Aug. 9, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed
Tensions flared during dueling rallies held outside of a tent shelter at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village on Tuesday, Aug. 8, as the angry protesters who expressed their opposition to the city’s plan to house migrants at the site outnumbered a small group of pro-migrant supporters.
Standing behind barricades along the sidewalk, protesters held up signs reading “Save Our Neighborhood” and “Americans Over Migrants,” while chanting “No Tent City” as drivers honked in support of the rally held at Det. William T. Gunn Playground at P.S. 18Q at Hillside Avenue and 235th Court.
The protesters made their way across the street to where construction on the tent city has already begun in the SNAP Senior Center’s parking lot. The facility, which is expected to house 1,000 single male migrants, is located within close proximity to P.S. 18Q, the Padavan Preller Athletic Fields and the Cross Island YMCA.
The non-partisan rally was organized by civic leaders in eastern Queens, who say the migrant tent shelter will impact the neighborhood’s quality-of-life.
Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Co-op, called on elected officials to demand the Biden administration secure the border and file a lawsuit against Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul for the “inhumane and unsafe plan that they’ve thrusted upon us.”
“The mayor is going to warehouse 1,000 unvetted adult males in cots in a parking lot with no shopping, no transportation, nothing, across the street from an elementary school, a ball field, a YMCA … this is a recipe for disaster and it’s a powder keg waiting to go off,” Friedrich said.
Phil Orenstein, president of the Queens Village Republican Club, said they’re all outraged and at their wits end, while noting the lack of transportation and resources in the neighborhood that fails to meet the needs of the migrants.
“Everyone is in agreement that the mayor should stop his plans to put migrant tents in residential communities and house them in vacant buildings on Rikers Island that could hold maybe 20 to 30,000 migrants. We want them relocated to places where they can get the proper services,” Orenstein said.
Curtis Sliwa, a 2021 Republican mayoral candidate and founder/CEO of the Guardian Angels, said the mayor is “destabilizing a stable community of many neighborhoods in eastern Queens.”
“This is our neighborhood, not their neighborhood. We might have to chain ourselves to the facility and say, ‘We won’t leave until they leave,’” Sliwa said amid cheers and chants of his name.
In a statement to QNS, a spokesperson from City Hall said with nearly 100,000 asylum seekers that have come through the city’s intake system since spring 2022 and hundreds more arriving daily, the city has been left alone to deal with a national crisis that demands difficult and swift decision-making.
“We understand community concerns and want to assure them we and the state are working to ensure that the site is well-managed and that any potential disruptions are minimized,” the spokesperson told QNS. “While New York City is leading the nation in welcoming asylum seekers, make no mistake, we cannot continue to do this alone. This crisis demands a broader national solution.”
Meanwhile, a small group of pro-migrant supporters who were rallying near the playground across the street from the Creedmoor site were confronted with anti-immigrant slurs and violence as they chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcomed here!” Republican City Council candidate Jonathan David Rinaldi heckled the protestors, shouting, “You are pedophile child traffickers.”
As they made their way to the sidewalk to continue protesting, an elderly man from the other side approached the group, shouted at them to “shut up” and ripped one of their signs. In the heat of the moment, police officers intervened and placed barricades to separate the protesters.
“I lived around this part of eastern Queens my entire life and my parents are immigrants, and this is an immigrant community. It’s important to make sure that new people who want to come here also get the resources they need,” said Jaslin Kaur, an advocate and former City Council candidate who ran for office to represent eastern Queens. “This tent shelter is already being built and this amount of racist xenophobia won’t stop it.”
Kristen, a resident of Bellerose, said she has been “horrified” by the response of her neighbors’ racism and xenophobia, which led her to come out and protest.
“This is not an ideal situation. This is, in some ways, the result of a federal policy that’s honestly above all of us. It’s cruel to put a tent out in the hot sun,” Kristen said. “I don’t think this was handled appropriately, and the place to blame Democratic politicians when this is a direct result of a policy by Republican politicians and folks here want to blame the Democrats, that’s what is really confusing for me. My neighbors should be better and can do better. I think that this is one of those ideal situations where we are all turning on each other, rather than doing what we should do, which is embracing people.”
Elizabeth Gonzalez said the United States has certain legal duties to people seeking asylum and “they need to uphold those duties.”
Another resident, who lives around the corner from Creedmoor, said he came out to show that there are people in the neighborhood who support the migrants and will welcome them with compassion.
“The infrastructure is already here and I don’t know what these people are fighting to stop. These people are coming and we have to be accepting and welcoming. Showing human dignity is the least we can do,” he said.
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.