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NY: High School Students Displaced to Accommodate Migrants Fleeing Floyd Bennett Field Facility

Published: January 10, 2024
Recently arrived migrants walk from their temporary tent shelters at Floyd Bennett Field, a former airfield in Brooklyn, on January 04, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Students from Brooklyn’s James Madison High School are now attending classes remotely after city authorities decided to house hundreds of migrants — previously housed at the controversial Floyd Bennett Field tent facility — at the school, after fears arose that the extreme weather threatening the city could make the facility uninhabitable. 

The last-minute decision by city authorities to relocate the migrants to the school has angered many in the community.

One resident, who identified himself only as Rob, told the NY Post, “This is f–ed up. It’s a litmus test. They are using a storm, a legitimate situation, where they are testing this out. I guarantee you they’ll be here for the entire summer,” adding that, “There’s 1,900 people getting thrown into my neighborhood, half a block from where I live and we don’t know who they are. They are not vetted. A lot of them have criminal records and backgrounds and we don’t even know.”

In mid-December last year, a storm hit the facility, causing migrants housed there, including hundreds of children, to fear for their safety. 

At the time, in a phone call with local media outlet, THE CITY, one migrant, Geraldine, said in Spanish, “Everything is shaking. They’re telling us to be calm, but the children are crying. You have to help us get out of here,” adding that, “It was such a thunderous sound it seemed like the beams were going to break. It seemed like the roof was going to fly off.”

In a video posted to X, intended to ease fears, the city insisted the facility was safe. 

“These structures are incredibly, incredibly strong. They are designed to handle much more severe weather. At no point in time were they in danger of collapsing or were people in danger out here,” Commissioner Zach Iscol of New York City’s Office of Emergency Management, said.

Less than a month later however, with more extreme weather moving into the city — which is expected to bring torrential rains and wind gusts upwards of 70 mph — the city made the snap decision to order students to study remotely and to shelter migrants from the storm at the school. The school is located approximately five miles from the tent facility. 


A ‘proactive measure’ 

City Hall spokeswoman, Kayla Mamelak, said, “To be clear, this relocation is a proactive measure being taken out of an abundance of caution to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals working and living at the center. The families are already in the process of being temporarily relocated and will continue to be provided with essential services and support,” adding that, “The relocation will continue until any weather conditions that may arise have stabilized and the facility is once again fit for living.”

On Jan. 9, a storm hit the city that dumped upwards of an inch of rain on Central Park, and produced wind gusts of up to 61 mph in Queens that knocked out power for hundreds of residents.

The city remains under multiple weather alerts as of Jan. 10, and after a brief reprieve on Thursday, another storm is slated to hit the city on Friday which is expected to dump between one and two inches of rain on the region.

City officials said that during the December downpour no flooding was reported at the former airfield, however admitted to being aware that bolts and hinges had fallen from the top of the tents. 

The migrants were moved to the facility in November after Gov. Kathy Hochul negotiated with the White House to repurpose the federal land for the temporary migrant shelter. 

At the time, critics of the location warned that the area was prone to flooding and was too remote to allow migrants to easily get to work or transport their children to school.


Migrant families facing eviction

Meanwhile, at least 40 migrant families, currently housed in some of the city’s makeshift shelters, are facing eviction as the city’s 60-day shelter limit runs out. 

The families were scheduled to be kicked out on Jan. 9 and are the first among 4,800 other migrants who will have to re-apply for spots.

New arrivals, who continue to be bussed into the city and neighboring New Jersey, get first choice of taxpayer-funded shelter spots. 

Peruvian migrant, Keyla Cornejo, 34, told the NY Post, “I have to leave on Saturday, I’m sad because I love this place. We have everything we need and it’s easy for my daughter to go to school, “ adding that, “I’m afraid if we move too far away we will have to change my daughter’s school and she will miss her friends. I am moving our things into storage before Saturday because we don’t know what will happen or where we’ll go next.”

Migrants, staying at the same hotel as Cornejo, told the NY Post that evictions began last week.

The evictions are a result of a controversial decree that gives single migrants 30 days before they have to reapply for housing and 60 days for migrants with children.

At a regular briefing on Jan. 8, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said, “I think anyone who believes that this administration will create an environment [in] which children and families will sleep on the streets, they are not hearing our messages over and over again, “ adding that, “this is not going to be a city where we are going to [a] place where families on the street have them sleep on the street. That is not going to happen.”

Adams claims that the city has been able  to “normalize and stabilize”  57 percent of migrants who have entered the city’s shelter system since the crisis began.