Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here," chanted migrant rights advocates, faith leaders and shelter operators in Niagara Square on Thursday.
Wednesday afternoon saw Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announcing that migrants will possibly be coming into the county from New York City, with a potential likelihood that they will be seeking asylum at Buffalo State University.
"This is not new to Buffalo. This is not new to Western New York. We have always been a place that has received immigrants and we will continue to do so," says Jennifer Connor with Justice for Migrant Families. "We have the structures to support it, we have a legacy and a history of doing so. We believe that arriving asylum seekers should be able to live in safety with their families."
Connor highlights some short-term solutions as well as calls for long-term solutions from all governing bodies that can help ease the stress of the migrant increase.
"In this moment, we have increased immigration legal funding that can support arriving immigrants and people who are here. We need to make sure that state immigration legal funding reaches Western New York, and that it's used by the people on the ground here. Additionally, we need to pass the right to universal representation in immigration court. This will be very important as we create stable, consistent ways to support people who are arriving in our communities. We need long term housing solutions, we have housing advocates in our city, who can inform and tell us what kind of long term housing solutions we have that will help."
"A lot of the reactions that we have seen is rooted in hate and racism. We did not see this come out when it was Ukrainians who are coming here," said Meghan Maloney de Zaldivar of the New York Immigration Coalition. "What we saw was a coordinated response from the federal and state government to ensure that those folks had support services, and that there was funding to welcome them. That is what we expect today."
"We need more legal support. Housing is always an issue, but we look forward to our city taking this opportunity to get creative and grow in capacity to house everyone who is in search of housing. Some folks would have you believe that this conversation is about fear and exclusion. Or they'd say that we need to keep others out just to help ourselves. Our Health Center is named Jericho Road to remind us of a parable about not ignoring people suffering along a dangerous journey. We honor that exact expectation, that we heal when we take care of one another. We asked you to join us in showing our surrounding counties, the State of New York and our nation what it looks like when the City of Good Neighbors welcomes and embraces asylum seekers," said Matthew Tice, VIVE Shelter Director at Jericho Road Community Health Center.
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Currently, the VIVE Shelter is at capacity. However, that doesn't mean the health center and their partners aren't coming up with creative solutions for the time being to help assist, especially since New York State hasn't allocated the $1 billion dollars in funding to help address the migrant increase.
"We have a limit based on building capacity and who can stay in our physical shelter. Also, if a group comes that isn't staying in our physical shelter, we're in support. We're going to help process through that. We've creatively thought through these solutions. This is not even the first time that we've had groups of people who have come that are so large, that we couldn't support them in our shelter," said Dr. Anna Mongo, Jericho Road Health Center's Chief Programming Officer.
"Emergencies come up with creative solutions that end up with long standing partnerships, and that's what this is going to take. It's going to take the community coming together to figure out the solution to this. So our building is full, yes. It doesn't mean I don't want to continue to see people reach safety."