Public agencies in democratic states that have taken on a swell of migrants across Africa and Central and South America are quickly finding their shelters over-capacity and maintaining social safety more difficult. It’s become such a pressing issue that higher education has been pulled into the fray.
New York City and Chicago have taken in more than 113,300 and 14,000 migrants, respectively, as of 2022. Last month, Mass. Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency after data revealed the state’s influx of migrants has risen by about 80% in that same time frame. Political instability beyond the border, coupled with Texas and Florida’s Republican-dominated legislatures shipping off their immigrants to Democratic-led cities, has helped sow the year’s surge.
“There’s a reality about the difficulty in maintaining the growth of population and the amount of resources needed to do so, but there’s also a huge insensitivity,” said Chicago Alderperson Andre Vasquez, who heads the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, according to Politico. “Texas is the big example of people being conned and being told that ‘Chicago’s got everything you need to move the population.’ But we’re seeing it from other states as well.”
Several states facing a shortage of resources to support the influx are turning to their colleges and universities’ gymnasiums, shacked-up dorms and other campus buildings to shoulder some of the weight. Responses from the requested institutions and their community have been mixed.
Money-motivated institutions flip their dorms into housing centers
New York City’s public health provider struck a deal with the American Musical and Dramatic Academy to transform several of its current dorms into an emergency migrant shelter. The multi-year contract is worth over $109 million, reports USA Today.
Starting this past June, New York City Health and Hospitals paid the college $2.7 million in non-refundable “transition fees” to begin moving current students out, and it’s already paid another half-a-million dollar upfront fee to begin at another location.
But the institutions choosing to donate campus dorms away in turn for a profit isn’t enjoyed by all in New York. Residents of Riverdale clashed over Manhattan College’s decision to sell one of its off-campus student dorms to a company that now plans on flipping it into an emergency shelter. Those disgruntled with Manhattan College say it had first announced the facility would be used for affordable housing for the community.
“It shouldn’t be a money grab. Manhattan College sold us out. They’ve always been the pillar of the community, and now they’ve destroyed [it],” said Mitch, a Riverdale local interviewed by the Longview News-Journal.
Safety concerns create skepticism
SUNY Buffalo evicted 44 migrants in August who had been housed for only three months due to students’ parents raising concerns over campus safety. They were reacting to two migrants charged with sex crimes at a nearby hotel.
“I made the difficult decision to discontinue the revocable permit and want to reassure our university community that as our students return to campus Tuesday, they will find their learning and living environment as they expect,” said SUNY Buffalo President Bonita R. Durand.
Rather than focusing on student safety, one Massachusetts university is rationalizing its resistance to emergency housing by citing its safety concerns for the migrants. The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency believed Westfield State University’s Lammers Hall would be a “feasible” location to serve as an emergency assistance shelter, but the university cited its lack of elevators, air conditioning and access to medical clinics and kitchen services made it a poor choice, The Reminder reports.
Institutions motivated to support their community
Despite the blowback Juan Salgado, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, received from Northwest Side residents on housing migrants Wilbur Wright College and Richard J. Daley College’s gymnasium this past summer, he stuck to his word. With the start of the fall semester, the city moved those 700 migrants to the nearby American Islamic College Campus.
Salgado was motivated to take in migrants to help relieve the pressure on neighboring police stations who were taking in 700 migrants a night, CBS News reports.
“We had a better solution,” said Salgado, according to USA Today. “We just raised our hand and said we think we can help here.”
To a packed crowd — the chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago is jeered after promising “I’m confident things will go well” as talk of moving asylum seekers to the campus of Wilbur Wright College begin. @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/CBd2LzFlZT
— Chris Tye (@TVTye) May 23, 2023
However, state officials’ altruism may only take you so far, especially in a city like New York City that is beyond its limit without broader federal support.
“This issue will destroy New York City,” said Mayor Eric Adams.