By Carmo Moniz | [email protected]
As New York City’s migrant crisis continues, the city has taken to housing the influx of asylum seekers in unconventional locations, most recently in the recreation centers of Brooklyn’s McCarren and Sunset parks.
Over a hundred asylum-seekers are being temporarily housed in the centers as shelters and emergency hotel space in New York City have exceeded capacity. In a statement, a City Hall spokesperson said the number of asylum-seekers coming through the city’s intake system has left it to deal with a national crisis on its own. The spokesperson also said almost 100,000 asylum seekers have passed through the city’s system since last spring.
“We are constantly searching for new places to give asylum seekers a place to rest their heads, and recently located a wing of the McCarren Recreation Center and the Sunset Park Recreation Center in Brooklyn to house adult asylum seekers,” the spokesperson said in the statement.
The new shelter spaces, which have been met with mixed reactions from local residents, will house around 80 and 100 migrants, respectively. Those housed in the centers receive three meals per day and have access to onsite shower and bathroom facilities.
When a group of 60 or so migrants moved into the Sunset Park center last week, around 100 local residents protested their arrival, while others offered them food and other resources, according to Gothamist.
Councilmember Alexa Avilés, who represents Sunset Park, said she asked those planning the protests to instead focus their efforts on community funding and problems with the immigration system in a statement.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity,” Avilés said in the statement. “I recognize community frustrations and share them over a lack of communication from the Mayor’s Office and a temporary disruption of services, but we must not fear monger. Whether you’re the Governor of Florida or a local, I will not stand for the use of human beings for political gain.”
A group of six city, state and federal Brooklyn politicians, including assemblymember Emily Gallagher, councilmember Lincoln Restler and councilmember Jennifer Gutiérrez, said they were notified that the McCarren Park center would be used to house asylum seekers ahead of time and that access to pool and fitness facilities would remain open in a joint statement.
“We will continue pushing to secure more appropriate facilities to house people in need and expedite moving New Yorkers from our shelter system into vacant permanent housing,” the statement reads. “In the interim, we will do whatever we can to galvanize compassion and support for our new temporary neighbors.”
Benjamin Rodriguez, an asylum-seeker staying in the Sunset Park center, said that he came to New York from Peru seven months ago, and that he was previously being housed in a hotel. He said that while he has been able to find employment in the city, many others have not and would benefit from more government assistance with employment, such as work permits.
“We have a roof to live under, and for that I give thanks,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. “We know we are going through a very difficult situation, but it will pass one day.”
Mohammed Yamdi, who traveled to the city from Mauritania and is also staying in the Sunset Park center, said that there is little work available for migrants. He also said he has been told his request for asylum could take six months to a year to be processed.
“I want to bring my family here,” Yamdi said in French. “My children would learn to write and go to school and be alright, not like in Mauritania.”
Currently, there is a backlog of over two million cases in U.S. immigration courts, according to a 2023 Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse report. The average wait time for a hearing is more than four years, and receiving a final decision can take even longer.
Luke Petrinovic, a city employee who lives near Sunset Park, said he had worked in a migrant shelter in El Paso, Texas last summer, and he thinks it is important to be welcoming of asylum seekers.
“It’s talked about like it’s a crisis, but migration is a fact of human civilization,” Petrinovic said. “People oftentimes get very discouraged because it’s an unsolvable problem, but that means it’s the sort of thing that you have to accept and learn to be a good person in that circumstance.”