Asylum seekers pass through

Posted 5/23/23

LIBERTY, NY — The asylum-seeker crisis faced by New York City came briefly to Sullivan County last week. 

A bus full of asylum seekers arrived in Liberty on May 18; the city planned …

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Asylum seekers pass through


LIBERTY, NY — The asylum-seeker crisis faced by New York City came briefly to Sullivan County last week. 

A bus full of asylum seekers arrived in Liberty on May 18; the city planned to house them at the Knights Inn. Three days later, on Sunday, May 21, the migrants moved on, headed to Poughkeepsie. 

How did it happen?

The first anyone heard of the plan was on May 17. 

Sullivan County first received notification of the plan that day, county manager Josh Potosek said in an interview with Radio Catskill. Rep. Marc Molinaro’s office was informed about the plan that night, according to a press release the office sent out. 

“Sullivan is not a sanctuary city,” said Molinaro. “Its residents are experiencing record levels of poverty, food insecurity and a housing crisis. This community does not have the capacity to handle a migrant crisis.”

How did the community respond?

Sullivan Allies Leading Together (SALT), a group of agencies and community resources helping those in need in the county, organized the community response to the migrants.

SALT organized a clothing drive for the asylum seekers at the Knights Inn, seeking men’s size medium clothing, and engaged with them at the inn. 

The asylum seekers “left feeling love and compassion” following their brief stay in the county,” said SALT steering committee chair Martin Colavito. 

They experienced both support and opposition during their May 18 arrival at the inn. While some community members gathered at the inn’s entrance to welcome them, a handful of others gathered on the sidewalk in opposition; the inn’s owner didn’t want media or members of the general public on the property. 

The men on the sidewalk said that they had concerns that the asylum seekers were bringing fentanyl, that they were in the country illegally, that they were on welfare and that they would take the jobs available in the county. “There’s not that much meat on the bone,” said one, referencing the job opportunities available in the Liberty area. 

How did county government respond?

The Sullivan County government announced its opposition to the plan on May 18. 

Legislative chair Rob Doherty issued a statement in the morning calling the city, state and federal response to the issue “reckless and unsustainable.” Doherty said that “Sullivan County will do what it needs to do—including availing itself of all rights and remedies provided by law” to oppose the process and to ensure the safety of residents and businesses.

A declaration of a state of emergency came later in the day, issued by county manager Josh Potosek. 

The declaration bans the type of agreement New York City had with the Knights Inn—a contract between an out-of-county municipality and an in-county business—without county government’s approval. The only such contract allowed is one with the county of Sullivan. 

“The state of emergency basically would have the sheriff’s department issuing appearance tickets for the operator… then a judge would determine ultimately what the owner and the city would have to do with these asylum seekers,” Potosek told Radio Catskill. 

Why did the asylum seekers leave?

The owner of the Knights Inn made the decision for the asylum seekers to move on, according to Sullivan County Director of Communications Dan Hust. 

“We were informed by the owner of the Knights Inn that in order to run an effective operation over the course of several weeks and potentially months, the contractor for New York City essentially required full use of the entire hotel,” said Hust. “The owner was unwilling to accept these conditions because of his existing obligations to Sullivan County and his desire to support his privately paying customers that are already booking rooms in advance of another busy summer in the Catskills.”

SALT has indicated that a New York City caseworker, one placed with the asylum seekers in the Knights Inn, made the decision to move them. 

Sullivan County has not had direct communication with New York City about the decision, said Hust. 

Advocacy group For the Many greeted a group of asylum seekers who arrived at Poughkeepsie’s Red Roof Inn on Sunday, May 21; it is unconfirmed whether this is the same group from Sullivan County.

How did Sullivan County’s representatives react?

The state representatives for Sullivan County have issued statements opposing the plan to place asylum seekers in the county. 

“This was a haphazard and uncoordinated placement by New York City and is unfair, unsafe and ill considered to all involved. Sullivan County is one of the poorest counties in the state, and has a hard enough time providing housing, food and services for the people already here. To add to that issue by bringing people into the county who will need those very same services is frankly irresponsible, and the choice of locations to house these migrants shows how ill planned this truly was,” said Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. 

“The rural communities I represent are not sanctuary cities and are not prepared to house undocumented immigrants being shipped upstate. Local officials requesting additional information are being stonewalled when it comes to even the most rudimentary questions. The lack of transparency is deplorable and it is clear that New York City, Albany and Washington are simply passing the buck,” said state Sen. Peter Oberacker. 

Why the Knights Inn?

The Sullivan County Department of Family Services has a contract with the Knights Inn to house the county’s homeless residents. Under the contract, the Knights Inn will provide temporary housing to clients in need of temporary housing, with 30 rooms reserved at a cost of $75 per night.

Sullivan County representatives expressed concerns that New York City’s placement of asylum seekers in the Knights Inn would displace the county’s social services clients, leaving those homeless in Sullivan County without a place to stay. 

Claims have been debunked that veterans elsewhere in the Hudson Valley were displaced to make room for asylum seekers in New York City, according to reporting from organizations such as the Albany Times Union. 

Why is this happening?

In March, New York City Mayor Eric Adams started the push to restructure the city’s approach to the asylum-seeker crisis.

Over 30,000 asylum seekers were then in the city’s care, according to the mayor’s office. “The Road Forward,” a blueprint his office released, called for the reorganization of services within the city as well as partnerships with other municipalities for long-term relocation and housing. 

The plan included a partnership with SUNY Sullivan and the Center for Discovery to house and train one hundred asylum seekers. The plan was announced prematurely, and its current status is unknown. 

In the past few weeks, the mayor’s office has begun to bus asylum seekers from New York City to other counties within the Hudson Valley,  including Orange, Rockland and Dutchess counties.

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