Local lawmakers weigh in on possibly using SUNY campuses to house migrants

Published: May. 18, 2023 at 4:38 PM EDT
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CANTON, New York (WWNY) - As New York City struggles with the growing number of migrants coming to the city, the state has begun talking with the SUNY system and local communities about housing migrants at state-owned properties like SUNY campuses or closed psychiatric centers.

In an interview with Spectrum News NY1 Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul said, “We put out a call to all of our agencies. I had a meeting in our Emergency Operations Center with all of our cabinet members and had representatives from SUNY there, and I said, ‘Find all available state properties. Let’s analyze them. Let’s see whether they’re temporary short term, whether they can be longer term.’ Clearly, a SUNY campus lends itself to immediate help, but long term, we have to have it free by August. So, what happens in August? So these are the questions we’re asking right now. But we are looking at every possible property in the state of New York to help have a relief valve for the city of New York.”

So what does this mean for SUNY campuses in Canton and Potsdam? It’s unclear. Both colleges directed us to SUNY’s administration.

It said in a statement to 7 News, “At Governor Hochul’s direction, we are assessing whether there are SUNY resources available to help with the arrival of asylum seekers.”

We also asked the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision if closed state prisons like the ones in Watertown and Ogdensburg are being considered. It referred us to Hochul’s comments in which she said the state is looking at every possible property in the state.

On the local level, county and state legislators say they have not been contacted and they’re not prepared to house and care for any migrants at this time.

State Senator Daniel Stec says the state’s last-minute actions are uncalled for.

“Moving these people around like pieces on a chessboard and using them for political pawns because you’re trying to make some kind of political argument, that’s not a very humane way to treat people that are fleeing the current situation for something else and are now going to find themselves, you know, in another strange bed in a rural county they’ve never heard of in northern New York because the mayor of New York City who invited them to come doesn’t want them,” said Stec (R. - 45th District).

St. Lawrence County declared a state of emergency for this purpose last week.

County Legislator David Forsythe says the county has limited funding to handle this situation.

“They just keep coming up with these things. You know, taking away eFMAP funding and now to push the migrants potentially into our area. We’re one of the poorest counties. How are we going to support this? How are we going to, you know, who’s going to pay for it,” he said.

7 News has learned there’s no longer running water and sewer at the closed Watertown prison, meaning it’s likely not an option.

Jefferson County Administrator Robert Hagemann says he hasn’t had any calls with the state regarding housing any immigrants.

It’s unknown whether the state or counties would pay to support housing migrants and how long they would stay.