Legislature supports declaration on migrants

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County Legislature is going on record supporting County Executive PJ Wendel’s emergency declaration in response to New York City’s intentions to send migrants and asylum seekers to other counties in the state.

On Wednesday, county lawmakers voted 15-2 on a motion, supporting the emergency declaration.

Legislator Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, introduced the motion. “Every day we read about more illegal immigrants being relocated to upstate counties. The problem with this is if some of these folks are relocated to Chautauqua County, we’re just not adequately equipped to take care of 500 or perhaps 1,000 new immigrants,” he said.

Wendel issued the State of Emergency on May 18. It remains in effect for 30 days, at which time it may be extended.

The order states that no municipality may make contracts with persons, businesses, or entities doing business within the county to transport migrants or asylum seekers to locations in the county or to house persons at locations in the county for any length of time without the express written permission of the county executive.

Niebel said he feels compassion for the migrants who were brought to New York City, but said legislators they must make sure residents’ needs at met first. “We have veterans, we have disabled persons, we even have homeless persons and I think we need to concerned about the services we provide to these folks as well,” he said.

Legislator Elisabeth Rankin, R-Jamestown, agreed. She praised St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown for what they’ve been able to do so far with migrants brought to the county, but said if more migrants are brought here, their needs won’t be met. “What I would hate to see is that we continue to bring people in to the point where we leave them hanging in the wind and we can’t take care of them. That would be the worst thing,” she said.

Legislator Susan Parker, D-Fredonia, responded by saying that Gov. Kathy Hochul is trying to allow these migrants to work, something that Chautauqua County needs. “These people are coming. They’re eager to work. They want to work. They’re in search of work and we need workers,” she said.

Legislator Tom Nelson, D-Jamestown, who taught history and government in Frewsburg for more than 30 years, said this emergency declaration “sends the wrong message” but added that the message is not new. He went on to discuss anti-immigration legislation that has been in the United States of the last 250-plus years.

Nelson noted how Germans, Irish, Chinese, and countries southern Eastern Europe were all discriminated against and laws were enacted to keep them from becoming American citizens. “This should seem ironic because we are nation of immigrants,” he said.

Legislator David Wilfong, R-Jamestown, said he remains opposed to the migrants. “We have funding for illegal aliens, where’s the funding for our own soldiers, when they get old and get tired and have to go to nursing homes? … We have people sleeping on the streets who fought for our country but we open the door and bring all of these people in. I’m 100 percent against it and I always will be,” he said.

All 14 Republican legislators in attendance voted in favor of the motion, along with Legislator Bob Bankoski, D-Dunkirk. Parker and Nelson voted against it. Legislators Dan Pavlock, R-Sinclairville and Billy Torres, D-Jamestown, were not in attendance.


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