Before Ellis Island opened as the city’s main entry point in 1892, many immigrants arriving in New York could expect to stop at Wards Island before heading to their new country. The island was represented hospital and barracks for immigrants struggling to find work or earn enough for housing.
More than 130 years later, the same land mass at the confluence of the East and Harlem rivers will once again host newly arrived immigrants, this time as part of the city’s strategy to provide temporary beds for a number of asylum seekers. making his way to New York after the first crossing southern border.
Mayor Eric Adams announced Monday that the city will move a number of refugee camping tents from the Orchard Beach parking lot to Randall’s Island, which has been connected to Wards Island since the 1960s, in response to flooding and isolation concerns.
Adams’ new plan also cuts the camp’s capacity in half, from 1,000 beds to 500.
“This new location is less prone to flooding, closer to public transportation and will provide temporary respite for 500 asylum seekers,” Adams said in a statement Monday, adding that the opening schedule remains the same. City officials said the camp could open as early as this week.
The dramatic change of venues came two days after the South Bronx Mutual Aid group Posted a video on Twitter showing an area of Orchard Beach covered in half an inch of water after a single rainstorm. Opponents of the project in the past highlighted the risk of flooding in the area The city and state first reported the site’s local nickname, Lake Orchard.
Adams said officials with the city’s Office of Emergency Management still believe they can mitigate any potential flooding, but have determined that “relocating the Orchard Beach Humanitarian Assistance Center to Randall’s Island is the most efficient and effective way.”
In recent months, New York City has so far provided services to 16,000 asylum seekers, he added. many of whom entered Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelter system. Some were moved to New York City as a political ploy by Republican governors, while many others received help from nonprofit and church groups. The number of people in DHS shelters topped 60,000 and continues to rise, dropping to about 46,500 at the start of the year, according to data tracked daily by City Limits.
City Hall last month shared two photos large tents lined with cots to show the kind of accommodation newly arrived immigrants might get. That arrangement faced criticism for potentially violating rules related to New York mandate of the unique right of asylumwhich ensures that every person who asks for a temporary bed can get one.
Adams insisted that the stay at the camp would be voluntary and only for single adults. DHS officials City Limits later said that people could choose to enter their agency’s shelter system instead of tents. The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless, two court-appointed monitors of the DHS shelter system and asylum provisions, did not challenge the camp plan, although members of the City Council’s immigration committee criticized the proposal at a hearing Friday. especially after Politico revealed that the contractor used to build the tents that previously worked on President Trump’s border wall.
“We must do everything we can to ensure decent conditions for asylum seekers that meet minimum standards,” said council member Shahana Hanif, chair of the immigration committee. “The right to asylum is a right that applies to everyone in New York.”
On Monday night, state senator Jessica Ramos slammed plans to set up tents on Randall’s Island because the island is served by one bus route, the M35. He also offered an alternative. renting space in empty office buildings.
“On Randall’s Island, they will be completely isolated and away from communities that can help them,” Ramos said. “This remains unacceptable. So much free commercial office space. Review it for asylum seekers and our homeless families.”
The tent plan marks only one part of the Adams administration’s approach to adding new shelter beds.
Shelter population growth, at: At the same time, the number of people moving from shelters to permanent homes has decreasedforced the city to rent 38 hotels for homeless families and individuals; consider renting free summer camps and negotiate with cruise ship companies for spare boats. DHS also opened a new reception shelter at a hotel near Penn Station on Friday. first reported by City Limits, with temporary space for about 300 households.
The choice of Randall’s Island for asylum seeker tents recalls the island’s historical role, along with adjacent Wards Island, as a drop-off point for New York’s most marginalized groups.
Randall’s Island was used as a quarantine site for people with smallpox, a series of asylums for people with mental illness and substance use disorders, and a prison with harsh conditions for so-called juvenile delinquents;usually poor Irish children living in overcrowded apartments. Wards Island has a similar history. In addition to one of New York’s pre-Ellis Island immigration stations, the island hosted a cemetery for New Yorkers who could not afford one, another mental health treatment center that still operates, and collection homeless shelters served by a single bus route.
Today, Randall’s and Ward’s Islands are also home to vibrant parks filled with soccer fields, as well as Icahn Stadium, a premier stadium.
But like Orchard Beach, the area is at risk of flooding. Maps produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). show sections of two islands is within the floodplain of the city.
“Does anyone else remember the year the Governor’s Ball was held on Randall’s Island when the rain completely flooded the island for days and devastated the grounds?” State Senator Julia Salazar said on Twitter Monday night after the mayor’s announcement. “Anyway, this looks like a disaster. Please abandon the idea of a refugee camp and put people in real housing instead.”