Tempers flare at new migrant relief center in Queens; drama unfolds between Hochul, Adams

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Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Tempers flare at new migrant relief center in Queens
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Tempers flared outside New York City's newest migrant tent city in Queens Village on Wednesday, while tension began to build between Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul. CeF

QUEENS VILLAGE, New York City (WABC) -- Tempers flared outside New York City's newest migrant tent city in Queens Village on Wednesday, while tension began to build between Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul over the handling of the asylum seeker crisis.

Asylum seekers began moving into the new migrant relief center at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center facility, which was quickly met with protestors who say they do not want the shelter near a YMCA, elementary school and playground.

Curtis Sliwa, who ran against Adams in the city's last mayoral race, was arrested, along with others, for civil disobedience during Wednesday night's protest.

It comes on the same day Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration criticized New York City's response to the migrant crisis.

In a letter, a lawyer for Hochul criticized Mayor Eric Adams' administration's management of asylum seekers in response to a list of requests by the city.

It says City Hall failed to accept numerous offers from the state over the last year for shelters, which they say could have housed more than 3,000 people.

The Hochul administration says it suggested setting up large sites for single adult men beginning in June 2022, but the city waited for months to do so. The administration also believes the city is not prioritizing paperwork for migrants' work permits.

The mayor's office thanked the governor for taking a "more proactive role in their response," but said the proposed locations weren't viable.

Pressed to name locations the city passed on, Hochul mentioned Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, which met community resistance when it was floated, and Riverbank State Park in Harlem, which did not meet the city's standards when it was surveyed in May.

Adams insisted there is no bad blood between himself and the governor.

"People who depict that letter as a brutal attack against us...people want to see the governor and I fight, that's not going to happen -- I like her, she likes me, and the things we can learn from each other we are going to do together," Adams said.

City Hall says more than 101,000 asylum seekers have come through its shelter system since last spring.

So far, there were only 100 or so people at the new Queens facility as of Wednesday morning, but city officials say it's only a matter of time before all 1,000 cots are taken.

It's not an ideal setup, but the city says it's out of options.

"We're out of good options, we're out of even OK options," Deputy Mayor Fabian Levy said. "These are the only options left. And it's a question of do you want people on the streets or do you want people sleeping on cots?"

The need for big emergency spaces became even more apparent at the end of last month when migrants waiting to be processed were seen sleeping on the sidewalk outside of the Roosevelt Hotel.

The state is also working to secure federal property to set up emergency shelters.

Hochul says operational and legal issues are keeping her from getting approval to use Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island.

The Staten Island borough president protested the idea Tuesday, saying it's simply not the borough's responsibly to house migrants.

"Fort Wadsworth is a gem. Beautiful views, the community loves it. It's a community asset," said Vito Fossella, Staten Island Borough President. "If it is indeed a federal issue our view is the federal government should solve it."

The city says it has repeatedly asked the federal government to speed up the work permit authorization process, so migrants are able to become independent more quickly.

Meanwhile, critics also point out that the site sits in a transit desert. There is only one bus line there and officials say the city will add additional buses if needed.

The state owns the site and not only offered it to the city, but is reimbursing the city for the cost of construction, maintenance, and staffing.

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