NYC Refugee Advocates Urge Mayor to Scrap Plans to House Asylum Seekers at Rikers Island

Murad Awawdeh

NEW YORK, New York – The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), an umbrella policy and advocacy organization that represents over 200 immigrant and refugee rights groups throughout New York, on Wednesday urged Mayor Eric Adams to scrap reported plans to house asylum seekers at the Rikers Island Correctional Facility in Queens, New York.

Reports indicate that the mayor is seriously considering a plan to house newly-arriving asylum seekers in a now-shuttered Rikers Island jail.

Officials say many of the asylum seekers come from Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.

“Rikers Island has a long track record of causing nothing but pain, suffering and death to those that have been forced to reside there. It is a stain on our city,” NYIC Executive Director Murad Awawdeh told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). “We have joined the countless numbers of advocates and organizations who have called for it to be permanently shuttered, which makes this news even more alarming. 

“Housing asylum seekers – who are pursuing their legal right to apply for asylum – on Rikers is simply immoral,” he added. “The traumatizing effect of doing so, after people have fled violence and persecution in their home countries, will cause more injury to families who are already struggling. Asylum seekers and the rest of the unhoused population of NYC need permanent housing – they do not belong in jails.”

Awawdeh urged the Adams administration to partner with local community-based organizations and “every level of government to develop a humane approach to receive our newest neighbors in a safe, orderly and secure manner. 

“Together, communities across New York State can create a welcoming New York for all, no matter when people arrived or how they got here,” he said. 

According to news reports, New York City will no longer house asylum seekers at a school gym in Coney Island in Brooklyn but that the mayor is considering 400 other locations, including the Rikers Island Correctional Facility.

On Sunday, the city turned the gym at a public school in Coney Island into a temporary shelter for asylum seekers, but, on Wednesday, it was turned back to its original purpose. 

“Our plan has always been to have emergency respite sites only serve migrants for a very short period of time and only when the influx into our city is overwhelming,” said a spokesperson for the mayor in a statement. “Migrants flow in and out of these sites as other more suitable space becomes available, and they have and will continue to be used as a last resort. 

“As the mayor has continued to say, everything is on the table when it comes to placement of asylum seekers, and, sadly, every city service will be affected,” the spokesperson added.  

On Tuesday, NYIC urged Adams and New York’s Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus to “start coordinating and planning to ensure the health and well-being of asylum seekers sent to the region” amid a judge’s issuance of a temporary restraining order blocking New York City from sending additional asylum seekers to the county, outside New York City. 

There are currently 186 single adult men staying at two hotels in Orange County, who are allowed to stay there. 

Awawdeh said that all states have “the capacity to welcome people fleeing danger, if done right. 

“NYC Mayor Eric Adams and Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus need to start coordinating and planning to ensure the health and well-being of the asylum seekers sent to the region,” he said. “But County Executive Neahaus shouldn’t be gloating about the judge’s temporary restraining order. 

“His actions in response to asylum seekers to his region have been shameful — he has done nothing more than stoke fear and resentment in his community,” Awadeh added. “At a moment when he should be choosing to welcome, he has instead chosen cruelty. 

“Immigrant families seeking safety should be received in a safe, orderly and secure manner — and not used as political pawns,” he continued. “Luckily, community organizations, churches, and everyday people in Orange County and in cities across the country have stepped up to greet new arrivals. Together, communities across New York State can create a welcoming New York for all, no matter when people arrived or how they got here.” 

Orange County Attorney Richard Golden said in court Tuesday that 186 migrant men are being sheltered at two hotels, the Ramada and Crossroads, in the Town of Newburgh.  

The New York State Supreme Court judge’s ruling allows refugees to stay, while a lawsuit against New York City plays out in court.

 On Saturday, Adams announced the launch of the city’s first asylum seeker arrival center and the placement of what will be the city’s ninth Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center, as hundreds of Caribbean and other asylum seekers continue to arrive in New York City each day. 

Adams said the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, which has been closed for nearly three years, will host the arrival center and deliver on a key commitment in Adams’ “Blueprint to Address New York City’s Response to the Asylum Seeker Crisis” — serving as a centralized intake center for all arriving asylum seekers and providing migrants with access to a range of legal, medical, and reconnection services, as well as placement, if needed, in a shelter or humanitarian relief center. 

Asylum seekers currently in the city’s care will also be able to visit the arrival center to access the host of services currently available to them, the mayor said. 

Beginning later this week, The Roosevelt Hotel will open up 175 rooms for children and families, until it is scaled to about 850 rooms. An additional 100 to 150 rooms will be held for asylum seekers in transition to other locations.