NYC's new temporary relief center aims to meet urgent needs of migrants

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Thursday, October 20, 2022
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An emergency relief center on Randalls Island officially opened to asylum seekers Wednesday. CeFaan Kim spoke to some of the migrants.

RANDALL'S ISLAND, New York (WABC) -- An emergency relief center on Randall's Island officially opened to asylum seekers Wednesday.

As migrants continued to arrive Wednesday morning at the Port Authority bus terminal, most were families with young children who just completed a grueling 34-hour trip from El Paso, Texas.

They are believed to be people escaping economic crisis in Venezuela.

The numbers of asylum seekers arriving have gone down these last few days, in part because of new federal limits on Venezuelan nationals who can enter the U.S. and seek asylum -- they now need a sponsor.

Families and individuals are still arriving from the border every day at Port Authority, but the nonprofit workers meeting them there are noticing a shift since the new policy took effect -- fewer people in general but more with children.

Some of the families stay at the Row Hotel on 8th Avenue.

A family from Venezuela says they were detained like prisoners for eight days at the southern border. They say the hotel is more than sufficient.

Meanwhile, a handful of adult single men were taken to the new facility on Randall's Island.

The single men who traveled alone will stay in the heated tents where they can rest and clean up. The city says it's meant to be as temporary as possible and acknowledged the location wasn't ideal.

"I'm not a fan of it, I haven't really dug deep into the intricacies of it, but on the surface what I feel is that it's not conducive to what we're trying to do as a welcoming city," said activist Power Malu.

But city officials say the new facility is a welcome change from where they've been.

One effort to keep their stay short and help asylum seekers overcome obstacles is coming from United Bodegas of America.

"We are opening our doors for those migrants that are coming here desperately seeking work and seeking opportunity," Fernando Mateo said. "We're not going to turn our backs on them. Of course, we must follow the law."

They're asking the Biden Administration to waive a 150-day waiting period for asylum seekers to apply for legal work permits so they can get to work legally in bodegas eager to hire them.

Spokesman Fernando Mateo says as a New York City taxpayer:

"I don't want to pay for their housing, I don't want to pay for their food. I don't want to pay for their healthcare. I want them to do it. And I'm sure that's what they want. They don't want to be handed out anything."

Mateo says it's risky work that pays minimum wage, but he says it's a starting point for people who need a job with other Spanish speakers who can help them adjust to life in the city.

Critics and immigration advocates argue the relief centers are inhumane -- built in flood prone areas and transit deserts.

City officials say they're working with the state to get bus service and that they have an evacuation plan for coastal storms. They say the structures can withstand 90mph winds and are heated to 70 degrees.

They say they're not focused on a migrant's length of stay, but the goal is to get them on their way within 96 hours.

ALSO READ | New York City announces teams to help acclimate migrant children into public schools

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