CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Following a meeting of the Cheektowaga Town Board Tuesday night, it appears there are still more questions than answers about the fate of the 573 asylum seekers being housed in the town.
Supervisor Diane Benczkowski opened the board meeting by announcing that Erie County officials told her asylum seekers would be leaving the Dingens Street hotel where they were sheltered and going to a hotel in Amherst. However, Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa refuted that statement in a phone interview with News 4, saying he has also spoken with the county, and that is not happening.
“We were told by [County Executive] Mark Poloncarz’s office that the Dingens facility is going to be closed down,” Benczkowski said. “Those residents there will be transferred. I was told they will be transferred to another hotel in Amherst which would be part of the Sweet Home school district.”
Sweet Home CSD Superintendent Michael Ginestre has responded to this possibility.
“What I can say is that any school-age child that resides in Sweet Home is a Panther, and is absolutely welcome in our district,” Ginestre said. “All students at Sweet Home have access to our full array of resources and our incredible faculty and staff.”
A spokesperson for Poloncarz confirmed the Dingens Street hotel will cease housing asylum seekers, but they do not know where the migrants will be moved.
Supervisor Benczkowski, a Democrat, says three Cheektowaga hotels may be in violation of town code because the occupants have resided there for 60 days.
The town board unanimously passed a resolution to retain additional counsel to investigate whether there are violations and potentially file for a temporary restraining order to stop more asylum seekers from coming to the town. Erie County has already paused accepting asylum seekers into the community.
“I don’t have a problem of taking a stand on what is right for my residents,” Benczkowski said. “It doesn’t matter what party you belong to, you have to be bipartisan.”
This comes as the Maryvale School District is preparing to enroll more than 60 asylum-seeking children of school age when the school year begins. Benczkowski said the district is expecting three classrooms worth of students, plus extra teachers due to language barriers. She has asked New York State representatives for help offsetting costs for resources such as English as a second language (ESL) teachers.
“I had reached out to both Assemblymember Monica Wallace’s office and also Senator Tim Kennedy’s office, and they had told me they’re aware of the situation and will be looking to the New York State education department about extra funding and help for the Maryvale school superintendent,” Benczkowski said.
Tuesday’s town board meeting was full, with many residents in attendance voicing thoughts and concerns — including some residents who called out New York City Mayor Eric Adams for his involvement in the migrant issue, as well as others who are concerned about the start of school and who will pick up the additional costs of educating the 67 migrant children.
“I do know that Superintendent D’Angelo had to submit his budget July 1,” said Cheektowaga resident Debbie Kohler, referring to Maryvale schools superintendent Joseph R. D’Angelo. “We already have two [ESL] teachers. They are now going to have to hire a third one.”
Cheektowaga resident Stan Clybur stressed compassion for the asylum seekers, who are already facing a lengthy, often uphill, legal process to begin a path to U.S. residency.
“I’ve been to their country. I know what they’re going through,” Clybur said. “That’s why I have so much compassion, because I’ve been there.”
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.