City and State leaders at the forefront of addressing issues related to the migrants sheltered at Floyd Bennett Field toured the facilities with shelter officials on February 1st to further assess the situation and seek solutions amid community concerns.
After receiving several complaints about migrant panhandling, trespassing and lawlessness at the 63rd Precinct Community Council meeting on January 3rd (see “Migrant Problems Take Center Stage at 63rd Precinct Community Council Meeting,” Canarsie Courier, January 11, 2024), Councilwoman Mercedes Narcisse followed up with her vow “to meet with officials at Floyd Bennett Field to arrange a meeting with the migrants to communicate directly with them, emphasizing the inappropriateness of their actions, and to explore possible measures to avoid similar incidents in the future.”
She was joined by Assemblywoman Jaime Williams and Councilwoman Joann Ariola who had additional concerns about the migrant encampment, formally known as a Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center (HERRC). Large amounts of clothing and trash littering the once pristine national park’s land and waters, the economic impact associated with a continually unsustainable crisis, security staffing and access issues, lack of transparency and growing crime added to the list of complaints.
On the day of the visit, the grounds outside the tents appeared to have been cleaned and a huge dumpster filled with trash bags was being removed from the premises. To prevent future dumping, NYC Health & Hospitals posted a sign on the fence to inform visitors not to drop off donations at the gate without arranging coordination beforehand.
“I feel that there is more than meets the eye,” Williams said. “It’s always good to do a walkthrough, but it’s not like a day where we just show up.” Narcisse voiced similar sentiments, vowing to drop by more often for impromptu visits.
Prior to the visit, Narcisse shared community concerns with HERRC management and had their social workers communicate with the migrant population to desist from the undesirable behaviors.
After the tour, the visitors had similar observations about the general welfare of the migrants, either confirming or dispelling some rumors, and adding additional concerns that they shared exclusively with the Canarsie Courier.
“There are a lot of families in there with children who should have been in school,” Williams said. Ariola estimated over 100 school-age children, but Narcisse insisted it wasn’t nearly that many according to her calculations.
There are a total of about 900 children residing there, of which 90% are school age and enrolled in school. Illnesses such as stomachaches, earaches or pending paperwork and IDs for new arrivals were listed as some of the reasons for missing school while others said that it was too early to get on the bus.
Ariola learned that community concerns would be difficult to address by police because panhandling is not illegal and once the migrants swipe out of the facility with their IDs, there is no tracking system that tells where they are going or what they’re doing.
She said she was going to follow up with the Mayor’s office about the implementation of a mandated curfew at the site and is also following up on a number of scooters she observed parked in a corner of the encampment near the entrance that she felt posed a threat to safety for the guards, workers and migrants.
Ariola’s constituent liaison Alex Leguisamo provided Spanish translation for the mainly South American population, a majority of which were from Venezuela, and said that many of them he spoke to were not aware of the panhandling situation outside. They complained mostly about the food and getting sick, but they were able to confirm that they had adequate heat contrary to reports that it was cold.
In addition, the Canarsie Courier was told that vaccinations are offered to all school-age children and everyone there gets a physical and a TB test upon arrival.
“One of the things I was a little shocked about is that they have a phone line set up for international calls and they can make unlimited international calls,” Williams said, stating that it was a catch-22 because the calls are needed to reunite families but are an additional expense placed on taxpayers.
Williams felt that it was a federal issue and our state was overreaching to put in policies to protect these individuals where the federal government should be doing their part.
“I can’t say how much our borders need to be closed as that’s the only way we can sustain what we have,” she said. “Let’s try to deal with these people that we have here.”
Narcisse inquired about migrant services to ensure that they were receiving enough diapers, menstrual products and other necessities. It appeared that procedures were in place to ensure that sanitation, laundry services and paperwork were being processed in a timely manner. She said that most of the migrants understood the process to reapply for shelter after the 60-day limit and the majority want to return.
Although conditions were far from ideal, it was better than the alternative. “I’d rather have people in this situation instead of being on the streets of NYC or at our airports or under a bridge,” Narcisse said.
Following the visit, Narcisse sent a letter to President Biden and Governor Hochul, which she posted on social media, stating that Floyd Bennett Field was not an acceptable site to house migrants and demanding immediate action to provide a sustainable solution to this crisis.
Narcisse offered a bulleted list of suggested solutions at the Federal, State and City levels. One suggestion was to transition out of the 18 existing HERRCS, create one central intake center and shift to a nonprofit shelter model.
Williams, who has a lawsuit pending from an injunction filed on September 19th with elected officials, civic leaders and others in opposition to the housing of migrants at Floyd Bennett Field, will receive a decision soon now that the case has been heard in court.
“We won’t stop until this place is shut down. If it’s not, shame on government,” Williams said.