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Activists fight back against emergency order barring migrants

Representatives from the New York Immigration Coalition and other groups who help immigrants gather in downtown Syracuse to encourage the county to welcome migrants from the southern border
Ava Pukatch
Representatives from the New York Immigration Coalition and other groups who help immigrants gather in downtown Syracuse to encourage the county to welcome migrants from the southern border

About 25 people gathered in downtown Syracuse Friday afternoon chanting, “No hate. No fear. Immigrants are welcome here.” The gathering is in response to Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon’s emergency order barring local municipalities from making contracts related to transporting or housing migrants within the county.

The event was put on by the New York Immigration Coalition and also included representatives from local agencies who help refugees and local faith leaders.

Sal Curran from the Volunteer Lawyers Project of Onondaga County said the emergency order is not humane.

“We have a responsibility as a community to do everything we can do to help, and this is so true, especially with immigrants in our community, and unfortunately, that’s not what we’re seeing by our government,” Curran said. “Our government actions are not aligning with these values of dignity, empathy, or really showing up to help.”

As COVID-19 era restrictions on immigration end, an influx of migrants are crossing the country’s southern border, including tens of thousands arriving in New York City. Mayor Eric Adams has reached out to counties upstate asking for help housing and providing services to those migrants. However, many upstate counties have said they are already at capacity and are unable to help. In addition to Onondaga County, leaders in Oswego County, Oneida County, Madison County, Cayuga County and Cortland County have also issued emergency orders.

McMahon said on Thursday, Onondaga County is already expecting 1,900 refugees over the next 12 to 16 months. He said the county is focused on providing help for the people coming directly into the community through “organic migration” and doesn’t have the capacity for another government entity to send large groups of migrants to the county.

Kayla Kelechian of the New York Immigration Coalition said she believes immigrants make the community stronger and said it is not the time to instill a scarcity mindset.

"We're not going to fall for that," Kelechian said. "We're not going to fall for that scarcity mindset. Because if anything, I would like to ask, well, how did we get here? If you're saying all this, maybe they aren't doing the right thing, right? Stop pinning it on our communities.

Yvonne Griffin, of Citizen Action of New York, said Syracuse has always been a sanctuary city and believes the order is racist as the county has welcomed Afghan and Ukrainian immigrants but is now not going to allow Black and Hispanic migrants.

"We speak 82 languages," Griffin said. "So now we're going to say that some of the 82 languages are not allowed here? That's inappropriate, especially if they're being denied hotel access. You're depriving them of housing."

Annegret Schubert from the Syracuse Immigrant and Refugee Defense Network said she thinks if migrants are allowed to come to central New York, the community will rise to the occasion.

“A true strength of a community’s character comes to light based on their actions when times are not quite as easy,” Schubert said. “So, the ultimate question is, ‘How do we want history to remember our community?’ Are we the type of people who shuts the doors to vulnerable, desperate people because we think it’ll be too tough? Or, do we have the strength of character to say, ‘In your most desperate hour, when so many other communities are turning our backs, we will stand with you.’”

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.
Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.