Tracing the steps of asylum seekers as they settle in New York City

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Tracing the steps of asylum seekers as they settle in NYC
Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne went to the Port Authority bus terminal recently to watch how newly-arrived asylum seekers were processed in New York City.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Nearly 10,000 asylum seekers from the southern U.S. border have passed through New York City intake centers in recent weeks, according to city officials. Eyewitness News is taking a deeper look at how the process works for migrants.

Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne went to the Port Authority bus terminal recently to watch how newly-arrived migrants were processed there and what happened after they left the bus terminal.

After migrants disembarked from four large buses from Texas, they were escorted into a restricted area of the bus terminal. Volunteers provided them with food, clothing and shoes. After about an hour, the migrants boarded small vans or city buses.

Eyewitness News followed one of the buses to the city's Adult Family Intake Center on East 30th Street.

Approximately an hour after the new migrants arrived, other migrants came out of the shelter reporting that they were being moved to another shelter due to the lack of room at the East 30th Street shelter, which is also located at the intake center.

Asylum seeker Omar Rengifo said he had spent about 10 days at the shelter and was being asked to leave.

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"Because there is so much immigrant traffic the system is collapsing," he told Eyewitness News in Spanish.

Rengifo said the first shelter he called had no room left, so he was heading to a hotel in Queens where the city would be paying for him to stay. Rengifo said he was grateful to America after fleeing his home country of Columbia.

Eyewitness News spoke with another group of migrants from Venezuela who said they only spent one night at the East 30th Street shelter and were being moved. They said the city was taking them to a place in Brooklyn, although they did not know exactly where. They didn't know if they would be staying in a hotel or shelter.

Some volunteers who have been assisting the city in helping the migrants have expressed concern that they do not believe the city is doing enough to help the migrants.

One volunteer who we spoke with who has been helping the migrants extensively expressed outrage at the city's response. She would not do an interview on camera, but said volunteer groups have been helping migrants with everything from securing cell phones, food, reuniting with family members and getting personal documents for city officials.

She said, in some cases, volunteers are hosting migrants in the volunteer's homes because there's not enough room at the shelters. She said they're also purchasing mattresses, so migrants can sleep on the floor at undisclosed locations throughout the city.

Eyewitness News obtained a video and picture, which appeared to verify her claims. The video shows several migrants packed into a cramped office space being helped by volunteers, while the picture shows three migrants lying on mattresses on the ground.

Eyewitness News requested an interview with the city's Department of Homeless Services to inquire about the city's long-term plan for housing the thousands of asylum seekers, which will, most likely, continue to funnel into New York City.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Services said an interview could not be accommodated at this time, but said in a statement, "As part of our legal and moral obligation to provide shelter to anyone who needs it regardless of background or immigration status, we are working around the clock to ensure that we are welcoming recently-arrived asylum seekers in need of shelter services with open arms. We have already opened various emergency sites citywide to address the unprecedented need for shelter and continue to identify dedicated capacity across the five boroughs to comprehensively address the unique needs of asylum seekers who are coming to us in their greatest hour of need. We remain committed to using every tool at our disposal to help them stabilize their lives in a new country."

Manuel Castro, the head of the city's Office of Immigrant Affairs, told Eyewitness News last week that the city has opened 15 new shelters, which includes hotel space. The city has not been forthcoming about the hotel locations.

"In the city of New York, anyone who needs shelter, a bed to sleep, will get it," Castro said. "We're a right-to-shelter city."

Castro said the city does not expect asylum seekers to stay in the shelters for a long period of time, as he said most migrants are eager to obtain employment, get their own homes and start their lives in New York City.



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