NYC sues dozens of New York State counties, towns and officials over refusal to house migrants

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — New York City is suing 30 New York counties, municipalities and elected leaders for using executive orders to block the city from housing migrants within their jurisdictions — a legal maneuver the city’s lawyers say violates several laws.

The city’s lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, stems from Mayor Eric Adams’ attempts to house the thousands of migrants who’ve streamed into the city since last spring. With homeless shelters, hotels and emergency relief centers brimming, Adams has turned to several alternatives — one of which has been directing migrants to hotels north of the city in an effort to abide by the city’s right to shelter law.

Adams announced last month that his administration would send migrants to hotels in Rockland and Orange counties — the first counties to issue executive orders attempting to block the move.

Several other counties and municipalities have followed suit with similar orders since then.

In announcing the lawsuit, Adams described the executive orders as “xenophobic bigotry.” The city’s Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix called them “misguided and unlawful.”

“Over the past weeks, we have found ourselves consumed in litigation from some of these counties. Over 30 New York counties are trying to block our response to this statewide emergency by closing their borders through issuing executive orders,” Hinds-Radix said during a press briefing Wednesday. “These counties have implemented misguided and unlawful executive orders premised on false claims that the prospect of a few hundred asylum seekers sheltered at the city’s expense across multiple counties constitutes an emergency and imperils the public safety.”

Hinds-Radix accused the counties of burdening the city’s “lawful” efforts to address the ongoing crisis and said the executive orders run afoul of state social services law, state human rights law, federal immigration law and the U.S. Constitution.

“We believe the city has acted lawfully and that these localities cannot legally wall off their borders during this statewide crisis,” she said.

The city’s lawsuit asks the court to declare the executive orders from the counties “null and void” and contends that they are “an abuse of discretion.”

Among the counties named as defendants are Duchess, Onondaga, Broome, Suffolk, Niagara and Putnam, as well as several others and their county executives.

During Wednesday’s City Hall press briefing, Hinds-Radix alluded more than once to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive order declaring the migrant crisis a statewide emergency, but she declined to definitively say whether Hochul’s administration would sign on to back the city in its lawsuit. Reps for Hochul did not immediately respond when posed with the same question.

Since last spring, the city estimates that more than 72,000 asylum seekers have come to the city and projects the cost of caring for them will surpass $4 billion within a year’s time. Adams has implemented a number of measures to address the crisis, including using public school gymnasiums as shelter and narrowing the city’s right to shelter law, which requires the city to provide shelter to anyone who asks for it within a proscribed timeframe.

The city’s lawsuit on Wednesday comes just weeks after it submitted a separate legal filing calling on the state courts to provide clarity on the right to shelter law. Citing the current migrant crisis, the city requested in that filing that the state Supreme Court suspend the law when the city “lacks the resources and capacity to maintain sufficient shelter sites, staffing and security.”

Hinds-Radix said Wednesday that the Callahan consent decree, which essentially enshrined the right to shelter into law, isn’t what’s guiding the city’s need to place migrants in hotels outside the city.

“The city’s need to do this is based on the fact that we are impacted by everybody sending people here,” she said, in an apparent reference to leaders like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who began bussing migrants to the Big Apple months ago. “We filed litigation in Callahan. That is different from what we have done today.”

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless, which both criticized Adams’ efforts to narrow the right to shelter law, sided with the city Wednesday in its lawsuit against the counties and called on Hochul to apply her influence on the matter.

“Every single human being in the United States has a right to travel within the country, including to the 30 counties that have so far refused to welcome asylum seekers from the southern border. Upstate elected officials must cease with the xenophobic and racist rhetoric, and frivolous legal strategies to thwart efforts to relocate new arrivals outside of New York City, and instead exhibit some semblance of leadership to assist with this humanitarian crisis,” the group’s said in a joint statement.

“Governor Kathy Hochul must also employ her executive powers and authority, along with galvanizing the state’s resources, to ensure that this comes to fruition.”