In immigration crisis, finger-pointing does little to solve problems

When there’s any kind of crisis, there’s inevitably going to be some finger-pointing. That might be politically advantageous, but it will only give way to human suffering. At some point, lawmakers have to work together to actually find a solution.

With the recent expiration of Title 42 — a policy imposed in March 2020, under the Trump administration, that allowed the U.S. to quickly expel migrants without hearing their asylum claims in light of the coronavirus pandemic — the number of people crossing the border into the U.S. is expected to rise.

Though a lot of the focus tends to be on the southern border, New York is not immune to the impact of the immigration crisis, nor are we outside of the political battleground over this influx of people.

More than 40,000 migrants and asylum seekers have already arrived in New York City over the past few months, causing a crisis as the city’s services are overwhelmed. The city’s mayor, Eric Adams — who has been asking the federal government for more funding to help settle the people arriving there, and calling for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants and a faster work permit process — estimated that the influx of more migrants could cost the city $2 billion.

In response to this, at the state level, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she was considering the possibility of using SUNY campus dorms to temporarily house migrants who arrive in this state. She asked all state government agencies to provide ideas for possible solutions to accomodate the potential influx of people. The possibility of moving some migrants from the city, into upstate communities, was floated with a goal of giving New York City temporary relief.

What a great opportunity this could be to bring new people, with diverse backgrounds and different life experiences, to our region, which could be a safe haven for those who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. There’s already a local group, the Adirondack Friends of Refugees and Immigrants, who have for years been working to support refugees in the North Country. Even though housing migrants in SUNY dorms may not be ideal, at least the governor is putting an idea out there and has expressed an interest in finding other solutions.

But it seems that our state and county representatives aren’t necessarily seeing it that way. Instead, Hochul’s words prompted swift backlash from upstate lawmakers.

Across this region, our state and county representatives’ response to this crisis has been, essentially, “this is going to cost a lot of money, don’t make this our problem.”

State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, introduced a bill on Monday that would prohibit the use of SUNY campuses to house migrants.

“When Democrats rushed to declare New York a sanctuary city, they ignored the financial costs and consequences of their actions,” Stec said in a statement. “They did so despite several warnings from many … New York City received $1 billion in aid in the state budget to manage this self-inflicted crisis. Despite that, they still can’t handle this issue and now Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul are trying to pass costs and responsibilities onto upstate communities and SUNY campuses.”

It’s true that state funding has been earmarked to help New York City accomodate the influx of migrants. It’s also true that in the North Country, local governments’ budgets are tight and resources are certainly limited compared to our metropolitan counterparts, which have far more residents and a far broader tax base. The finances of this crisis, and the potential for our county’s services to be overwhelmed by an influx of people, are not non-issues. But we’re also talking about human lives, and what’ll happen to families — some of whom are fleeing dangerous situations — who need help.

Earlier this week, the chairman of the Franklin County Legislature, Ed Lockwood, declared a state of emergency to “put the state on notice,” and let the state know that “we don’t have enough housing if they do need to ship some of the illegal immigrants,” Lockwood told the Enterprise.

Franklin County’s emergency declaration points to the root of this region’s seemingly neverending problem: Housing. Specifically, the lack thereof.

It’s no secret that there’s a housing crisis in this region, which has made it extremely difficult for the average working class person to afford to put down roots here. At the same time, the North Country needs more residents.

To reverse the downward public school enrollment trend, we need more residents.

To keep our local businesses alive and thriving, they need more customers.

To fix the labor shortage we’re facing, we need more workers — and if those people are migrants, there needs to be a path to citizenship and they need to be able to obtain work permits far faster than the current immigration policies allow.

We need the capacity to welcome new residents, but we don’t have it. Our inability to house migrants who need help is more evidence of that. So many of the woes of this region seem to grow like weeds from this crack in our foundation that is the housing crisis. It sometimes feels as if the weeds are multiplying by the day and we’re becoming overgrown.

Our lawmakers need to stop pointing fingers and passing the responsibility onto others and start working with state leaders to solve both the housing and migrant crises.


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