Jul. 17, 2023 By John Schilling
South Queens Councilwoman Joann Ariola revealed that the previously announced migrant tent to house asylum seekers at the Aqueduct Racetrack/Resorts World Casino in South Ozone Park is now “off the table” at a rally outside the property on Monday, July 17.
This news comes days after the announcement that asylum seekers would be coming to the racetrack, as well as Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village.
“Without all that we’ve done in the last 48 hours, I would not be able to make this breaking news announcement that Aqueduct Racetrack has been taken off the table as a tent city,” Ariola told the crowd. “This is your victory, but remember the victory is only going to be short lived if we continue taking so many asylum seekers without the help of our federal and state government.”
Approximately 87,000 asylum seekers have come through the New York City shelter system, with over 53,900 in New York City care. As a result, there are an estimated 130,000 people total in New York City’s care, nearly double from when Mayor Eric Adams first took office.
While the status of a potential migrant tent at Creedmoor remains uncertain, the Aqueduct Racetrack was eliminated from consideration after Ariola drafted a letter opposing the move that was co-signed by NYC Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, NYS Assemblymembers Jenifer Rajkumar and David Weprin, and Community Board Chairs Betty Braton and Sherry Algredo.
Like Ariola, state Senator Joe Addabbo also emphasized that the fight was far from over, pointing to the prior consideration of Aqueduct Racetrack months ago before being declined.
“If the federal government does not do its part, we have problems, and guess what? This site will be back,” Addabbo said. “We can’t stop. We can’t stop.”
Community Board 10 Chair Betty Bratton told the crowd one of her reasons for opposing the move was the existing homelessness crisis existing in the neighborhood, from increased panhandlers to people sleeping on the streets.
“Between Atlantic Avenue and Jamaica Bay, from the Brooklyn line to the Van Wyck, there are 178,000 people and about 57,000 in homes,” Bratton said. “We can all be proud of our city for doing maybe what it doesn’t want to do, but what it has to do.” “We’ll continue this fight until we solve this problem,” she added.
Ozone Park Residents Block Association President Sam Esposito echoed this sentiment, clarifying that the community’s opposition has nothing to do with prejudice and everything to do with practicality.
“This is not about us not having compassion,” Esposito said. “This is about [the] practicality that 1000 single men don’t belong here in Aqueduct in this community.”
“We know that many asylum seekers are coming to America out of desperation for a better life, but desperation and a casino should never go together,” added Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic Association Co-President Phyllis Inserillo. “This is no place to house people.”
For other local leaders, however, the news did not alleviate any of the frustration.
Aracelia Cook, president of the 149th Street South Ozone Park Civic Association, called the decision not to house asylum seekers on the Aqueduct Racetrack “a win-win,” pointing to the lack of resources in these tents. Cook, however, called out the mayor for this debacle.
“The mayor cannot just act like he’s going to shove something down our throats, and we’re not going to say anything because we are mad,” Cook said. “We can’t take this.”
Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association President Martin Colberg shared this frustration, calling on President Joe Biden and Governor Kathy Hochul to send help to the city.
“We also want answers as to why decisions are being made even without our elected officials being involved,” Colberg said. “We’re frustrated, and we’ve had enough, enough of being able to fight this on our own. We need help, and they need to step up.”
The biggest points of contention at the rally came during remarks from state Senator James Sanders Jr. and Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar.
In his remarks, Sanders referred to Mayor Adams’ position as “difficult” before telling the crowd that the nation’s borders are beyond “his domain” and are a federal issue. The crowd responded with shouts ranging from critiques to pleas for people to quiet down and let him speak.
Ultimately, Sanders acknowledged his disapproval of the decision to use the Aqueduct Racetrack.
“This was a bad move and I have said that to the mayor,” Sanders said. “This is not the site. This is not the place.”
Speaking after Sanders, Rajkumar expressed her opposition to using the Aqueduct Racetrack and proposed the idea of expediting the issuance of work authorization so that asylum seekers can obtain jobs and support themselves. This was met with pushback from some people in the crowd who kept chanting, “Close the borders.”
“Everyone supports expedited work authorization on both sides of the aisle because it’s common sense,” Rajkumar said. “I’m about fixing a national problem. We don’t need shouting. We need fixes, and that’s why I’m here.”
In their remarks, both Rajkumar and Ariola called on Hochul to ask President Biden to declare a state of emergency to address the migrant crisis as a whole.
“President Biden needs to secure our borders, send us the necessary financial relief to the city, and compel Governor Hochul to categorize this crisis as a state of emergency,” said Ariola.
“President Biden, the cameras are here,” Rajkumar added. “We know you’re listening. Please help us today.”