Masbia Relief In The Gothamist: New Migrant Respite Center In Sunset Park Draws Opposition From First-Generation Immigrants

Posted on: August 6, 2023

The opening of a new respite site for recently arrived migrants at the Sunset Park Recreation Center is drawing mixed reactions on Sunday morning from local residents.

At least 60 migrants were sleeping on cots inside the building as of Saturday night, according to local officials. Meanwhile outside of the rec center Sunday morning, volunteers handed out snacks and toiletries to young migrants outside, as roughly 100 protestors rallied against their arrival.

Ying Tan, the Republican candidate for City Council in the neighboring 43rd district, led a rally of largely Chinese immigrants outside the building.

“As first generation immigrants, we understand that everybody comes here to go for a better life,” Tan told Gothamist. “But this is not fair for the taxpayers of New York City.”

“We need to secure the border,” Tan added “We have to expedite the court to process all these migrant cases.”

The new respite center comes as Mayor Eric Adams and city officials say they’ve run out of space to house asylum seekers and migrants in city homeless shelters and emergency hotels amid the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants to the five boroughs since last spring. The site is being managed by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and MedRite, the walk-in clinic chain that “botched” the city’s Monkeypox vaccination program in a $36 million contract.

While the recreation center is closed to the public so it can house up to 100 people, the pool will remain open for use.

As the city looks to spur tent cities in major public parks to house people, Tan did not say where else the city could house people amid the ongoing crisis, instead deferring to the federal government. She said seniors were barred from enjoying their usual rec center programming, like dance classes.

Susan Zhuang, Tan’s Democratic opposition for District 43 – which encompasses Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights – is planning a similar protest for Sunday afternoon.

“Community centers are for our families!” one poster circulating on social media read. “They are NOT for management of federal failures!”

“Protect our community, maintain our quality of life,” another poster read in Chinese.

Emmet Teran, a spokesperson for Councilmember Alexa Avilés, who represents Sunset Park, said the mayor’s office announced their plans to house migrants at the Recreation Center with just 24 hours notice.

“I have sent several requests for information from the Mayor and NYC [Office of Emergency Management] and am still – 3 days later – waiting for a response,” Avilés said in a statement on Saturday on Twitter.

Teran confirmed Avilés had not received a response as of Sunday morning. The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.

Jose, 25, was among the roughly 10 migrants playing soccer outside the recreation center on Sunday.

“The most difficult thing has been getting work permits,” he said in Spanish through a translator.

Jose, who did not want to use his full name for fear of jeopardizing his immigration status, said he wanted to continue working as an electrician as he did back home in Nicaragua. He was surrounded by friends he made three months ago during his treacherous journey across the border, and others he met in Sunset Park this week.

While another protest is planned for this afternoon, local volunteers were setting up a station to offer free lunch for new migrants.

“On the other side of the building you can see the Statue of Liberty in the New York harbor, so we just want to follow in what that statue stands for,” said Alexander Rapaport, executive director of Masbia, a soup kitchen network and one of the groups welcoming migrants in Sunset Park.

Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the first migrant bus sent by Texas Gov.Greg Abbott to New York City. More than 54,800 new arrivals were housed by New York City as of mid-July, according to the mayor’s office.

“Sunset Park has always been a safe refuge for working people seeking to restart their lives,” said Jorge Muñiz-Reyes, who’s lived in Sunset Park for 10 years. “Instead of playing political football with people’s lives, Republicans and Democrats should give the newly arriving asylum seekers the work permits they need to be free and independent.”

Sunset Park became a hotbed of contention in April when the NYPD deployed large swaths of police officers to shut down largely immigrant vendors selling produce at the Sunday market.

A spokesperson for the Parks Department said the crack down followed several neighborhood complaints that vendors were preventing others from using the park on Sundays.

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