Albany County leaders call for plan as New York City brings migrants upstate

The pandemic-era Title 42 immigration policy will expire after Thursday, bringing an expected influx of migrants to the southern border.

The Biden Administration has been unveiling measures to replace Title 42, which suspended rights to seek asylum since March 2020 on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The deadline led Gov. Kathy Hochul to issue a disaster declaration Wednesday. That will send 500 more members of the National Guard to New York City, bringing the total there to 1,500. It also sends $1 billion to New York City to help with asylum seekers.

Several county leaders declared their own states of emergency, fearing we could see an influx of migrants into upstate New York. One of those county leaders is Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin.

“My folks are already stretched to breaking point and it is unfair, and unsafe to bring in people who are unvetted, unvaccinated, we have no idea who they are, where they’re from or what their background is,” McLaughlin told NewsChannel 13’s Subrina Dhammi on Wednesday.

McLaughlin said the state of emergency prevents hotels and motels from entering into a contract with another municipality without his permission and taking in migrants who cross the border illegally.

An immigration attorney in Albany said counties might be surprised to find that they have little control over where asylum seekers can live. Cianna Freeman, a partner at Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna LLP, works with asylum seekers waiting for their case to go through the court system. Once their case is in the system, she said, migrants can choose to move and have their case transferred.

“For example, individuals that decide to stay in Albany, their court is transferred to Buffalo, cause that’s our nearest immigration court is Buffalo,” Freeman said.

Counties may have the authority to refuse to take money to house them. However, Freeman said while migrants’ cases are pending, they are allowed by the federal government to live and work where they want.

“If an individual who’s been released on their own recognizance by the federal government decides to move to Rensselaer County and live there and go though their immigration court proceedings, then technically Rensselaer County has no authority to say they can’t live there. They’re living there, they have authorization to work,” she explained.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy is working with other county leaders on a plan and calling on the state for help. He does not anticipate migrants coming to Albany County anytime soon, but he wants a comprehensive plan to follow. The city of Albany is a “sanctuary city,” meaning it is committed to welcoming asylum seekers.

“The answer is not to ship people upstate without coordination, and I’m hoping that Gov. Hochul, or the Senate or Assembly comes up with a plan for how we can do this,” he said. “Give me a game plan, tell me what you’re going to do, and let’s figure it out there together, but just pushing the problem around and not figuring it out, it’s not good to the community, it’s not fair to the families you’re putting here. It wasn’t fair for the other governors to ship them here, but again, two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Assemblyman John McDonald, D – Cohoes, said the state does not expect migrants to head right for Rensselaer County or Albany County. However, he said traditionally welcoming counties like Albany will end up seeing more migrants and will need help.

“That’s conversations I’ve had with the governor’s staff saying, let’s formalize a plan, make sure we have all the resources there before we leave Albany, because this is going to be going on for several months,” McDonald said.

He added that counties may need support from the state. He also called for funding for local organizations working with migrants on the ground.

“The way things should work, is you take for the Capital Region, Capital District Latinos over on Central Avenue, they are looked at as a friend to many of these individuals coming from South America. They know the language, they know the needs. Let’s make sure they have the resources to help them with suitable housing, job opportunities,” he said.