Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - Four days after saying there will be no state of emergency declared for Erie County with regards to the potential of migrants seeking asylum in the region, County Executive Mark Poloncarz says there is no crisis at this time in the community.
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"There's been a lot of discussion in our community lately with regards to the possibility that asylum seekers would be moved into our community, some have even called it a crisis. There is no crisis. It's as simple as that," said Poloncarz during an event on Wednesday in Downtown Buffalo. "There may be a crisis at the Southern border - actually, there is a crisis at the Southern border - and there may be a crisis in New York City, but there is no crisis in our community right now."
Poloncarz says Buffalo has always been a welcoming community, and he hopes the people of Erie County will continue to welcome people from across the globe, including migrants that would be coming from New York City.
"I hope our community will be as welcoming as I believe it is, and what I've seen since we've announced that we would welcome migrants to our community," he said. "Yes, there are those who are vocal, but I believe they are a vocal minority, not the majority of the people in this community. As a result, we will do our best to ensure these new Americans are truly new Americans, that we can proudly call neighbor, brother and sister.
"We've heard about the stories about individuals who've made 1,000-mile treks from their home with their children to find a better life in the United States based on the horror that they face at home," Poloncarz said. "I just read a story about a pharmacy assistant - this is a professional, trained individual - who was making no more than $100 a month in Venezuela, who was facing the possibility of Venezuelan gangs holding her, basically, hostage for half of her income. She made the trek with her five- and six-year-old from Venezuela to the Southern border of the United States to give those children an opportunity to lead a better life, so they would not be faced with gangs and no future going forward. That's what we're talking about here.
"We're talking about giving individuals an opportunity for a better life, as they've gone through one of the worst parts of their lives - a journey that they will never forget. And their descendants will always think about how grandma, grandpa, great-grandma, great-grandpa came to this country to give them a better life."
According to Poloncarz, no final decision has been made from the state on migrants coming to Erie County, but they are looking into the potential of housing asylum seekers at SUNY Buffalo State and SUNY University at Buffalo. The state does prefer for the migrants to be housed on the campus of Buffalo State, because they can be housed in dorms that will not be used by students for the next school year.
If the state were to house migrants on the UB campus, they would likely have to be moved out once the fall semester starts for the 2023-24 school year.
Poloncarz feels there are adequate resources in Buffalo and Erie County to be able to house migrants, but he has assurances from state officials there will be funding coming from Albany to help house the migrants in the community.
"I do anticipate that we will receive asylum seekers, individuals who are legally in the country at this time in our community," Poloncarz said. "We have an incredible set of resources here available, if needed, but the one thing that has been assured to me is this would be paid for by New York State. ... They actually have a huge program that they've established in New York City alone that they would expand up here."
Any individual that will be moved to Erie County and the City of Buffalo will have been vetted by the federal government, Poloncarz added on Wednesday. Arrivals to Buffalo could come within the next two weeks, but will not happen between now and next Wednesday.
It is still unclear how many migrants would be coming to Buffalo and Erie County in the coming weeks.
Poloncarz adds the Erie County Department of Social Services continues to work with the refugee resettlement community in Buffalo, including Journey's End refugee services, Jericho Road Community Health Center, International Institute, Jewish Family Services, and Catholic Charities with regards to the resettling of refugees into the community.
"What we're seeing in the United States is not something new. Unfortunately, I'd hoped we wouldn't see it again, but we are," Poloncarz said. "If we are to become the country that is inscribed on that plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, we need to understand we can only grow and become a better country by truly taking in people from all over the world.
"Our community, our country is the beacon of the world. If a mother of a five- and a six-year-old is willing to walk 1,000 miles through jungles, through difficult areas, knowing there's gangs looking for them, to give her children a better opportunity in the United States, who are we to say they shouldn't be here? That's the type of person who's going to work hard, who's going to create a better life not only for their family, but create a better life for our community. And we should welcome them. We will."
More from Poloncarz's press conference on Wednesday is available in the player below: