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New York counties plea for federal help amid border crisis

Migrants line up after being apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border near Lukeville, Ariz. Mexico is at the top of the image, beyond the border fence.
Gregory Bull
Immigrants make their way towards the border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico.

The end of COVID-19 era restrictions at the southern border is causing anxiety in several major cities, including New York City, where Mayor Eric Adams is asking upstate counties for help.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said his community is known for being welcoming to refugees, but he said when it comes to the current crisis, the county is just not in a position to help.

"It's not an issue of being inhumane,” Picente said. “It's not an issue of being insensitive or regarding any other aspect. It is about, we are at capacity as well."

Picente is joining with other county leaders and the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) to ask the federal government for help.

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario said as Mayor Adams pleads for help from upstate counties for the tens of thousands of asylum seekers arriving, federal leaders need to step in.

"The current situation is failing,” said Acquario. “The federal government is failing to address this crisis."

NYSAC would like federal officials to provide more funding to areas bearing the brunt of the crisis, consider declaring a federal state of emergency, and look into using military facilities for housing for asylum seekers.

Picente said while many counties, including his, are also facing a parallel homelessness crisis, leaders need to find workable solutions.

"The mayor came to us with a plea from New York City, but the plea has no plan behind it,” he said. “And that really needs to be addressed, and that's why it's important for the governor, for the president, and for all of our leaders in Washington to resolve this in the best way they can."

Acquario said the group is not blaming Hochul. He said the governor has written a letter to President Joe Biden, with whom she has a close professional relationship, asking for more help. But he said she could do more.

“I think the governor is in the position to quarterback this issue now,” Acquario said.

Hochul, speaking Monday at an unrelated news conference, said Biden and his aides have not yet answered her letter, written last Friday afternoon, and she’s not concerned about that. But she said she’s not sitting patiently by because New York City is “at a breaking point.”

“If more time goes on, they'll certainly be hearing from me,” Hochul said. “I'll be paying a visit, I’ll continue my regular efforts to say, ‘Help us here.’ This is a humanitarian crisis.”

Hochul said she’s working to coordinate the response between New York City and the counties. She’s deployed 1,500 National Guard members to help. And she said she’s considering adding to the $1 billion that’s already in the state budget to help care for the migrants — but so far, no one knows what those costs will be.

The governor said the counties are not being asked to pay for anything, just to consent to allow hotels in their regions to contract with New York City to house the asylum-seekers.

Hochul said she’s also asking the federal government to waive the 180-day waiting period for work authorization. She said the migrants want jobs, and many upstate regions have a worker shortage. She said if they were able to become employed sooner, there would be far less blowback from some county leaders over their arrival.

“The upstate elected officials who you would normally say perhaps they're not as open to this idea, if you said these individuals were ready to work and could work and go out to the farms and the hotels and the restaurants, their arms would be wide open,” Hochul said.

County leaders have also asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to waive the 180-day waiting period, but they said they have not received an answer yet.

WRVO's Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt also contributed to this story.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.
Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.