Seven Western New York counties have declared states of emergency aimed at blocking New York City from sending an overflow of migrants and asylum-seekers to area hotels.
Niagara County on Thursday issued an emergency order that prohibits hotel operators from contracting with government entities outside of the county to house or transport migrants or asylum-seekers without the approval of the county Legislature.
Chautauqua and Wyoming counties also issued similar orders on Thursday, followed by Allegany County on Friday.
Orleans, Genesee and Cattaraugus counties issued their orders on Wednesday.
Only Erie County has declined to take this step.
New York City is amid a housing crisis, with more than 60,000 migrants arriving within the past year, forcing city officials to look for housing options outside the city, including busing people to hotels in neighboring Rockland and Orange counties.
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Niagara County Legislature Majority Leader Randy Bradt said he wanted no part of it.
“New York City decided it would be a sanctuary city and welcome those who entered the country illegally and now that this ill-conceived policy has produced the predictable results, it appears state and city officials are looking to upstate counties to bail them out,” Bradt said in a statement Thursday. “We are not without compassion, but we simply lack the resources to do it.”
Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne M. Johnson said in an emergency declaration Wednesday that “this situation is a threat to public safety.”
But she said the declaration was not due to concerns about asylum-seekers possibly coming upstate.
"We did it because we have no housing availability," said Johnson. "Our homeless population has increased over 150% since Covid."
Genesee County Manager Matt Landers said the county isn’t shutting out migrants entirely. Officials don’t want a crush of people to arrive unexpectedly, as has happened in some other counties, he said.
"So, this was kind of a more preemptive role that instead of waiting until potentially a busload shows up that we cannot adequately support in our community to take this step so that we can hopefully prevent that from happening," Landers said. "I want to emphasize that we are not saying the doors are shut. The state of emergency just states that local businesses, hoteliers, vendors, they need to basically get a permit or permission from the county manager before contracting with outside municipalities for housing immigrants and asylum-seekers.”
A spokesman for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said the Erie County Attorney’s Office was monitoring ongoing litigation over executive orders in several counties.
Erie County’s emergency housing options are “at or above capacity” and the county would not be able to shelter large numbers of homeless immigrants, spokesman Peter Anderson said.
But he added, “at this time we are unaware of even a single asylum-seeker arriving here in Erie County from New York City, and there is no ‘emergency’ to respond to.”
The issue cuts along political lines.
Poloncarz and the leadership of the Erie County Legislature are, like Hochul, Democrats. The local counties that have issued emergency orders are run by Republicans.
Civil and criminal penalties apply for violating the emergency order, including a $2,000 per immigrant per day fine for any hotel owner who enters a contract with New York City or New York State, said Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti.
“We are not interested in turning hotel owners into criminals, but the emergency order is clear and we will enforce it,” said Filicetti.
Immigration attorney Matthew Kolken warned about the potential for counties to overreach with their emergency declarations.
"We saw it during the pandemic and, oftentimes, there can be executive overreach when there is a constitutional right that is being infringed upon, and the question becomes whether or not the counties are potentially inhibiting the owners of the hotels from exercising their constitutional rights to be able to enter into contracts either with the state or federal government," said Kolken. "My assumption would be that those hotels, if they have contracts that they are being precluded from entering into as a result of an executive order or state of emergency that they would retain counsel to seek legal recourse.”
Kolken noted that courts had decided previous actions taken by the executive branch during the Covid-19 pandemic were unconstitutional.
"It took a long time to get there, but I always err on the side of caution or, at least, the government should be erring on the side of caution when they tell private citizens what they can and cannot do from a contractual standpoint," Kolken said.
Such actions, he said, are tantamount to the state taking over a business without due process.
News Staff Reporter Stephen T. Watson contributed to this report.