Immigration advocates and religious leaders, outraged by the busing from Texas to New York City of migrants detained at the Mexico border, say they are gearing up to help anyone who arrives on Long Island.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has bused thousands of migrants up north in the past few weeks, arguing that they are overwhelming communities in his state. Advocates call it an election year ploy to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment, and they are especially incensed Abbott’s government is putting bar code bracelets on the migrants.
“I think it is an abuse of humanity,” said the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of the Congregational Church of Patchogue. “It’s an abuse of human dignity, treating people like pawns in your political games.”
Immigrant assistance groups on Long Island say they have not yet been in contact with any of the migrants, but it is only a matter of time before some land in Nassau and Suffolk counties and seek their help. The region for decades has served as a major arrival point for Latino immigrants, especially from Central America.
“New York has been a major recipient of people coming from the border essentially throughout the state’s history,” said Patrick Young, the downstate advocacy director for the New York Immigration Coalition.
“And Long Island has certainly seen people coming in who were fleeing persecution in their home countries from Latin America since the 1980s,” said Young, who is based in Hempstead. “We would expect that some” of the bused migrants have already arrived on Long Island.
Seeking political asylum
Abbott, a Republican, asserts that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is not securing the border, and since cities like New York and Washington, DC, say they welcome immigrants regardless of legal status, he is sending them there — and those cities can foot the bill for assisting them.
Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, says the bracelets “are standard protocol for voluntary transport by the Texas Division of Emergency Management and have been used during times of natural disasters like hurricanes when needing to transport people to safety.” The migrants are boarding the buses voluntarily, she said.
Advocates say the migrants are fleeing violence, poverty and sometimes political persecution in their homelands, and that America’s tradition is to welcome newcomers.
Most apparently have applied for political asylum after crossing the border, asserting that they face persecution in their homelands, said Young, who recently met one of the buses at the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan. The Department of Homeland Security must determine if the migrants have a reasonable fear of being persecuted for them to be processed and released pending court hearings instead of detained and deported, Young said.
They are free to travel the country while their cases wind through the immigration system.
“These aren’t people who are unknown to the federal government,” Young said.
Some of the migrants are ending up in city government-run shelters, which New York City Mayor Eric Adams says are in danger of becoming overwhelmed.
Elise de Castillo, executive director of the Hempstead-based Central American Refugee Center, said the migrants arriving at the Port Authority terminal are “shellshocked. They find there is no one here waiting for them.”
Services for migrants
The busing is “heartbreaking. It’s difficult to see particularly vulnerable immigrants who are being used for political gain,” she added. “Migration is a natural phenomenon, and it’s everyone’s legal right to seek asylum.”
She and other advocates said many of the migrants were from Latin American nations, including a growing number from Venezuela, along with countries in the Caribbean and Africa.
CARECEN offers legal services to immigrants, including for political asylum cases, along with English classes and job readiness programs, de Castillo said. The group is ready to help any of the newcomers.
“We have the capacity to provide the services when they arrive,” she said. “It’s just a matter of when they arrive.”
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman gave mixed signals on what the county would do if any of the migrants arrived there. “Nassau County is not a sanctuary county,” he said in a statement, referring to localities that generally discourage local law enforcement from reporting the immigration status of individuals.
But he also said the county “evaluates the needs of any individual who may need emergency assistance on a case-by-case basis.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone did not respond to a request for comment.
Mosque sending money
One mosque in Nassau County is already helping some of the migrants arriving in New York City, and is preparing to assist others if they arrive on Long Island.
The busing “is something that is totally against the American values … of welcoming the stranger,” said Dr. Isma Chaudhry, co-chair of the board of trustees at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. “This is not what America is about, where you basically ship people from one state to the other.”
Her mosque is sending money, food, clothing and other items to New York City to help the new arrivals. The items are being funneled through ICNA Relief, a Muslim assistance group with offices in New York City and on Long Island.
Chaudhry said her mosque and Upholding Humanity, a local interfaith group it belongs to and which includes synagogues and churches, were ready to directly assist the migrants if they came to Long Island.
“If there is a need, it is our responsibility to step up,” she said.
Wolter says his church, too, is prepared to help. It can offer food, clothing, a mobile shower unit and — soon — free barber services.
The busing is “like playing chess with living human beings,” he said. “I can’t imagine how we could not help.”