Since June, busloads of asylum-seeking migrants have arrived in New York City, sent by Texas Governor Greg Abbott from border towns. Some said they were forced onto the bus or misinformed about its destination. Across the board, migrants in Texas were told they would find helpful services and resources in New York. Since Abbott’s bus policy began, other border states have joined the practice, with more than 40,000 asylum seekers arriving in the city with at least 22,000 staying here.
In a break with normal migration patterns, many of these asylum seekers have no family or friends here, making them more dependent on city services. Under the “right to shelter” guaranteed by the New York State constitution, the city must provide shelter to anyone seeking it on any given night.
Patrick and his family arrived in New York City in late October, a journey that had begun more than a decade earlier. Originally from Haiti, he moved to Brazil where he resided for 10 years before leaving due to the racism experienced in the country. Patrick, like most, experienced an arduous overland journey to the US border that included serious threats in Mexico, where, if Haitians were unable to bribe Mexican officials, they would be held and treated cruelly. .
Once Patrick and his family passed through the Texas Border Patrol detention camp with their asylum claim, they were put on a 40-plus hour bus ride to New York. Upon arrival, they had to navigate the bureaucracy of the city. Many of those, like Patrick, with their families end up in one of the city’s relief and humanitarian emergency response centers (HERRC), mainly hotels contracted by the city to serve as homeless shelters.
Mayor Eric Adams, who declared “there’s no more room in the inn” when he traveled to El Paso, Texas, in early January, has increasingly hinted that the city’s right to shelter doesn’t apply to migrants.
The migrants have strongly refuted the city’s claim that they are not self-organised.
A report by City Comptroller Brad Lander released Dec. 15 said the influx of migrants is costing the city about $1 billion a year that the federal government isn’t helping with. The Biden administration only recently announced it will ease restrictions that have kept migrants from getting work permits. This has made them more likely to rely on the Council and more vulnerable to low or stolen wages and dangerous working conditions if they choose to look for work illegally.
Patrick told his story Dec. 20 during a migrant-led conference at Holyrood Church in Washington Heights. Organizers said basic items such as clothes and hot meals were held up from them at the HERRC-contracted Midtown hotels where they are staying. These articles were provided during the speech by event sponsors, South Bronx Mutual Aid (SBXMA) and La Morada Restaurant.
Most of the speakers came from the Row NYC Hotel and the New York Manhattan Hotel (NYMA), where staff were accused of verbal abuse and threats. “I understand when workers say slurs about us in English,” said Patrick.
Another migrant resident said: “We are constantly told that we will be turned away from the hotel or expelled if we say anything. We are threatened if someone, for example, does not have the key with them at a given moment.”
A mother has spoken out about how her family was driven onto the streets after a verbal disagreement with security led staff to dispatch her husband. They then interrupted the family’s stay when she asked to speak to the police.
In August, we spoke to Ariadna Philips of South Bronx Mutual Aid about the city’s reception of migrants transported by bus from Texas.
Not all staff have been accused of abuse. Sally Saval was fired from The Row via text message on November 22, just 12 days after she was hired. She says this was in retaliation for trying to secure more resources for migrants. “I was fired for doing my job. I was fired for defending them.”
“We don’t have access to hot food. Food is often frozen. It is not fit to eat. Sometimes it seems to them [giving people] raw food.” said Natalie, a Venezuelan migrant, speaking about the dietary conditions of The Row. “Many people have fallen ill. We are only given this food at night, so during the day what we have [is] maybe bread, water or an apple to eat.
Supporters have criticized HERRCs not only for failing to provide essential resources, but for preventing mutual aid groups from directly distributing the goods. “When I did a distro at NYMA, the security guard, who is under contract to the City, called the police on me,” said SBXMA’s Desiree Joy Fria.
“Many of these reported incidents are not unique to a hotel or shelter, and many, if not most, homeless New Yorkers have universally experienced this type of abuse over an extended period of time,” said SBXMA’s Ariadna Philips. at the talk-out. SBXMA is part of the Mutual Aid Collective, a citywide network that has been providing support to migrants since they began arriving. Many of its participating mutual aid groups were born during the 2020 George Floyd uprising.
The Collective, some NGOs and other solidarity groups have pledged to support arriving migrants, assisting them as they navigate what the city has to offer in terms of shelters, schools and medical care, as well as organizing the collection and distribution of groceries of first necessity. And New Yorkers who heard about the needs of migrants donated essential items. An elementary school in Queens asked the Astoria Food Pantry for jackets, boots, gloves, hats and socks for 100 migrant students, which the organization’s crowd funded and distributed between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In September, Adams had a tent city built for migrants in the vast parking lot of Orchard Beach in the far corner of the northeast Bronx. A video posted by Philips showing the flooding in the area has gone viral, helping to spark an outcry that has forced the city to move its planned refugee camp to Randall’s Island. Within a month, even that structure, difficult to access by public transport, was demolished. The City has sent its occupants, single men, to the Watson Hotel on W. 57 St. It is now executing its third tent city plan, which involves moving men from the Watson to a camp in Red Hook at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal — until until May, when the cruise season resumes.
The Red Hook camp has approximately 1,000 beds and 80 bathrooms. The cots have one layer of cloth and the sheets and thin blankets provided are not enough to keep you warm in the winter.
The City began clearing migrants from the Watson Hotel, another Midtown establishment, on Jan. 29. About 50 of the men evicted quickly staged a protest camp under the scaffolding on the sidewalk outside the Watson. They had found part-time work in the area and feared conditions at the remote Red Hook terminal. They asked the city to provide a more suitable place to move to. Small groups of supporters and police remained close at hand. Nearby, the city’s most expensive apartments overlook Central Park and the homeless sleep on the steps of the 57th Street NQRW station.
After seeing conditions at the Red Hook facility firsthand, some of the men returned to The Watson and rejoined the camp. The protesters’ requests were: a bed, a place where they could safely leave their belongings, access to toilets and showers, heating and work permits. “We are not asking for a three-star hotel,” a protesting migrant told a city official on the camp’s first night.
The migrants have strongly refuted the city’s claim that they are not self-organised. During a press conference held by protesters at the camp on Jan. 31, Ivan, a Venezuelan asylum seeker, said, “We are all very aware of what we are doing. We just want a decent place to sleep.”
Last night, February 1, at about 8:00 PM, the NYPD’s Special Resources Group, a specialized battalion tasked with the dual missions of responding to terrorist attacks and handling protests, joined the protest. Migrants and supporters grabbed what supplies they could and left the scene. The policemen indiscriminately cut the chains and confiscated all the bicycles locked up around the hotel. At the moment, the whereabouts of the protesting migrants are not known. Follow @TheIndypendent for further developments.