County, Wendel Named In Lawsuit Over Migrant Emergency Order

Mohamed, a 19-year-old fleeing political persecution in the northwest African country of Mauritania, poses for a photo that obscures his face to protect his identity, outside the Crossroads Hotel, before heading into town for a work opportunity, May 22, in Newburgh, N.Y., in Orange County. New York City sued nearly half the state’s counties Wednesday over their attempts to keep out international migrants, the latest escalation in an ongoing battle between city officials and local leaders. AP photo

New York City filed a lawsuit against nearly half of the state’s counties, including Chautauqua, over what it claims are attempts to “wall off their borders” for asylum seekers and migrants. The suit was filed Wednesday by the city and Molly Wasow Park, commissioner of the NYC department of social services, in state Supreme Court.

“They have tried by multiple methods to block New York City from arranging for even a small number of asylum seekers to stay in private hotels within their jurisdictions at the city’s expense amidst a major humanitarian crisis,” the suit claims.

Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel, a Republican, shot back at the claim that the emergency order is “xenophobic” as alleged in the suit.

“The county is aware of a recent lawsuit filed by the City of New York, and we will be unable to comment on pending litigation,” Wendel said in a statement. “Chautauqua County objects in the strongest possible way to the defamatory comments that the actions taken by the county are xenophobic bigotry.”

The State of Emergency Wendel issued last month prohibits municipalities from bringing and housing people in the county; prohibits hotels and motels from housing immigrants without a license; and requires any municipality that might bring migrating or asylum-seeking people into Chautauqua County to ensure they will be fully cared for and paid for. The local edict went into effect May 18 and was recently renewed.

Wendel claims the county lacks the services and funding required to assist additional individuals beyond families who already have migrated to the county.

“Chautauqua County has worked with local groups to accept all individuals into our communities; however, we raised concerns that our small rural county does not have the services or assistance available to provide additional assistance,” he said. “While we have called on the state and federal government to take immediate action the only response has been for NYC, a self-declared sanctuary city, to bus individuals to other counties-without notice. We simply ask that all interested parties meet at the table to discuss a way forward.”

The suit was filed a day after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring Rockland and Orange counties downstate from enforcing broad emergency orders that aimed to ban migrants from hotels. The injunction, the Associated Press reported, comes in a suit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of individual asylum seekers, and does not apply to the efforts to ban migrants across the state. It also does not impact an existing order by a state judge that temporarily prevents the city from housing migrants at specific hotels in Orange and Rockland County, the AP said.

In May, the Chautauqua County Legislature went on record supporting Wendel’s emergency declaration in response to New York City’s intentions to send migrants and asylum seekers to other counties in the state.

“Every day we read about more illegal immigrants being relocated to upstate counties,” said Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan. “The problem with this is if some of these folks are relocated to Chautauqua County, we’re just not adequately equipped to take care of 500 or perhaps 1,000 new immigrants.”

New York City’s lawsuit questions the motives of the states of emergency issued by the 30 counties and that public safety was being imperiled.

“They have further issued executive orders prohibiting ‘foreign’ municipalities and local hotels from providing temporary shelter for migrants or asylum seekers, and imposing civil and criminal penalties on them if they do so,” the suit states. “Several counties and a town have sought and obtained restraining orders against the city and any hotel willing to do business with the city. One county even forced a hotel to close, displacing ordinary hotel guests and posting county law enforcement to monitor the location 24 hours a day.”

New York City contends only a small number of individuals would be temporarily placed in hotels and would not pose a “cognizable harm to respondents or their communities,” the suit states.

The suit, which names Chautauqua County and Wendel among dozens of defendants, is seeking judgment declaring the emergency orders null and void.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today