A federal judge Tuesday found that Orange and Rockland counties’ orders blocking New York City from relocating newly arrived migrants into those counties are likely unconstitutional — a ruling that comes as Long Island jurisdictions pursue similar restrictions.
But the ruling’s practical effect is unclear for now: there are earlier, temporary restraining orders in Orange and Rockland issued by state courts on separate grounds, also blocking the relocations, that were left in place by the judge, Nelson Román of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in White Plains.
Román issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday blocking those counties from enforcing their executive orders, which have prevented the city from relocating migrants to both counties by barring local hotels and motels from making rooms available to them.
The executive orders likely violate the rights to intrastate travel and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, the judge ruled.
New York City has struggled to find shelter for tens of thousands of migrants from Latin America and West Africa who have come since last spring, many having crossed the southern U.S. border and then been bused to the city under a program by border-state governors to protest the Biden administration’s immigration policies.
The city is under a decades-old, rare-in-the-nation right to shelter for anyone who needs it — which until recently applied in practice just to the native homeless population.
Mayor Eric Adams has tried, without much success, to seek to place the migrants in other New York jurisdictions.
Several of those places, including Rockland and Orange, have responded with executive orders and court challenges seeking to block the relocations.
On Long Island, the Town of Riverhead and Suffolk County issued similar orders.
On May 16, Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar signed an order forbidding motels and other facilities from accepting migrants from the city. On May 26, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone blocked Suffolk hotels, motels and shelters from contracting with the city to accept migrants, unless the county grants permission. The order said the state should be the one in charge of any migrant placements.
Nassau hasn’t issued an executive order relating to restricting migrants, but County Executive Bruce Blakeman has said, “Nassau is not a sanctuary county.”
Blakeman’s spokesman Chris Boyle declined to comment Tuesday evening. Bellone’s spokeswoman didn’t return an email, and Aguiar didn’t return a voicemail. Adams’ press office didn’t respond to an email.
Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus said in an interview that “nothing changes” due to Román’s ruling. Neither Rockland County Executive Edwin J. Day nor his spokesman returned messages seeking comment.
During oral arguments last week, Judge Román likened the Orange and Rockland county executive orders to “a Jim Crow law — not that I’m saying it is,” according to LoHud.com, Hudson Valley-based The Journal News' website.
Kaye Dyja, a spokeswoman for the New York Civil Liberties Union, which brought the federal case on behalf of migrants, said in an email: “While the state court’s temporary restraining orders restricting NYC and specific hotels’ specific plans to relocate migrants remain in place, those are temporary and could go out of effect at any moment.”
In his ruling, Román cited as evidence of discriminatory intent comments by the Orange and Rockland county executives about the migrants.
For example, the judge said that Rockland’s Day promised on Facebook that he would “end this threat to our community” and was working to “protect the rights of our citizens and the character of your community.”
Although Román, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, must still issue a final ruling down the road, his ruling Tuesday says the challengers to the executive orders are likely to win on the constitutional claims.