By Katie McFadden
The federal government has given the green light to house as many as 2,500 single adult migrants at Floyd Bennett Field across the Marine Parkway Bridge. While an agreement has not yet been signed by the state, and talks between city, state and federal representatives are still ongoing, the possibility has been met with immediate pushback from the communities surrounding Floyd Bennett Field.
During a press conference on Monday morning, Governor Kathy Hochul was given a note saying she got the answer she was hoping for after sending a letter to the Biden administration in May, requesting permission to use Floyd Bennett Field as a place to house thousands of immigrants in response to the ongoing migrant crisis inundating the country and New York. After months of pushback from the federal government and late-night discussions on Sunday, on Monday, Hochul announced that they received the go ahead from the federal government and a tentative lease allowing up to 2,500 migrants to be housed at the decommissioned airport and national park. The state would pay for the operation.
“After months of negotiations, the Biden Administration has provided us with a tentative contract that would allow New York to utilize Floyd Bennett Field as a shelter for asylum seekers,” Hochul said in a statement. “Once the final agreement is signed, we will work with Mayor Adams and his team to set up a Humanitarian Emergency Relief and Response Center at Floyd Bennett Field with the capacity to shelter more than 2,000 asylum seekers. We are grateful to President Biden for his support of this initiative and committed to continuing our advocacy on behalf of the people of New York.
“Ultimately the path out of this crisis is granting work authorization immediately, so these individuals can move out of shelter and into independent living arrangements. This site will be critical in the interim for the City of New York to provide humanitarian aid, as we work collectively to get people on the path to asylum seeker status and legal work,” she continued.
Mayor Eric Adams, who has been in Israel this week, released a statement welcoming the news. “For months, Governor Hochul and I have been urging the federal government to allow us to use Floyd Bennett Field to help house some of the more than 100,000 asylum seekers who have sought our care here in New York City, and I’m grateful that we have a tentative agreement to move forward on this site. I thank Governor Hochul for her commitment to pay for this site, and I’m looking forward to more of this kind of partnership with our friends in Albany as we manage this ongoing crisis. But let’s be clear: because we haven’t seen meaningful policy changes that would alter the course of this crisis, we’ve been forced to play an unsustainable game of ‘whack-a-mole’, opening new site after new site as asylum seekers continue to arrive by the thousands. We will continue to advocate for expedited work authorization for asylum seekers, a federal declaration of emergency, and a national and state decompression strategy, and we’re committed to making today’s announcement the beginning of a new era of enhanced partnership between our local, state, and federal governments.”
However, locally, the news was not welcomed by many. Some of Rockaway and Brooklyn’s elected officials expressed their displeasure with the news, while community members got to work, organizing rallies and protests in response, naming several reasons why Floyd Bennett Field would not be an appropriate solution for this crisis. Among them is it being a remote flood zone where water, electricity and services are not readily available for the potential occupants that will need them.
District 32 Councilwoman Joann Ariola said, “I am outraged, but not surprised at the news that the state has inked a deal with the federal government to house more than 2,000 migrants at Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn. After all, Governor Hochul has been imploring President Biden to allow her administration to have access to this site for months.
“Willfully committing taxpayer dollars to house illegal migrants in a national park is not just a reckless misuse of taxpayer money, it is an egregious breach of trust by the people who have been charged with protecting these historic sites, and the safety and well-being of U.S. citizens. Would the governors of Wyoming or Montana ever consider establishing a migrant center in Yellowstone? Would the governor of Arizona ask for one to be built in the Grand Canyon? The answer, of course, is ‘NO.’ This sets an awful precedent – once one national park becomes eligible for conversion into a migrant shelter, then they all do.”
The news, which provided little detail as to how it would be carried out, also left Ariola with many questions. “I have many unanswered questions about this plan – including how long this site will be used as a shelter, what the process will be to eventually remove the migrants and what happens to asylum seekers if they are not granted asylum. But like most New Yorkers, my most important question is: When will this end? When will the President secure our borders? When will the federal government finally take fiscal responsibility for this crisis and stop burdening our communities?”
Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato said, “I am disappointed. I have received confirmation from the Governor’s Office that the Federal Government with the State and the City are disregarding the concerns of our community and plan to erect a migrant shelter for 2,000 men at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn on the de-commissioned air strips. It is disgraceful for this to be done in a secluded and flood prone area without adequate support. This is a national crisis, and the neighborhoods of South Brooklyn and the Rockaway peninsula cannot bear the responsibility when we already struggle with ensuring our fair share of resources.”
In response to the news, the communities that surround Floyd Bennett Field quickly got to work to call for action. Elected officials and civic leaders quickly organized a rally at the old Toys ‘R’ Us location on Flatbush Avenue, between Brooklyn and Rockaway, set for Thursday, August 24 at 5 p.m.
77WABC Radio hosts Curtis Sliwa and Sid Rosenberg, a local resident, also organized a rally on the evening of Tuesday, August 22, which brought out large crowds of residents from the Rockaway peninsula and Brooklyn to Floyd Bennett Field to protest the potential migrant shelter. They will hold another at FBF on Saturday at 1 p.m.
As negotiations are still underway, it is not known when the shelter operation may begin. In addition to rallies, Sliwa, local leaders and others are looking into the legality of housing people in a national park and may use the courts to stop the potential shelter.
As this story is developing, The Rockaway Times will have more information in future issues.