Broome County is now in a state of emergency.
Signed on May 11 by Broome County Executive Jason Garnar, Emergency Order No. 1 declares that the county is unable to receive and sustain any migrant or asylum-seeking populations due to a local “housing crisis.” Under the order, no municipality may enter into a contract to transport or house migrants without permission from Garnar or a designated official. Owners of hotels, shelters or multiple dwellings are also prohibited from “engaging in business” with an external municipality to provide accommodations for migrant populations without a license. Violators will be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.
According to a press release from Garnar’s office, the emergency declaration was released after reports that New York City might attempt to relocate migrants to upstate counties. Garnar defended the blanket prohibition on coordination with affected populations.
“We have few resources available locally,” Garnar wrote in an email. “No amount of money from the city, state or federal governments will change the fact that we physically have limited housing capacity, or that we have a limited number of caseworkers and other professionals who can assist with the needs of any large number of people who may arrive here with no notice and no other information that would help us assist them.”
The emergency order has led to criticism from local organizations, including the Broome County Young Democrats (BCYD). In a statement, the organization condemned the move as “politically motivated.”
“We call upon [Garnar] to immediately rescind this unnecessary order and stop using the inadequate levels of housing in our county as an excuse for his actions,” the statement wrote. “We stand in solidarity with the vulnerable migrants seeking refuge in our country and urge [Garnar] to do the same.”
Garnar emphasized collaboration with the Broome County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) for the declaration’s enforcement. According to a press release from the BCSO, officers visited 34 hotels in the county to deliver physical copies of the order and to inform their owners of the financial consequences for noncompliance — $2,000 per person per day. They received confirmation that New York City-based organizations have inquired about purchasing blocks of rooms for migrants at government rates.
Broome is one of several upstate counties — including Tioga, Rensselaer, Rockland and Orange — that have issued emergency declarations in the aftermath of the expiration of Title 42 — a federal policy used during COVID-19 that allowed for border authorities to turn away asylum seekers on public health grounds.
In response to earlier emergency orders, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) — a nonprofit organization that defends civil rights and liberties through lobbying and legal action — announced legal action against Rockland and Orange counties, whose declarations mirror Broome’s. In a press release, Amy Belsher, the director of immigrants’ rights litigation at the NYCLU, accused the county governments of violating migrants’ human rights.
“Migrants have every right to travel and reside anywhere in New York [state], free of xenophobic harassment and discrimination,” Belsher said. “People are not political pawns — both counties should welcome migrants into their communities, not unlawfully bar them from seeking refuge.”
Despite the response, Garnar said that he sought to remove politics from his decision, focusing solely on the availability of resources and alleged lack of organization and communication from New York City. Under the order, licenses for migrant lodging will only be approved by the director of the Broome County Health Department if a foreign municipality is willing to assume responsibility for all associated costs, among other conditions.
Atticus Fauci, the president of Binghamton University’s College Democrats and a freshman majoring in economics, contextualized his views on the emergency declaration within the lack of a system established to support migrant communities.
“Although it is discouraging to hear about [Garner’s] ‘state of emergency,’ it is understandable coming from the fact that Broome County simply cannot accommodate the needs of these refugees,” Fauci wrote in an email. “For the sake of the refugees, we shouldn’t be dragging these families up here with no strategy [or] plan to properly accommodate them.”