Housing migrants in closed upstate prisons ‘a terrible idea,’ says lawmaker

Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 5:20 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - New York City officials are again asking the state to use closed upstate prisons to house asylum seekers.

“My initial reaction is that this is a terrible idea,” said state Assemblyman Scott Gray (R. - 116th District).

Gray did not mince words when asked about the idea of using the closed prisons outside of Watertown and Ogdensburg to house asylum seekers in the north country.

“We’re carting these people around like they are a commodity. If you look over my shoulder, you will see fencing, razor wire, towers, a facility that’s institutionalized. Is that anything that we should be housing migrants in? No,” he said.

Along with questioning the humanity of housing people at the closed correctional facility, local lawmakers say the prisons do not have the infrastructure in place to be able to do so.

“There’s been no heat or electricity or water or sewer service to that facility in over 2 years now. It’s in complete disrepair. It’s been left to the elements, basically, and uninhabitable,” said Watertown Town Supervisor Joel Bartlett.

When asked if the town were to receive financial assistance to fix the facility for the purpose of housing the migrants, Bartlet says the town simply is not interested.

“We have enough issues going on here now with the homeless, the needy. This will just exacerbate the plan, and it will never work here,” he said.

New York City is reporting more than 100,000 asylum seekers have arrived in the Empire State since the crisis began.

“New York state can’t afford this at this time. We have no plan once they get here. We have no housing for them. We don’t have capabilities in our schools to handle them, and this by any stretch of imagination is not humanitarian,” said Gray.

Right now there are no plans in place for any asylum seekers being relocated in Jefferson, Lewis, or St. Lawrence County.

Jefferson County District 7 Legislator John Peck says if they were, Jefferson County is in communication with state and federal officials to help put a plan in place to address any issues brought up from their arrival.