Mutual Aid Groups Mobilize in Response to Migrant Influx

Issue 274

Ariadna Phillips of South Bronx Mutual/Mutual Aid Collective tells the NY City Council about the city’s failure to meet the basic needs of migrants.

Amba Guerguerian Oct 5, 2022

A large collective of mutual aid groups has been responding to the humanitarian crisis in New York City that began in June when Texan Gov. Greg Abbott started sending busloads of asylum-seeking migrants (refugees) here and to other “liberal” cities. Since then, around 15,000 migrants have arrived. The Mutual Aid Collective projects a total of around 75,000-100,000 arrivals over the coming months. As of Sept. 2, Arizona and California also started sending migrants to New York City, the collective reports.

There are claims that Adams is negotiating with Norweigan Cruise Line claims to temporarily house migrants at Staten Island’s Homeport. The City announced on Tuesday it was relocating tent facilities assembled in a flood-prone parking lot in Orchard Beach, Bronx to Randall’s Island.  

Ariadna Phillips is a founding member of South Bronx Mutual Aid, one of the groups in the collective. Phillips visited the tent city early in the morning on Saturday Oct. 1 to see how it was holding up. Not well. A video she took of water pooling on asphalt after a mere half inch of rainfall helped spark an outcry that forced the City to abandon its Orchard Beach plans. The Texas-based contractor chosen by the city to erect the site had built the identical “icebox” detention center in Texas during the Trump administration. 

A day earlier, Phillips appeared before the city council’s Committee on Immigration. She elaborated on the dismal treatment migrants have experienced. Here is her testimony.

The mutual aid collective, which includes many mutual aids, allies, faith communities, and autonomous activists working alongside arriving migrants, has been handling ongoing care and support for thousands of asylum-seeking migrants since early August, every day.

We have spent tens of thousands in crowdfunds on phones, food, migrant transportation and medical care access, medications, essential supplies, homegoods, clothing, supply transport, 24 hour rapid response for those left unsheltered by the city, pro se legal counseling and court services, workforce preparation, support for LGTBQ refugees, family reunification travel, and sanctuaries across the city as well as respite sites. This does not account for the endless interpretation work and thousands of hours of unpaid general labor. We have done this completely outside the scope of the government or its affiliated nonprofits, as unpaid organizers in coalition with arriving asylum seekers. We don’t, on principle, partner with racist and harmful entities.

Because of this work, we know that before asylum seekers arrive in NYC, they have already had their identity documents and even medicines taken from them at the US/Mexico border by custom and border patrols (CBP) agents or ICE agents and are forcibly separated from their families, without phones to know where they are. They are also put into ICE boxes (hieleras) and also remain in detention for different periods of time before being released and put into buses. These are all forms of “deterrence”.

Migrant families and individuals have been consistently abandoned to our care outside Port Authority and shelter intake. This includes emergency medical transport upon their arrival, which we have coordinated and done accompaniment to city hospitals as many arriving are injured and ill from the Texas detention encampment centers, which according to migrants – the new Orchard Beach encampment closely resembles.

Migrants have been beaten and tased by large groups of shelter police and NYPD in retaliation for speaking out.

We tirelessly pick up asylum seekers who do not know where to go because they were simply left on the streets as they walked to addresses printed on immigration documents. These addresses were often churches or shelters that had no knowledge of these migrants, and turned them away upon arrival. Dozens of migrants have attempted to walk from airports- such as Newark, LaGuardia, JFK, or White Plains- whom we found and escorted.

It is through this organizing we have realized the depth and breadth of shelter abuse and general negligence all unhoused New Yorkers face. Their belongings are constantly stolen or repossessed by shelter staff, including immigration paperwork. LGTBQ asylum seekers are often assaulted and are now staying within our sanctuaries. We have heard from hundreds of migrants that they prefer to sleep on the streets than in the shelters because of the dangers they face there.

Despite the omnipresence of DHS police, migrants trying to report abuse in shelters are simply told to vacate the shelter. Migrants have been beaten and tased by large groups of shelter police and NYPD in retaliation for speaking out. Families, including mothers, have been explicitly threatened by shelter officials for reporting ongoing narcotics trafficking and other corruption that occurs with the blessing of shelter officials.

When we spoke to the most recent arriving migrants outside Port Authority, they were only given information on how to get to a shelter. No information was given to any on the multimillion dollar navigation center. According to an arriving migrant, “it felt like the city shook my hand and took my photo at the front and then I was led through the back” of the bus station.

The city has set up a navigation center that is of little use as migrants cannot get there and don’t even know it exists. This migrant navigation center is supposed to be the multimillion dollar answer for migrants, but if they do manage to get an appointment over a month from now, they are referred for services they don’t have a way to access or even be contacted about if groups like ours do not intervene. We continue to provide clothing and essential items because they are not given elsewhere.

At shelter intake, couples are being denied the conditional placements without proof of domestic partnerships or marriage and are simply told they must be separated, or assigned to walk to a shelter that then sends them to yet another shelter upon arrival.

Countless men who, after walking for hours from intake sites to “assigned” shelters like the Atlantic Armory, are then told there are no beds available, walk back across boros, and sleep on floors in the waiting room from early morning until late at night. The food they receive is frozen.

At [DHS’ Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH)] shelter intake, families are also served frozen inedible blocks when they arrive. Some children have been served expired milk, “It looks very yellow, it smells bad, and has little balls,” as one 6 year old told one of our volunteers. Many spend two days there, again sleeping in chairs or on the floor. They are sometimes bussed in the middle of the night, or told to walk across boroughs with their children without support and made to leave again at 7AM, only to spend the whole day and evening at PATH again, including pregnant women and children.

We testify to give you a sense of the gaps and frankly, abuses, in shelter, food, safety, and dignity that thousands of asylum seekers have faced upon arrival in our city. There is nothing humanitarian about the existing shelter system, and the plan to place migrants in outdoor tents in flood zones as the temperature drops is cruel and potentially fatal. Our city must do far better.

For resources and how to support, see South Bronx Mutual Aid on Instagram @southbronxmutualaid and Twitter @SBXMutualAid.

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