Before leaving Mauritania, the West African nation where he was born, Mohamed thought about NY as a place that would receive him with the “open arms”a refuge for migrants They were fleeing dire circumstances.
Now that he’s here, seeking political asylum from a government that feared he would be killed, he doesn’t feel welcome. At 19, he has become a pawn in a growing standoff between New York City and suburban and upstate communities, which are turning to lawsuits, emergency orders and political pressure to keep people like him out. .
Mohamed is one of about 400 foreign migrants the city has accommodated this month in a small number of hotels in other parts of the state to ease pressure on its overstretched homeless shelter system.
Some of the relocated asylum seekers say they now regret leaving the city due to a lack of job opportunities and resources to pursue their cases, as well as the hostile reception.
“It’s better in New York City”Mohamed said. There, no one cursed or told you “Go back to your country.”
The Associated Press is not using Mohamed’s full name at his request to protect the safety of his family in Mauritania. There, Mohamed recounted how he had joined a youth group to denounce government corruption and human rights abuses, including allegations of modern slavery. Days later, he added, a group of men put him in a car with no license plate, took him to a secret room and beat him viciously for two days.
After a trip that took him across the southern border of the United States from Mexico, he ended up in a New York City shelter system that he found terrifying and overcrowded. In one in Brooklyn, a room with 40 beds, someone stole his few remaining possessions while he slept.
So when social workers offered him the chance to relocate earlier in the month, promising more space and job opportunities, Mohamed accepted. He joined other asylum seekers at two hotels located a few kilometers (miles) from the small town of Newburgh, in the Hudson River Valley, two hours north of the city.
Republican county officials have accused the city of taking its troubles out on its neighbors and suggested the new arrivals pose a danger.
Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus last week won a temporary restraining order preventing the city from sending more migrants there. More than two dozen counties across the state have declared emergencies in an attempt to stop migrants from arriving, including some where none were expected.
As far as 400 miles (644 km) north of the city, Niagara County officials have warned of an imminent security threat and promised criminal penalties for hotels that house asylum seekers.
New York Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, said he will continue his efforts to disperse some of the more than 40,000 asylum seekers currently in charge of the city.
Meanwhile, some who joined the initial wave of relocations have already returned to the New York shelter system. Those without money for transport, like Mohamed, say they are trapped.
“It’s like the desert” lamented Mohamed, who studied law and taught himself English in Mauritania. “Here there is nothing for us.”
Some asylum seekers say they feel they were lured upstate under false pretenses and say social workers painted a picture where local economies needed migrant labor. Instead, they have suffered a wave of harassment.
“There are people who are constantly passing by in large trucks telling them to go back to their country”said Amy Belsher, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, describing a phenomenon also witnessed by an AP reporter.
“It is a completely predictable result that local officials jump on the bandwagon of banning migrants”he added. The group has filed a lawsuit against Orange and Rockland counties for alleged discrimination against immigrants.
An Orange County attorney, Richard Golden, claimed it was “absolutely ridiculous” accuse the local government of fomenting xenophobia. The lawsuit filed against New York City, he added, is based on a 2006 administrative directive that requires municipalities to meet certain requirements before relocating homeless people.
Misinformation among local residents has not helped, including the false claim that migrants have displaced homeless veterans from hotels, a widely reported but debunked story.
The Peruvian Jhonny Neira offered a more ambivalent assessment of his time in Newburgh. This 39-year-old asylum seeker described a recent Sunday visit to a church where he felt welcomed by the congregation, despite not understanding the sermon in English.
“I am a respectful, hardworking person”he said in Spanish. “I think if they knew me, they would trust me”.
The number of border crossings between the United States and Mexico has been reduced since May 11, when the administration of President Joe Biden began applying new rules that seek to have migrants apply for asylum online instead of entering the country illegally. .
But New York and other cities where migrants are headed continue to grapple with the thousands of people who entered before those measures took effect.
Men from South and Central America, Senegal, Egypt, Mauritania and Russia now live at Newburgh’s Crossroads Hotel. They speak French, English and Spanish as they kick around a ball in the hotel parking lot, next to a restaurant and at a highway junction. A few meters (yards) away, a man who once worked as a barber in Venezuela offers haircuts for $5 while another sweeps.
In order to obtain asylum in the United States, they will have to demonstrate that they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership in a particular social group.
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