Refugee agencies begin assessing migrants’ needs at Cheektowaga hotel

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has repeatedly said this about the influx of asylum seekers to Western New York: “We are a welcoming community. We know how to do this.”

Poloncarz has maintained that claim citing the past success of refugee communities in the Buffalo area. Many of them were supported with federal tax dollars and officially recognized as refugees by the U.S. State Department. 

There have been some others who claimed asylum-seeker status and showed up at local shelters, and some of those individuals have sought to enter Canada for asylum. But not all had federal funding to support them and the agencies, which assisted them.

Now Jericho Road Community Health Center and other resettlement agencies actually have a paid contract with New York City to assess the migrants and their needs.

“Helping them with legal help, making sure if they’re … ready to work, also figuring out how to get them health care,” Dr. Myron Glick of Jericho Road said. “Ultimately we want to help folks get to where they’re supposed to be, and that’s an apartment, and a house, a job, and the ability to sustain their own families.”

Those who are now in Cheektowaga with this strictly voluntary relocation are said to speak 12 different languages. We are also told they include single men and women, as well as a few couples, and are primarily from the Congo Republic in Africa and Venezuela.

And this group of 50 is just the first such arrival.

“We are expecting more,” Glick said. “We don’t know when. We don’t know how many. I think at the end of the day, you know because of what’s happening in our world, how broken our world is, immigration system is not ideal here in this country. New York City is overwhelmed. I suspect that Buffalo will continue to get folks.”

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams last week suggested opening up the mayor’s Gracie Mansion, churches, and even private homes with potential rooms to rent as spaces for the asylum seekers amidst what they call a crisis of over 67,000 such individuals since last year.

We asked Erie County Executive Poloncarz, “You said the county is not paying for it, but are we buying into that desperation that we’re starting to see in New York City now?”

Poloncarz responded: “I don’t see how 50 individuals coming in to our community is going to create desperation.”

WGRZ asked, “But what about more? Could we see more? How many more realistically?”

Poloncarz replied: “We could see more, but I can’t answer your question. It’s a hypothetical.”

Of course, not all those who apply for asylum will get it through the immigration court system and judges. Various experts say up to 60 percent do not.

Is Erie County going to spend money to monitor these individuals?

“We’re utilizing the services we have,” Poloncarz said. “We’re talking about paying for their motel rooms and food.”

Poloncarz added: “They’re getting the information and they will continue to give us the information and that financially, New York State knows it has responsibilities if New York City decides to walk away. I’m hoping the federal government will come through with the dollars that they have to do.

“This is a federal problem. This is a federal issue. Local governments, state governments can’t solve issues about asylum seekers, and who’s coming in, and how they’re paid for. It requires federal action.”

We’ve been told but could not confirm that New York City may pay up to a year of support for some of these individuals. That may depend on how long they have actually been in the country. They are eligible to apply for work permits after roughly six months.

Erie County Legislator Frank Todaro says he was also seeking more information because this is in his district, but he is not hearing much more.

We have also been told there are hired security guards at the hotel in Cheektowaga where they are now staying.