AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — A significant lack of planning, rising costs and a lack of supervision — all of those concerns on the ongoing migrant situation came to light, in a hearing on the issue Thursday.
Erie County lawmakers got an update on the handling of hundreds of migrants to Erie County
and there was a notable absence from the hearing.
Updates were given on the status of children from migrant families who are attending local schools, also some of the costs associated with the migrant situation. But DocGo, the company that’s in charge of the caring for migrant families, did not attend.
“This has become a crisis in our county that’s my personal opinion, I think some of my colleagues share the same issues,” said Republican Legislator John Mills.
Some Democrats counter that their colleagues across the aisle an enflaming the situation.
“These are things that have been happening since the beginning of time since America’s been found and now we want to politicize this moment,” said Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson, a Democrat.
Erie County lawmakers are pressing local officials on the frontlines of the migrant situation. Jericho Road which has been helping asylum seekers, spoke about some of the issues they faced when more than 500 migrants arrived in Western New York over the summer.
“There was a lot of confusion at the beginning over who was providing services, what services were being provided and to be honest exactly what Doc Go responsibility was to provide,” said Anna Mongo, chief program officer of Jericho Road. “It is much, much better one of the biggest differences is there initially, there was almost no level of supervision from the DocGo team on site here in Buffalo so most of the supervision that was happening was happening from New York City.”
Mongo says improvement has been made, with on-site supervision at two Cheektowaga hotels and one in Amherst.
On Wednesday, the Biden Administration declared that people from Venezuela who have been in the U.S. since July 31 are now eligible for expedited work permits.
“That applies to almost half of the people who have arrived in Erie County and it means expedited work permits it means they are mobilizing additional staff to come to New York State and help process work permits,” said Jennifer Connor, the executive director of Justice for Migrant Families.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says migrant kids attending school have been vaccinated or they’re on an accelerated path to being vaccinated.
Erie County’s Commissioner of Social Services Marie Cannon says local migrants still can’t receive services such as daycare and Medicaid, because of their legal status.
But, other costs related to housing asylum seekers are rising.
One example — two migrant inmates facing criminal charges — have cost the sheriff’s office more than $50,000. But that figure is expected to balloon because their immigration hearings are scheduled two, possibly three years from now.
“It’s a direct cost and strain to our services for the residents of Erie County I don’t care if it’s a dollar it still counts $50,000 and the meter still runs that’s a concern to me,” said Republican Legislator Frank Todaro.
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia says he hopes to be reimbursed for these costs.
Legislator Todaro says some schools educating migrant children are using Google Translate, because of a lack of ESL teachers. Lawmakers look to continue this conversation next week on Thursday with the district attorney, Cheektowaga Police, schools and DocGo.
The New York State Attorney General is investigating services offered by DocGo.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.