County: Not enough housing for migrants

Franklin County Legislature Chair Ed Lockwood declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, a move intended to signal to the state that the county does not have adequate housing to accommodate an influx of asylum seekers and migrants who recently arrived in the U.S. without proper paperwork.

While other counties in the state have issued emergency declarations banning migrants from being moved into their communities and fining hotels that accept them, Lockwood said Franklin County’s declaration is more of a preemptive notice than a specific action.

“It’s just really putting the state on notice, letting them know that we don’t have enough housing if they do need to ship some of the illegal immigrants,” Lockwood told the Enterprise. “They’re shipping them to all these towns and cities and we just don’t have enough housing right now to be able to take any.”

The declaration says with the expiration of Title 42 will come a likely increase in migration into the U.S., including locally. Title 42 was a coronavirus pandemic-era policy imposed under former President Donald Trump’s administration that allowed authorities to quickly expel migrants from the country without hearing their asylum claims, citing COVID-19 concerns.

Franklin County shares 34 miles of border with Canada and has three border crossings in Fort Covington, Trout River and Chateaugay, the county’s state of emergency declaration notes. The declaration also says that there is a “high probability” of an influx of people “seeking shelter” here but that “(the county) is not equipped to meet the needs of those individuals.”

Franklin County consistently rates in the top 10 poorest counties in the state, the declaration says.

“The arrival of an increased number of individuals will further challenge the limited resources currently available to meet the needs of the existing population,” the declaration reads. “There is potential that this is a scenario which could create a disaster emergency which could threaten the health and safety and could result in the loss of life and/or property.”

Lockwood said this would create a “hardship” for Franklin County and that housing is the primary concern.

He said if the state sends more money for housing here, that would definitely help. The county already has to send people into other counties to find housing, he said.

Lockwood said he doesn’t know of any movements of migrants into Franklin County so far. He said the other legislators had discussed this as a group before but it did not take a group decision.

Franklin County Legislator Nedd Sparks, who represents Tupper Lake, said he was not in the county offices on Tuesday was the declaration was made, but legislators had talked about it previously and he is “good with it.”

“We don’t want to be overrun,” he said.

In Tupper Lake, he said housing resources are already slim.

Franklin County Legislator Lindy Ellis, who represents Saranac Lake, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this article Tuesday.

The declaration started at 3 p.m. Tuesday and will last until the end of the day on June 21. At that point, it could be extended if county leadership decides to do so.

How did this happen?

On May 9, Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency in New York through June 8. The purpose of this order, she said, is to expand state and local governments’ abilities to fund shelters, health care, voluntary relocation to permanent housing and legal assistance for the asylum seekers, and to deploy more National Guard members.

Shelters and hotels around the state are providing temporary housing for tens of thousands of migrants from the southern border. These efforts have been centralized around New York City, but as resources there became strained, the state has started moving migrants to hotels and shelters elsewhere in the state.

Numerous counties around the state are declaring their own states of emergency. Some are trying to halt the transfers altogether.

Hochul is calling on the federal government to speed up the process of authorizing these migrants to be able to work. She says the influx of new people into the state, which has been experiencing population decline and a workforce labor gap, is exactly what it needs to get agriculture, food service and hospitality staffed again.

Currently, that process could take a minimum of 180 days.

There was an expected increase in asylum seekers in the state to come after Title 42 ended on May 11, but the surge came before it did.

Title 42 came from former President Donald Trump’s U.S. Centers for Disease Control an Prevention director in March 2020 because of concerns that overcrowded detention centers would be hot-spots for the contagious disease.

President Joe Biden maintained this policy for the first two years of his term before Title 42 expired on May 11, after the COVID-19 public health emergency was deemed over.

Biden introduced new, stricter rules for seeking asylum in the U.S. to replace Title 42.

People are now barred from seeking asylum here unless they first seek refuge in another country and apply online. With the new rules, people caught crossing the border illegally will banned from re-entry for a minimum of five years and could face criminal prosecution if they do.

In the nearly two years Title 42 has been around, it has been used to expel migrants from the border more than 2.8 million times, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban refugee, said earlier this month that he had stationed 24,000 Border Patrol officers on the 1,951-mile Mexican border to stop illegal entries. That’s around 12 agents for every mile of border.

Mayorkas said they are ready to process people without the legal documentation to stay in the U.S. and remove them from our soils “humanely.”

These agents are apprehending thousands of migrants a day currently, according to CBP statistics.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect date for the enactment of Title 42. The Enterprise regrets the error.


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