As migrants come to New York, state considers using SUNY campuses for temporary shelters

May 18—ALBANY — As New York struggles to house the tens of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers being bused to New York City from the southern border, Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul has said she is weighing the possibility of using SUNY campus dorms for temporary relief.

In an interview with Spectrum News's Kevin Frey on Wednesday, Gov. Hochul said she has asked all agencies of the state government to provide ideas on solutions, and SUNY representatives were included.

"I said, find all available state properties, let's analyze them, let's see whether they're temporary short term, whether it becomes longer term," she said. "Clearly a SUNY campus lends itself to immediate help, but long-term we have to have it free by August, so what happens in August?"

Her office did not provide information on what SUNY campuses were under consideration to house immigrants.

Republicans representing upstate New York in state and federal government were immediately incensed by the proposal to house any people in need of help on SUNY campuses, many of which are in rural areas and small towns.

Rep. Claudia L. Tenney, R-Canandaigua, representing Watertown and the Lake Ontario shoreline, the Finger Lakes and Western New York, said in a statement that she had received reports that officials were considering using SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Oswego in her district.

"This is a misguided decision that will make our communities less safe and put an enormous burden on our local governments and taxpayers, not to mention one that would negatively impact our students," she said.

She said a system of extreme vetting, health screening, background checking that provides robust funding to support the migrants would be the only way to safely place migrants in upstate communities, and that system has not been established.

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Willsboro, representing most of the north country and part of the capital region said Wednesday that she found the proposal to use SUNY campuses for migrant housing "disgusting".

"Upstate New York is not a sanctuary city to clean up Joe Biden's catastrophic border crisis," she said. "We respect the rule of law and we oppose any attempt to use our taxpayer-funded facilities to be used for free housing for immigrants."

SUNY campuses, while largely empty during the summers, are not vacant. International students, visitors and some faculty and staff remain in-residence on campuses during the summers, and summer courses are conducted at every SUNY campus in the system. Summer camps and educational programs for children are also held over the summer on campuses.

The state has been inundated with more than 40,000 migrants in recent months, as the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has resumed busing a majority of the migrants in his state to largely Democratic northern cities like New York City and Chicago. That system, which has been criticized for lying both to the migrants pressed to board the buses and the officials in the cities receiving the buses, has stressed New York City's shelter and social safety net systems.

Republicans have largely been critical of Democratic leaders at the state and federal level for New York's crisis, with state Senate Republicans on Wednesday calling on President Joe Biden to reinstitute the now-defunct Title 42 policy that severely restricted asylum claims and required they be submitted from outside the country. The program was ended not by a choice of the Biden administration, but because the federal courts found it to be illegal to retain in place.

But border crossings at the southern border have dropped since Title 42 was ended, and most of the migrants in New York now crossed the border well before that restriction ended on May 11. New border policies have in many ways made it harder to seek asylum in the U.S. than it was under Title 42, and legal challenges both to Title 42 and the new restrictions are ongoing.

State and New York City officials continue to try to find a solution for people in need of help in the city now. Plans to send a few hundred migrants north to hotels and motels in Orange and Rockland counties have been stymied by efforts by local Republican officials to keep them out, and plans to house people in schools, closed prisons and other shuttered state facilities have faced continued criticism from many sides and slow progress overall.

A plan to open a number of city hotels that closed during the pandemic is expected to offer some relief, but is also slow-moving as buses of immigrants seeking shelter arrive daily.