Advocates in NJ, NY ready to help migrants, despite Trump denying coastal facility plan

Monsy Alvarado
Advocates in NJ, NY ready to help migrants, despite Trump denying coastal facility plan

When Ravi Ragbir, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, heard of the Trump administration’s plans to send hundreds of migrants who crossed the Mexican border to northern or Coastal Border facilities, he thought that his city could likely receive planes full of migrants as well.

After all, weeks ago, President Trump confirmed he might force officials to transport migrants who arrive at the border to so-called sanctuary cities, jurisdictions like New York City that don't fully comply with federal immigration officials. But on Sunday, the president denied reports that migrants would be flown to Florida and coastal states

The administration's contradictory statements on immigration have left advocates who work with recent arrivals confused about where migrants will end up.  Nonetheless, some said this week they would continue to prepare for the possibility of mass arrivals of immigrants, as the number of families crossing the border and seeking asylum keeps rising and breaking records.

“They say they are not going to send them, but it doesn’t matter because we still have to be ready and we have to expect that they will send them to our cities, because the president believes that’s a way to be confrontational toward cities that are welcoming to immigrants," said Ragbir.

U.S. Border Patrol had over 16,000 people in custody as of Friday, many in overcrowded facilities, according to a statement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner John Sanders. He said the agency had made 500,000 apprehensions so far this year, and may need to take “additional action for the welfare of those in our custody and the health and safety of everyone, including our law enforcement personnel and support staff at our processing facilities.”

He said for months, CBP has been transporting hundreds of families by bus and aircraft from the U.S. Border Patrol's overcrowded facilities to less crowded stations along the Southwest border. 

“This is the latest contingency we’ve exercised in response to the ongoing humanitarian and border security crisis, which has overwhelmed the entire immigration system,''  Sanders said in the statement. 

The Trump administration had plans to release hundreds of asylum-seeking migrants stopped along the southern border in two counties in Florida, according to local officials there who had been briefed on the plans. The plan was criticized by local leaders and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week.

Then on Sunday, Kevin McAleenan, acting Homeland Security chief, said the federal government would not send immigrants who cross the southern border to Florida. He said the plan "wasn't going to be an effective use of government resources."

Lending help

The transferring of migrants who have recently crossed the southwest border to New Jersey and New York isn't anything new, but sending hundreds to the region at one time would be unprecedented 

Ravi Ragbir, center, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago

Yanet Candelario, the founder of The Mami Chelo Foundation, Inc., a New York organization that helps immigrants, said in the past year she has assisted migrants who came from Central America before being transferred weeks later by U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement or ICE to the Bergen County jail in Hackensack and other facilities in the area.  

"We had a lot of kids arrested at the border, and then they are sent anywhere,'' she said. "That happens all the time, ICE has the power of moving you anywhere they want."

Rosa Santana, the program coordinator for First Friends of New Jersey and New York, said for years her organization has been visiting immigrant detainees at local facilities, including many recent border crossers.  She said many have been held for months in New Jersey and New York while they await the conclusion of their immigration cases. 

When Santana heard of the possibility of hundreds of migrants being moved, she said she wasn't worried. Plans are in place if migrants are sent in large numbers to New York and New Jersey, which have high immigrant populations. A majority of the country's unauthorized immigrant population live in six states – California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois — according to 2016 estimates from the Pew Research Center.

"We have not heard of anyone coming this way.... but if we have a massive number of people who come, we do have some organizations and congregations that are willing to help and take them in,'' Santana said.

She said the numbers of asylum seekers who have been transported to New Jersey and New York after crossing the border has been slowly growing.

News: Southern border crossings by asylum-seeking migrants kept rising in April, set new record

Opinion: I toured an immigration detention center. The prison-like atmosphere was mind-numbing.

Ragbir, of the Sanctuary Coalition, said he has mobilized volunteers and notified houses of worship that are willing to help that migrants could arrive at any time, with very little notice. He said they also are looking at how migrants who arrive in New York could receive medical assistance if necessary. 

"People have to be open to stepping up and opening up their homes and businesses to help in this moment of crisis,'' he said.

Theodore Fetter, head of the Immigration Task Force of Unitarian Universalist Faith Action NJ, the public advocacy arm of the church, which has 21 congregations in the state, said they are willing to help new arrivals. He said they would support them by collecting food, helping them communicate with their families, and meeting whatever needs might arise, including housing. 

"There is no question that if the administration was planning to send immigrants to New Jersey, that many Unitarian Universalists will try their very best to help those people who are temporarily or permanently sent to New Jersey,'' he said. 

This article originally appeared on North Jersey Record: Advocates in NJ, NY ready to help migrants, despite Trump denying coastal facility plan