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Critics of Mayor Adams’ plan to house asylum seekers in refugee-style tents slammed it as “illegal” and “inhumane” Friday as questions continued to loom over how exactly — and whether — his administration intends to comply with the state’s right to shelter law.
“This pitch was sold as a state-of-the-art facility with food, beds and a warm New York City welcome,” Councilwoman Shahana Hanif (D-Brooklyn), chairwoman of the Council’s Immigration Committee, said during a rally outside City Hall. “But there is nothing state of the art about a refugee camp built outdoors in a flood zone in October.”
Hanif’s criticisms came just hours before a Council hearing into Adams’ policy and a week after he and top city officials announced their latest plan to address the influx of migrants into the city by building five tents in an Orchard Beach parking lot in the Bronx. The plan, which has not yet been completed, almost immediately raised questions over whether it was being pursued to avoid following the state’s right to shelter laws, which require local governments to provide housing to people who seek it within a prescribed timeframe.
The city has been in apparent violation of that law dozens of times since Adams took office in January.
Hanif and other critics railed against the mayor’s policy Friday for a laundry list of reasons: the administration didn’t consult with local elected officials before making its announcement last week, the location is remote and prone to flooding and questions remain about how exactly the tents will be used to assist asylum seekers.
Hanif also bristled over the revelation that a contractor handling the tents in Orchard Beach, Texas-based SLSCO, helped construct former President Donald Trump’s southern border wall. She called Adams’ overall Orchard Beach plan “illegal.”
For months now, asylum seekers from South and Central America have been flowing into the city, many on buses directed here by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has sought to use the busing as a way to criticize President Biden’s border policy. So far, Adams’ administration estimates that more than 13,000 migrants have come to the Big Apple, placing a strain on the city’s already burdened shelter system.
The tents in Orchard Beach are intended as a way to mitigate that crisis, but detractors view it as the wrong answer.
Queens Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz questioned why the migrants must be housed in tents when other alternatives exist. She suggested the city could provide shelter in the Javits Center, college dormitories and vacant hotels.
“I urge our state and our city administration to work together finding different options because there has to be,” she said. “We have money to pay for all of that. We are a very rich city. Every time someone says we don’t have money, we find money.”
Migrants continue to be housed in city homeless shelters, and those shelters and the tents expected in the Bronx are not the only options the city currently has in the works.
Adams’ team is continuing to negotiate potential deals to house migrants on cruise ships. A source with knowledge of the situation told the Daily News on Wednesday that the city is in talks with the Norwegian, Carnival and Genting cruise ship companies, but is closest to hammering out a deal with Norwegian.
Where to house the migrants isn’t the only outstanding question, though. For groups like the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless — which are mandated to act as watchdogs when it comes to the right to shelter law — the how remains a key sticking point as well.
Asked whether Adams’ and his team’s recent rhetoric — they’ve used the words “unprecedented” and “humanitarian” liberally to describe the crisis — has any legal significance, Legal Aid’s Judith Goldiner said it appears they’re making a point to employ language used for natural disasters.
“What we’ve asked them for is to point us to whatever legal points they’re trying to make here and what laws apply, and they haven’t done that yet,” she said.
Some answers did emerge at Friday’s Council hearing, though.
In response to questions from Hanif, Adams’ Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol said migrants to be housed in tents will get lockers to secure their belongings, that there would be one shower for every 15 residents and one toilet for every 16.
Hanif also asked Iscol if the administration’s migrant tent camps need to abide by right-to-shelter rules. He responded that they don’t because the tents aren’t being operated by the Department of Homeless Services and thus fall outside the scope of the 1979 Callahan v. Carey ruling that established the right-to-shelter in the city.
“These are not homeless shelters,” Iscol said of the tents. “They do not fall under Callahan.”
Mayor Adams fielded questions Friday about his Orchard Beach plan as well.
Asked how his administration is going to ensure migrants know that being placed in the tents is “voluntary” and that they have an option to go into the shelter system instead, he suggested “clarity” would be a priority.
“We are going to give a level of clarity and let the asylum seekers and migrants know exactly what’s available in the city,” he said.
But he also suggested that he would measure the migrant crisis against his first priority: New Yorkers.
“My ultimate responsibility is to New Yorkers, that is my ultimate responsibility: to the people of this city,” he said. “No other municipality is doing what New York City is doing ... We have gone beyond the call of duty to make sure that we are treating people in a humane way, and we’re trying to be as humane as possible.”