Audience members at a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature last...

Audience members at a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature last Thursday as lawmakers considered hiring an attorney to determine if the county can block migrants. Credit: Rick Kopstein

New York City is suing Suffolk County, Riverhead Town and 29 other municipalities in the state for seeking to “wall off their borders” by enacting emergency orders stopping the city’s relocation of recently arrived foreign migrants to those municipalities.

In a 37-page lawsuit announced Wednesday, the city cites state laws, regulations and the U.S. Constitution in asking a Manhattan State Supreme Court judge to suspend all the emergency orders, declare them void and stop their enforcement for good.

“Respondents-Defendants,” the suit says, referring to the 31 municipalities, “have sought to wall off their borders. They have tried by multiple methods to block New York City from arranging for even a small number of asylum-seekers to stay in private hotels within their jurisdictions — at the City's expense — amidst a major humanitarian crisis.”

The city has struggled to find shelter for tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Latin America and West Africa, who have come since last spring and continue to arrive, many of whom crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and then were bused into the city under a program by border-state governors, and at least one Texas mayor, to protest President Joe Biden's immigration practices.

New York City is bound by a decades-old, rare-in-the-nation mandate to shelter anyone in need — which until last spring applied, in practice, just to the native homeless population.

Mayor Eric Adams has tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to place some migrants in other New York jurisdictions. The city hasn't put any on Long Island yet. A deputy mayor told Newsday last month that migrants could, at some point, be sent to both Suffolk and Nassau.

On May 16, Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar signed an order prohibiting motels and other facilities from accepting any such migrants. On May 26, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone forbade Suffolk hotels, motels and shelters from contracting with the city to accept migrants, unless the county approves. 

In addition to the town and the county, Aguiar and Bellone are named as defendants in their official capacities. Aguiar said Wednesday that the town hadn't been served and declined to comment. Bellone's spokeswomen didn't return an email seeking comment.

The suit comes a day after a federal judge in White Plains ruled that Orange and Rockland counties’ orders blocking the city from migrant relocation to those counties are likely both unconstitutional and unlawfully discriminatory.

The judge, Nelson Román, issued a preliminary injunction blocking those counties from enforcing their orders, which have prevented the city from relocating migrants to either county by barring hotels and motels from making rooms available to them.

But the ruling’s practical effect is unclear, for now: There remain prior, temporary restraining orders in Rockland and Orange issued by state courts on separate grounds also blocking the relocations. They were left in place by Román.

Statewide, the leaders who issued the orders have expressed concern about the long-term costs of caring for migrants, despite the city's promises to pay for the time being.

At least 30 of the state's 62 counties have issued such orders, and at least six jurisdictions have sued to block relocations, the city suit says. 

The head of Adams' legal department, Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix, on Wednesday denied that her lawsuit was gamesmanship to relocate proceedings away from judges elsewhere in the state so the dispute can be adjudicated in the more favorable territory of Manhattan, also known as New York County.

"We're just saying, 'Give us a judge in New York County.' Every judge does not have the same disposition. We just don't wanna have to go to 31 different counties to work," she said. "It doesn't make sense, and judicially and towards the end, the determination to have it from one judge makes a lot of sense, not just for the city but for the state."

Facing lawsuit

In addition to Suffolk County and the Town of Riverhead, here are the other 29 jurisdictions being sued by New York City over migrant-relocation prohibitions: Rockland, Orange, Dutchess, Onondaga, Broome, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Chemung, Cortland, Delaware, Fulton, Genesee, Greene, Herkimer, Madison, Niagara, Oneida, Orleans, Oswego, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie, Schuyler, Sullivan, Tioga, Warren and Wyoming counties.


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