What to Know
- Migrants are being sent from Texas to NYC with paperwork theoretically directing them to shelters - but in many cases the addresses are wrong and aren't shelters at all, but offices or non-family facilities
- Catholic Charities says more than 200 people have had crucial legal paperwork sent to a corporate office instead of to shelters, putting those people at risk of missing hearings and being deported
- NYC officials say the faulty shelter paperwork is news to them, and they plan to investigate
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is apparently sending border-crossing migrants from Texas to New York City — but with paperwork that directs them to the wrong addresses, leaving them struggling on the streets of NYC without food or shelter.
New York City is one of the few places in America with right-to-shelter laws, which means that anyone who comes here and presents to designated city facilities by a certain time of day has to be sheltered by the next morning.
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Mayor Eric Adams and city leaders say others are taking advantage of that, shipping migrants in the thousands to New York and pushing the city's already struggling shelter system to the brink. (To be sure, aid groups say the city isn't being entirely accurate, and that the shelter system is burdened by a variety of factors like understaffing and a rising eviction rate.)
But what happens when people show up and don't know where to go?
Documents obtained by News 4 indicate that Homeland Security has been handing paperwork to migrants in Texas saying, in effect, go to New York City and go to this address to receive services.
The problem is, many of those addresses are not family shelters, or any kind of shelter at all. In some cases people have been sent to the corporate offices of service providers, or to facilities that provide some kinds of shelter but don't take families or the homeless.
"It's clear that somebody at the border is giving people information that is not accurate about why they should come to New York, where they should go when they get to New York -- that is definitely happening," Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney with the Homeless Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, said Thursday.
A spokeswoman for Customs and Border Patrol told News 4 the agency was looking into the matter, and aimed to have more information on Friday.
Gary Jenkins, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Social Services, tells News 4 that while the city is well aware migrants are coming from border states, he had no idea DHS was sending some of those people to NYC with bad shelter addresses.
"I have not seen the form that you're referencing, but we would definitely look into it and follow up to see if we can determine where the notices are coming from so we can course-correct," Jenkins said in an interview Thursday.
3 Nights on the Streets
That misdirection has left some families wandering the streets, with no place to go and nothing to eat. For the Urbaez family of Venezuela, who were turned away from a West 40th Street facility that doesn't accept families, it meant three days on the streets, including time sleeping in a car, before they managed to find their way to the city shelter intake center.
"We were not going to split up. We just went back to the streets and thank God we met this guy who helped us out to get to the Bronx," father Crisman Urbaez said, referring to the city's 24-hour intake facility, known as PATH, at 151 East 151st Street in the Bronx.
For his young daughter, only 6 years old, the ordeal — which would be a nightmare to most people — still beat the alternative.
"It's better not to be in the street," Crisangelise Urbaez said.
When families get to PATH, critics say it's taking longer than it should to get them through the system and into shelter. (The city has a legal obligation to place anyone who arrives by 10 p.m. in a shelter by 4 a.m. the next day, but has recently acknowledged that on at least one night, four families were not timely placed. As of Thursday, Commissioner Jenkins maintained no other family had been in a similar situation since.)
"The process that they have is not appropriate for this population - which is not to say that anyone did anything wrong necessarily, it just means that each case is taking longer to deal with and that's gumming up the works," Legal Aid's Goldfein said.
But it's not just that people are being sent to the wrong addresses and turned away. According to Catholic Charities, weeks after these migrants appear and depart, crucial paperwork has been showing up for them at these mistaken addresses.
In particular, Catholic Charities has received papers with court dates, warning that the recipients can be deported immediately if they don't respond — except no one knows where the recipients are, because they were sent to the wrong place to begin with.
"It's absolutely unacceptable, the fact that over 200 people have had their hearing notices (sent to) a Catholic Charities agency," said Maryann Tharappel, the attorney in charge of immigrant refugee services at Catholic Charities.
Tharappel tells News 4 that Catholic Charities warned the city weeks ago that people were mistakenly landing on their doorstep — and from there, in many cases, no one knows where they went next.
Jenkins said that the city has been working as diligently as possible while they handle the massive influx of migrants.
Migrant 'Welcome Center'
In an effort to triage the crisis, the city is now talking to prominent local service groups about setting up tables at bus depots and other drop-off locations. The aim is to intercept migrants as they set foot in the city and make sure they're actually going to the right place.
Ultimately, the goal is to set up a service center or "welcome center" (like the ones seen down at the U.S. southern border), which would be a one-stop shop to help people with things like school enrollment, housing, food access and healthcare. The city is looking at potential locations in downtown Manhattan, because of proximity to the immigration court, or the South Bronx, because of proximity to the city's homeless intake center.
Jenkins, the social services commissioner, could not say when such a service center might open, but said the goal was to stand it up "within a short period of time."
"As a city, under Mayor Adams, we want to make sure that the families are receiving the services that they deserve," he said.