BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is doubling down on his support for asylum seekers.
This comes after Poloncarz said he would not be issuing a State of Emergency in response to the end of pandemic-era policy Title 42, despite many other counties across New York State, including some in Western New York, choosing to do so.
Poloncarz released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying those seeking asylum from oppressive countries “are all legally in the country seeking asylum” and “have been vetted by federal authorities.” He said the number of asylum seekers coming to the area were not yet known.
“While we do not yet know where they will be housed, I have been assured the costs associated with their housing, food, and other supportive services will be paid for by either New York State or New York City,” Poloncarz said.
In his statement, Poloncarz pointed to resettlement agencies in the area that work with the Erie County Department of Social Services, saying they are “ideally positioned to provide additional support, if needed.”
“[The resettlement agencies] have recently started a joint venture known as The Refugee Partnership, which is made up of Vive la Casa/Jericho Road Community Health Center, Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services, Journey’s End Refugee Services, and the International Institute of Buffalo,” Poloncarz said.
Dao Kamara knows all too well what it’s like to start over in a new country.
“For you to leave your home and fled into a different country, and then a different country. Trust me, it becomes a cycle for you and there’s no hope when you go to another country, you don’t know what is there,” Kamara said.
Kamara is a refugee from Liberia.
“Coming to the United States was an opportunity for us,” he told News 4. “We were able to get jobs, we were able to go to school, support our family, but something was still missing.”
Kamara wanted to plant roots in his new community, while also staying grounded to his culture. That’s when he joined the Providence Farm Collective, a non-profit that helps refugees and migrants grow and produce their own crops.
“Being refugees and immigrants, we never thought we would ever have land to farm in in America,” he said. “Through Providence Farm Collective, we have the opportunity through 37 acres of farm land that bring our community together and give us a sense of community and a sense of home.”
“Our programs include our incubator farm program, which supports those who want to start a farm business, with the education, land and resources they need to launch that small business,” said Bari Zeiger, who’s the director of finance at Providence Farm Collective. “We also have community programs for community members who want to come together to practice their culture.”
Providence Farm Collective is located in Orchard Park and has helped close to 300 migrants and refugees cultivate their new life in WNY.
According to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, soon, an unknown number of asylum seekers from New York City, will make the journey to Erie county, hoping to do the same.
Ending his statement with part of Emma Lazarus’ “The New Colussus” poem, Poloncarz said “Erie County has always been a welcoming community.” Read his full statement below:
“I have been advised by representatives of New York State that we will soon be joined by an as-yet unknown number of asylum-seekers, people who have been forced out of their own countries by authoritarian rulers or for other serious life-threatening reasons. These individuals are all legally in the country seeking asylum, have been vetted by federal authorities prior to arriving here and will be coming from New York City. While we do not yet know where they will be housed, I have been assured the costs associated with their housing, food, and other supportive services will be paid for by either New York State or New York City. The asylum seekers coming here are enduring the most difficult situation of their lives, something we should all consider, and are deserving of our respect, compassion and dignity as they work to start a new life in our country.
For more than a decade, the Department of Social Services (“ECDSS”) has worked with the five area resettlement agencies to identify the best ways to house and accommodate asylum-seekers and refugees in our county. They have recently started a joint venture known as The Refugee Partnership, which is made up of Vive la Casa/Jericho Road Community Health Center, Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services, Journey’s End Refugee Services, and the International Institute of Buffalo. ECDSS has fostered strong and productive relationships with each of these organizations over the years and, working together, the new Refugee Partnership project is ideally positioned to provide additional support, if needed.
It should be noted, over the past decade and more, approximately 12,000 refugees have moved into and through our area as part of the good work that the Refugee Partnership does, all without fanfare and without the ridiculous fears stoked by xenophobic and ill-informed community members. Some stay here and some move on but all of these people come here seeking to build their own American dream, provide for themselves and their families, and become productive members of our society.
In fact, due to the exemplary work of the Refugee Partnership, currently there are hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers in Erie County from countries as diverse as Afghanistan, Congo, Ecuador, Somalia, Ukraine, Venezuela and more. These people are not a threat to our community and are only looking for the opportunity to pursue their dream of living in a free, democratic society. Our country is a light to the world and they have followed that light here to Erie County and beyond.
Erie County has always been a welcoming community and will continue to be one for these asylum- seekers and others as they come here on their journey to a better life. Unless we are Native Americans, our relatives all came to America from somewhere else, hoping to take part in the promise of America. That promise is alive and well in Erie County today.
Finally, as we reflect on how our community is a stronger one because of its cultural diversity, let us never forget the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem ‘The New Colossus,’ etched on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz
A report from Nexstar affiliate The Hill describes Title 42 as a “pandemic-era policy [that] allowed border officials to quickly expel migrants they encountered, blocking them from seeking asylum.”
The same report says “migrant crossings dropped suddenly with the policy’s sunset,” despite some federal lawmakers carrying the belief that they would dramatically increase.
Title 42, in a broader perspective, relates to more than this, but it has become known for blocking migrants with the purpose of protecting public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Hill.
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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.