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WNY counties issue state of emergency over migrant crisis

Niagara County joined other New York counties that have issued states of emergency anticipating an influx of migrants seeking asylum.

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — Niagara County issued a state of emergency, saying it lacks the resources and housing needed to accommodate the growing number of immigrants pouring into New York City.

"New York City decided it would be a sanctuary city and welcome those who entered the country illegally, and now that this ill-conceived policy has produced the predictable results, it appears state and city officials are looking to upstate counties to bail them out," Niagara County Legislature Majority leader Randy Bradt told 2 On Your Side.

The county issued a press release in which Bradt said, "We are not without compassion, but we simply lack the resources to do it."

Niagara County joined Western New York's Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, Chautauqua, and Cattaraugus counties, which have also declared an emergency over a potential influx of asylum seekers who have pushed New York City's emergency shelters to capacity. Various other counties around the state have done so as well. 

Chautauqua County Executive Paul PJ M. Wendel told 2 on Your Side previously that 80 people, mostly families from Colombia, have been housed in Jamestown since November through social service agencies. As he phrased it, "There's a growing concern in New York State that these failed policies are now going to be borne on the rest of us, and we're pushing back."

Wendel noted that the people he has seen in his county are willing to work, but there are federal roadblocks.

"Without knowing anything about these individuals, it's hard to just say, 'Yes, we'll take them because they can't work.' That's the sad part about this is: because of this current situation, they are unable to work, and having said that, how are they going to provide for themselves?"        

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul acknowledged the problem New York City and the rest of the state could face as more migrants arrive. She met Wednesday with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and members of Congress to discuss the crisis.

"The city has done an incredible job trying to find places to house them, but they are at capacity, so we’re helping find places that will be welcoming," Hochul said.

She recently met with members of her cabinet along with representatives from SUNY. Hochul is asking them to analyze all state properties to determine if they are possible temporary housing solutions. 

Some like Wendel have questioned how the use of SUNY campuses, like Fredonia, would work since students are set to return in the fall. He says Homeland Secretary Jacqueline Bray told him this was "preparedness exercise" to assess such state properties.  

"We're trying to find a way to navigate what is a complicated situation," the governor told 2 On Your Side during a visit to Rochester.

She is urging the federal government to provide funds, shelter, and a change in work laws for migrants. 

"I have 5,000 farm openings, mostly upstate New York. Farmers are saying to me we have jobs for these individuals if we can get a change in the current work rules, which make them wait 180 days after they file for asylum," Hochul said.

'A $2000 per immigrant per day fine'

Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti said his office would enforce a $2,000 per immigrant, per day fine for any hotel owner who enters into a contract with New York City or New York State.

Filicetti said he was not aware of any local hotel operators actually accepting any contract offers from New York City which he says he learned pledged to to provide up to four months of lodging costs. So the Niagara County Sheriff says this is really more of a preemptive move by the county legislature which realizes there could be costs for county taxpayers.

"We are not interested in turning hotel owners into criminals, but the emergency order is clear, and we will enforce it," Filicetti said.

The Niagara County Legislature declaration says the county "strives to be a welcoming community and recognizes the contributions of lawful migrants to the county's development," but added, "Unrestricted, unlawful migration poses a grave risk to the social, health, and emergency services resources of the county."

The governor issued an executive order last week to help the state deal with migrants seeking asylum. The governor’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan calls on the American Red Cross to assist affected local governments in responding and recovering from the disaster and “to provide such assistance as necessary to protect the public health and safety.”

Niagara County Social Services Commissioner Meghan Lutz said, "I simply cannot fathom how we could possibly address a large influx of individuals in need of shelter when we know for a fact that our partner agencies lack the capacity to address our current homeless population."

Governor Hochul said, "We can do better than that. This is a temporary situation until they can get on their feet and really become part of the workforce."

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