Former Harlem jail opens to accommodate asylum seekers in NYC

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, June 1, 2023
Former Harlem jail opens to accommodate asylum seekers in NYC
A former correctional facility in New York City has been repurposed and is now open to accommodate asylum seekers. Anthony Carlo has the latest on the migrant crisis.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A former correctional facility in New York City has been repurposed and is now open to accommodate asylum seekers.

The move comes as the city desperately tries to find space to house the new arrivals.

The eight-story building reopened Thursday and can house about 500 people, and city officials say there are no cells inside.

The journey to the former Harlem jail was a long one for asylum seekers like Ruilber Ferrer.

He trekked through jungles and risked his life on his way from Venezuela where he left behind his 3-year-old daughter to find a better life for his family. A roof over his head is a start.

"I'm very happy to be here, I always wanted explore the United States," Ferrer said. "I dream of owning my own barbershop and giving my daughter what I couldn't have."

There are now at least seven respite centers in the city as Mayor Eric Adams said the city still has more than 45,000 migrants in its care.

"If you had a hurricane that hit this shore, you would be managing using school buildings, respite centers," Adams said. "That's the crisis. We are getting a hurricane every week. I must manage this crisis the right way."

But critics slammed the administration for not putting money in the right places.

According to the city comptroller's report - more than 99% of the money spent has gone to emergency shelter and less than 1% for legal assistance.

"It's been more than a year since the first asylum seekers arrived in New York City, and we still haven't filled a contract for legal services, clearly, $5 million isn't enough," said NYC Councilmember Shahana Hanif.

It comes as lawmakers in Suffolk County held a special meeting to step up efforts to block New York City from sending asylum seekers there.

A divided Suffolk County Legislature voted 11-6 to hire a lawyer to look into how the county can block migrants being sent from the city.

The vote came after Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone issued an emergency order last Friday night that does not ban migrants, but calls for the county to work with the state on the issue.

Governor Kathy Hochul has said that SUNY campuses could be a possible temporary housing solution, but has not confirmed or denied reports that Stony Brook University would be one of them.

The emergency order appears to be laying the groundwork for the state to place asylum seekers in the county at state-run facilities, although none have arrived yet. The order requires communication and coordination with the state before any migrants enter the county and bars Suffolk hotels, motels, and shelters from contracting directly with New York City to accept asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, there are legal battles continuing in other parts of the state.

WATCH: New York public officials take migrant housing crisis to court

As migrants continue to seek asylum in New York, those in disagreement with the city's handling of migrants are taking the issue to court.

The New York Civil Liberties Union was in federal court in White Plains suing Rockland and Orange counties on Thursday.

The two counties issued executive orders to block asylum seekers.

The NYCLU argued that the declarations of emergency by county executives, targeting migrants because of national origin, are unconstitutional.

Last month, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order that has so far prevented the Adams administration from moving 340 migrants into a hotel in Orangeburg.

On Thursday, a county lawyer said the policy is meant to protect the life, safety and property of the people of Rockland County. A judge responded saying, "What are the compelling reasons? Do you have a sense of how this sounds?"

The judge stressed his role is to interpret the law, not argue politics.

Hochul says it's disappointing to know that there are parts of the state that are not welcoming, but understands the concerns of county leaders who say they want notice and coordination before the migrants show up.


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