlying causes” of the crisis, including a lack of investment in affordable housing that has left thousands of households with annual incomes below $30,000 at risk of homelessness while paying more than half of their incomes on rent.

Mayor Adams, who declared a state of emergency last month and pressured state and federal agencies for assistance to house thousands of migrants in the city, said in a statement that New York will “pivot and shift as necessary to deal with this humanitarian crisis.”

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