Pictured Above: Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar at a recent community meeting

Riverhead Town declared a State of Emergency Tuesday evening, “in response to reports that the New York City Department of Homeless Services has, or will be arranging for the transportation and relocation of undocumented migrants and/or asylum seekers to hotels or motels within the Town of Riverhead,” according to a media advisory from Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

The State of Emergency says that “on information and belief, the Mayor of New York City or designees acting on his behalf have contacted hotels and motels located within the town of Riverhead to assess availability of such facilities for delivery of migrants from New York City.”

It orders that “all hotels, motels, bed and breakfast facilities, inns, cottages, campgrounds or any other transient lodging units and/or any facilities allowing short-term rentals do not accept said migrants and/or asylum seekers for housing within the Town of Riverhead.”

The U.S. government ended Title 42, a policy to expel asylum seekers enacted during the Trump administration, last Thursday, May 11, and New York City, already a major destination for asylum seekers, is bracing for a further influx of migrants due to its “right to shelter” mandate.

The city has already been at loggerheads with Orange and Rockland counties. Two buses of migrants from the city arrived at a hotel in Newburgh, in Orange County, last week, just after New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a pause on transporting migrants out of the city. Both counties have since issued emergency declarations banning the housing of migrants, and Orange County has sued city government.

The Suffolk County Executive’s office said Wednesday morning that the county has no plans with the city to bus migrants here. The City of New York’s Department of Homeless Services did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning, and the Riverhead Town Supervisor’s Office did not respond to a request for further information about which establishments in town were planning to house migrants.

Former Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, now chair of the town’s Democratic Committee, was quick to point out that the town code already limits temporary housing.

“The current Town Supervisor, who has declared a “State of Emergency” to hold back ‘thousands of immigrants’ headed our way, should know that can’t happen as our town code already limits temporary housing to thirty days,” said Ms. Jens-Smith in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Or she does know it can’t happen, but she won’t let that get in the way of using this baseless rumor to divert the attention of residents while fueling the fear-based, anti-immigrant fire that she has used in both prior elections.”

“That this announcement was released the night before our next town board meeting, which is likely to bring out more opposition to warehouses and jet cargo ports, could be coincidental,” Ms. Jens-Smith added. ” Instead of looking to address what the public wants, our Town Board is looking to divert attention away from the real threats we are facing while taking the position of protector from these falsely fueled fears. While a small percentage of residents may fall for this tactic, the majority will not.  Those of us who live and work and raise our families here, are united in wanting our town government to protect Riverhead from the real threat of overdevelopment and mismanagement instead of creating false emergencies to divert and divide us.”

Latino advocacy group OLA said Thursday that their organization “is concerned with both the possible misuse of the law for political gain by Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and possible discrimination based on people’s country of origin and on their status as migrants and/or asylum seekers.”

“Actions like that of the supervisor serve to fan the flames of hate, anger, discrimination and misinformation,” they added. “OLA urges East End political leaders to adopt a humane, non-discriminatory approach toward asylum seekers and migrants in our communities.”

New York City government estimates about 60,000 migrants and asylum seekers have come to New York City in the past year, and more than 37,500 of them are currently living in the city’s emergency shelters.

According to Riverhead’s State of Emergency, “New York City has demonstrated a clear and present intent to alleviate the influx of asylum seekers to whom it has advertised refuge through sanctuary city policies and support for the open, unrestricted border policies of the federal government by exporting migrants arriving in New York City to neighboring counties.”

“There is nothing humanitarian about a sanctuary city sending busloads of people to a rural town that does not have the infrastructure to care for them,” it addd.

Ms. Aguiar said in the press release that, “relative to the surrounding townships on the East End and throughout Suffolk County, Riverhead has done more than its share when it comes to housing the homeless, providing services and offering affordable housing and our resources and taxpayers simply cannot withstand further demand on our public services.”

The Suffolk County Supervisor’s Association, comprised of the 10 supervisors of towns in Suffolk, issued a statement Wednesday in response to the potential relocation of migrants here.

“The Suffolk County Supervisor’s Association wants it understood that the issue regarding migrants and their placement in New York State is the sole responsibility of our federal government officials…the President, and both houses of Congress,” said Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer and Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter in the statement. “They all need to step up, stop finger-pointing, and finally, figure out how to handle this issue. Fix the system like we have been asking them to do for years. It should not, and cannot be left to local governments to shoulder this burden, or take on the responsibility for this issue.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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