Tensions are mounting in New York City amid debates concerning the accommodation of a rising number of asylum seekers.
On Monday, August 28th, Staten Island found itself at the epicenter of this controversy, with hundreds of protesters converging outside the former St. John Villa Academy. This Catholic school, which was shut down in 2018, has been repurposed into a migrant shelter.
The makeshift facility, designed to accommodate up to 300 migrants, has drawn criticism from local residents who believe the city covertly made the decision without adequate community consultation.
Many protesters express concern about the migrants’ background checks, questioning the vetting processes in place.
Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella captured the prevalent sentiment, stating, “This cannot stand. This is not right. St. John Villa is the worst place you can possibly put individuals.”
A primary concern cited is the establishment’s location in a residential area and its proximity to two other schools.
Elected officials have also initiated a lawsuit against the city, aiming to halt the school’s use as a shelter.
John Tobacco, one of the rally’s organizers, shed light on the demonstrators’ perspective. He pointed out that while Staten Islanders traditionally welcome immigrants, there is growing unease about the manner and magnitude of the recent migrant influx and the city’s handling of the situation.
Tobacco emphasized the value of legal immigration and expressed concerns over New York’s burgeoning asylum seeker numbers.
The controversy surrounding the makeshift shelter has caught the attention of local politicians. GOP state Assemblyman Michael Tannousis claimed that the community felt “blindsided” by the sudden decision, suggesting the lack of transparency in the city’s actions.
Last week, over 1,000 protesters gathered outside the temporary Staten Island shelter.
The issue isn’t confined to Staten Island. On Sunday, August 27th, over 100 protesters gathered outside Manhattan’s Gracie Mansion, criticizing Mayor Eric Adams’ approach to the crisis. Five individuals, including Curtis Sliwa, founder of Guardian Angels and former mayoral contender, were arrested and taken into custody at the event.
Local authorities attempted to prevent St. John Villa from being utilized as a shelter. They sent a to the city’s Office of Emergency Management on Friday, recommending an 11 p.m. curfew for migrants.
Councilman David Carr, who signed the letter, stated, “My colleagues and I continue to oppose the shelter opening at Villa and will continue to use every avenue available to us to stop it.”