Efforts continue to support asylum seekers in Rochester; Second group postponed

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The second wave of asylum seekers in Rochester has been postponed. Last week, 77 people arrived at the Holiday Inn from New York City. The owner of the hotel said that was the first of three busloads with the second expected today.

Monroe County issued a statement at 5 p.m. today saying “there is no hard and fast schedule” and “they were not ready to relocate today.” It all depends on logistics in New York City.

Whether they come tomorrow or next week, or if the plan changes entirely and they never come, the efforts to support asylum seekers in Rochester remain the same.

“My understanding is that there’s going to be buses coming before the end of the month and how many people are in them, it’s unclear,” said Mercedes Vazquez Simmons, Monroe County legislator.

Vazquez Simmons is bilingual, and has been speaking with asylum-seeking families who arrived last week. For some, Rochester wasn’t their first stop.

“Some of them have been here pre-covid, and they’re stuck in the system,” she said.

Vasquez Simmons said some were taken to California before Rochester. Ohers who came here last week already have left, according to Rep. Joe Morelle.

Amid the confusion, most of them are waiting to see if they can work. Federal regulations say they can’t apply for a work permit until six months after their application for asylum.

“Whether they’re here permanently or temporarily, we should be welcoming them. Because, really, that’s all we can do and that’s what we should be doing,” said Cassandra Bocanegra, Finger Lakes Manager of Organizing and Strategy with New York Immigration Coalition.

The coalition and other nonprofits have been working to welcome asylum seekers — providing food and clothes, and even school supplies for those staying.

“We want to make sure that people feel that independence. That’s really what they came here to do, they came here to get a better life,” Bocanegra said.

Morelle said today that he and others are still pushing hard to change the work permit wait times.

“This seems to me to be the perfect way to resolve issues. We also have some real gaps in terms of workforce. So, agriculture, manufacturing construction hospitality, you name it, we need more people. This is a way to sort of, it seems to me, to have a win-win with this issue,” Morelle said.

Bocanegra agrees, and says those she talks to are looking for independence and stability.

“I think that’s what every family wants. They want to be able to provide for their kids, they want to be able to provide for their families and have that independence and say that ‘this is my home,” Bocanegra said.