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County and state officials oppose use of SUNY facilities to house migrants

Alexis Manore
Staff writer
email / twitter
Posted 5/20/23

Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon and State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo gathered on Friday, May 19 to speak out against New York State’s plans to send migrants to upstate state-owned facilities. 

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County and state officials oppose use of SUNY facilities to house migrants


UTICA —  Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr., Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon, D-119, Marcy and State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-53, Rome, gathered on Friday, May 19 to speak out against New York State’s plans to send migrants to upstate state-owned facilities. 

Last week, Title 42, a federal policy that allowed the government to turn away asylum seekers from the U.S.-Mexico border to curb the spread of COVID-19, expired. This left the federal and state governments scrambling to handle the sudden influx of migrants trying to seek asylum in the U.S. 

New York City is a sanctuary city, meaning that it protects undocumented immigrants from deportation or prosecution, and is facing an increase in the number of migrants who have come to the city. In order to deal with this, Gov. Kathy Hochul has issued a state disaster emergency and revealed plans to bus migrants from New York City to upstate counties. 

The order received backlash from the counties, and Oneida County became one of the first to issue an emergency order making it illegal for hotels, shelters, businesses or dwellings to house asylum seekers who may be bussed to the county. 

Hochul has said that she’s now considering using state-owned facilities like SUNY campuses to house the asylum seekers. 

Picente, Griffo and Buttenschon all oppose the use of SUNY facilities to house migrants, and agreed that some of the other state-owned facilities in the county, like the Utica Psychiatric Center or the former Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome, are not appropriate spaces for people to occupy.  

“We have been an area that’s welcomed refugees, but that’s different,” Picente said. “I have to clarify that. There’s a different process, different standard, different requirements, different policies and procedures in place when that is done. This is not the same.” 

Picente said that to date, no migrants have been sent to the county and the county has not been contacted in regard to using SUNY facilities. 

“Our message is continuing, from the county’s perspective. We are not inhumane, we are not in any way not welcoming in that sense,” Picente said. “It’s a capacity issue. But there is a bigger issue. This is a problem. A problem that’s been on the desk of the president, on the desk of the governor, for a number of months. This is a problem that has no plan behind it and literally now they’re scrambling to place people in the most inhumane way.”  

SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Marcy is the only state school in Oneida County. Picente asked who would be in charge of feeding the people, who would take care of them and what services they would receive, if they were to be housed on the SUNY Poly campus.  

Griffo said the community has welcomed refugees and those who have immigrated to the country legally, especially in the agriculture sector. 

However, over 50% of farmworkers in New York are undocumented immigrants, and dairy farms are dependent on the work of Mexican and Guatemalan migrants, according to a study from Cornell University. There is no formal visa program for migrants who work year-round at farms.   

“These are illegal migrants who are coming across this porous border, it’s an abject failure of leadership from the president and Congress right now to face this issue, to deal with this issue, it’s a national crisis,” Griffo said. “And this crisis continues because they have ignored it and dumped it across this entire nation.”  

He called out the fact that housing migrants in SUNY facilities is a temporary measure; the academic year may have recently ended for SUNY students, but they will return to their campuses in August for the next school year. He said that this would disrupt programming and activities that take place at SUNY facilities. 

“This is a fight that we’re all willing and ready to engage, in a bipartisan manner, on all levels of government up here,” Griffo said. “It is inhumane for what [the state government] is doing.”   

As a solution, Griffo advocated for reform to the current immigration policy. 

Buttenschon noted that this is not a new issue the country has been dealing with, so the government should have some sort of plan to resolve this issue by now. 

“How do you plan for this?” She asked. “There is no plan. There is no plan for individuals coming into any community.” 

She said that when the county welcomes refugees, there is planning, resources and a clear understanding of what services the refugees require, which allows the county to prepare to help the individuals.  

“Without a plan, we cannot provide anything to any more individuals coming into this community,” Buttenschon said.  


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