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Biden administration agrees to house asylum seekers in Brooklyn

A woman in a red blazer and white and blue striped blouse speaks behind a lectern.
Don Pollard
Gov. Hochul speaks in the Bronx Aug. 21, 2023.

Governor Kathy Hochul announced Monday that she has finally made some headway in getting the administration of President Joe Biden to help New York with its migrant crisis by agreeing to allow the state to use a former military site in Brooklyn to house up to 2,000 asylum-seekers.

The governor says the federal Department of the Interior has agreed to allow New York to open Floyd Bennett Field, a former U.S. Navy air station in Brooklyn, to house migrants who are single adults.

“This is a big step. Because the answer one month ago was no,” Hochul said. “I'm viewing this as a significant development by the administration in Washington to acknowledge that we need more help here.”

Hochul says the site has air conditioning, heating, and more bathrooms than some of the sites that are currently being used. And she says it will free up other sites, including in hotels, for families.

“It opens up the hotel rooms and other shelters, hotel rooms, where young men might be in there now,” said Hochul, who said families can then “back fill” those rooms.

“It’s starting to move people out of the system,” the governor said.

The announcement may ease the pressure on New York City to house migrants in hotels outside of the city, including in upstate regions. The governor, speaking on Spectrum’s NY1 a few days ago, indicated that she does not agree with Mayor Eric Adams’ policy, saying “putting someone in a hotel on a dark, lonely road in upstate New York and telling them they’re supposed to survive is not compassion.”

It took months for the federal government to agree to free up the site. The governor says she has been asking for help on a daily basis and was on the phone until 11 p.m. Sunday trying to finalize the details.

Hochul still has not received permission to waive a six-month waiting period before the asylum-seekers are permitted to apply for jobs.

The governor also announced that the state will pay $20 million to fund more caseworkers to help the migrants with paperwork so that they can at least be ready to seek employment after the waiting period is up.

“And then, the state has said we will find them jobs,” said Hochul, who said the state has already agreed to establish a resettlement program.

“Where we'll pick up the costs for one year and find them locations once they've achieved the status of applying,” she said.

Hochul says farms, restaurants and other businesses around the state face a worker shortage, and she believes the asylum-seekers would be a good fit.

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless issued a joint statement, saying that they are encouraged by the developments, though they say the “devil is in the details” and they’d like to know more about how the arrangement will work.

The groups say they hope that it’s “the beginning of the governor galvanizing the full weight and authority of the state” to address the migrant crisis emergency.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.