BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s possible that asylum seekers arriving in the United States could be housed at either Buffalo State University or the University at Buffalo (UB).
During a conference Wednesday morning, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz elaborated on this, speaking on the logistics and working to dispel thoughts of fear shared by those who think the idea of welcoming migrants could be dangerous.
Poloncarz’s conversation with New York State’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray revealed more about where these individuals could possibly live after recent state talk of utilizing SUNY campuses as a way to help house the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have already arrived in New York City, and those expected to arrive later.
Between the potential options of UB and Buffalo State, Poloncarz thinks Buff State would be a better option, given that the asylum seekers would not have to move out once the school year begins. That wouldn’t be the case at UB, where dorm space is more limited, Poloncarz said.
Students and asylum seekers would not live in the same dorm buildings and no final decision on local housing has been determined.
The County Executive has been firm in his stance supporting those seeking asylum, despite numerous other counties across New York — including some in Western New York — declaring a State of Emergency in response to the end of Title 42.
“There may be a crisis in New York City, but there is no crisis in our community right now,” Poloncarz said, going on to praise the county’s partnership with local resettlement agencies.
Title 42 was a pandemic-era health policy. Although its full definition is broad, it has become known for blocking a number of migrants from entering the United States with the purpose of protecting public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Hill.
“12,000 [asylum seekers and refugees] have been moved through our community and either become members of our community or move onward just in the last decade alone,” Poloncarz said.
Giving his own Polish and Croatian ethnic background as an example, the topic of immigration was put into perspective by Poloncarz, who stated that many Americans’ ancestors came to the United States from another country seeking a better life at some point in their family’s history.
“I just read a story about a pharmacy assistant who was making no more than $100 a month in Venezuela, who was facing the possibility of Venezuelan gangs holding her, basically, hostage for half of her income, and she made the trek with her 5 and 6-year-old from Venezuela to the southern border of the United States to give those children an opportunity to lead a better life so they wouldn’t be faced with gangs and no future going forward,” Poloncarz said.
For those concerned that asylum seekers would be a catalyst for increased crime, Poloncarz spoke out against those ideas, saying anyone resettled in Erie County would be vetted by federal authorities beforehand. This includes fingerprinting and criminal background checks that review the individual’s home country, as well as any they had passed through before arriving in the United States.
“There’s a lot of unfortunate information out there saying ‘Oh, these are all criminals coming here to rape our children and steal our jobs,'” Poloncarz said.
He says anyone with a criminal history would be turned away and not allowed to travel to New York City after reaching the southern border of the U.S.
“Any individual who would be moved here has turned themselves in at the border to federal authorities requesting asylum,” Poloncarz said.
Accepting refugees is not a foreign concept for Erie County. The County Executive even noted that it’s not unusual for “a couple hundred” refugee or asylum seekers to be in the community at any given time.
“It’s not a crisis,” Poloncarz said. “COVID was a crisis. The mass shooting was a crisis. The blizzard was a crisis.”
It’s not clear how many asylum seekers would be able to resettle into Erie County, and Poloncarz says he was advised by Bray that none would be arriving here for at least a week from Wednesday.
“It’s possible we could have arrivals within two weeks, but not in the next week,” he said.
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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.