NEW YORK — New York City sued nearly half the state's counties Wednesday over their attempts to keep out international migrants, the latest escalation in an ongoing battle between city officials and local leaders.
The suit, filed in state court Wednesday, accuses at least 30 New York counties of seeking to “wall off their borders” to asylum seekers through “xenophobic” executive orders that violate state and federal law. The lawsuit names Niagara, Chautauqua, Genesee, Orleans, and Wyoming counties.
“These counties have implemented misguided and unlawful executive orders premised on false claims that the prospect of a few hundred asylum seekers sheltered at the city’s expense across multiple counties constitute an emergency and imperil public safety,” said Sylvia Hinds-Radiz, a lawyer for the city.
Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel told 2 On Your Side he does not see it that way. He said his county is just not equipped to care for additional migrants, adding that Chautauqua County has been caring for 70 or so asylum seekers since November.
"We reached out to our boots on the ground who are working with these people and they've said we cannot take anymore," Wendel said. He added, "The concerning part for me is [this lawsuit] is one elected official dictating what other elected officials can and can't do."
New York City has struggled to care for an influx of asylum seekers in recent months, converting hotels and houses of worship to shelters as Mayor Eric Adams repeatedly declared that the city had reached its limit on new arrivals. Last month, the city began busing dozens of migrants to a handful of hotels north of the city.
The move triggered a cascade of emergency declarations by local officials, from Long Island to the Canadian border. The orders threatened criminal and financial penalties against New York City and any hotels or other businesses that aided in the relocation of migrants.
Some county officials raised fears of crime or overcrowding, while others said they couldn’t afford to provide care for the migrants if the city stopped paying for the hotel rooms.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has deviated from the other counties named in the lawsuit, in not issuing an emergency order, calling it immoral and perhaps illegal.
Poloncarz told 2 On Your Side Thursday that while New York City officials have not ruled out moving migrants to Western New York they have not confirmed a location in the region nor have they provided a particular date when they could happen.
What Wendel, New York City officials, and Poloncarz agree however is that more aid from the federal government is needed.
"The federal government needs to step up to the plate to deal with the migrant issue. They have not. Unfortunately, they are leaving it on the state and the local governments to do it," Poloncarz said.
New York City Health and Human Services Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom added, "We can not do it without the federal government acting now."
On Tuesday, in a separate lawsuit, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring Rockland County and Orange County from enforcing their broad emergency orders that aimed to ban migrants from hotels.
The injunction comes in a suit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of individual asylum seekers and does not apply to the efforts to ban migrants across the state. It also does not impact an existing order by a state judge that temporarily prevents the city from housing migrants at specific hotels in Orange and Rockland County.
Amy Belsher, a senior staff attorney at the NYCLU, said she hoped the ruling would serve as a precursor for a wider ruling in state court. She said many of the county executive orders were nearly identical.
“They’re unlawful and unconstitutional in the same ways and we’re hopeful that other municipalities will look at this decision and rescind their orders," Belsher said.