DELMAR — In February 2017, Bethlehem passed a resolution affirming that its police department would continue to not ask individuals to share their immigration or citizenship status unless necessary to a criminal investigation or for the purposes of public safety. The procedures are consistent with sanctuary provisions often found in sanctuary communities, but the town is not, under any standing law, defined as such.
With New York City Mayor Eric Adams dispersing migrants across the state as part of a relocation program, the town’s inclusion of sanctuary provisions may come with future financial responsibility.
“The challenge with ‘sanctuary city’ is that it means different things to different people,” said Bethlehem Town Supervisor David VanLuven, who was on the board that adopted the 2017 resolution and voted in favor of it. “Based on the most common usage, we are not a sanctuary city because the town didn’t pass a resolution declaring itself to be one.”
The 2017 resolution was worded to prevent town personnel and volunteers from inquiring about or requesting proof of immigration or citizenship status unless necessary, in addition to pledging to respond to persecution on the basis of immigration status — or any other legally protected status — with “appropriate priority and urgency.” It was passed primarily in light of then-President Donald Trump’s administration’s ban on immigration and reaffirmed policies the town was already practicing.
Initially, some town members raised concerns about President Trump’s threat to revoke federal funding from sanctuary cities. But since the 2017 resolution never identified Bethlehem as such, this never became a factor.
Bethlehem’s decision to pass sanctuary provisions without naming itself a sanctuary city in 2017 now has material consequences, with NYC Mayor Eric Adams busing migrants across the state as part of a relocation program.
On Saturday, May 27, a busload of 24 migrants arrived at the Sure Stay Best Western Hotel on Wolf Road, even though Colonie is not classified as a sanctuary city. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy issued a state of emergency and order on Tuesday, May 23, ordering that migrant families could be resettled in Albany County — a self-designated sanctuary city — with proper communication between the county and the agency presenting the families.
According to VanLuven, the town of Bethlehem has not been asked to provide housing for migrants by New York City or any neighboring counties. If this were to occur, Bethlehem does not currently have the resources to properly house migrants and their families, he said.
“We only have two hotels, and my understanding is that they are consistently booked,” VanLuven explained. “I expect that this is a consistent situation across suburban and rural communities: We don’t have large stocks of vacant housing or hotel infrastructure, or of large buildings that could be converted into housing.”
Right now, the financial responsibility of taking care of migrants that have been relocated from NYC falls on the city itself, as a part of a long-standing “right to shelter” obligation. The policy has been in place for over 40 years, after a court in 1981 required NYC to provide temporary housing for any homeless person seeking it. But in recent weeks, NYC Mayor Eric Adams has asked courts to suspend this policy.
Adams’ request was made largely in light of the arrival of more than 70,000 migrants since last spring. While he said he does not wish to permanently suspend the right to shelter in the city, he is seeking “clarity from the court.”
“Given that we’re unable to provide care for an unlimited number of people and are already overextended, it is in the best interest of everyone, including those seeking to come to the United States, to be upfront that New York City cannot single-handedly provide care to everyone crossing our border,” he said in a statement on May 23.
The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless have filed legal opposition to Adams’ request, claiming that suspension of the city’s right-to-shelter policy would force people to sleep in unsafe public places.
About two weeks prior to making his request, Adams loosened some right-to-shelter rules that were already in place, in light of the expiration of Title 42 on May 11. Changes to policies included relaxing a rule that required the city to find beds for people within a certain timeframe, and suspending a rule that prohibits families with children from being housed in congregate settings.
If the right to shelter is suspended, where the financial responsibility of taking care of migrants that have been relocated north of the city will fall becomes unclear. Right now, NYC assumes all of these costs, but if the suit goes through, some could be directed to the counties currently housing migrants.
“The financial responsibility of housing, caring for, and processing the applications of immigrants is the responsibility of the federal government, ideally working in partnership with state governments,” VanLuven said.
Adams has made it clear that he is not receiving enough financial support from the federal government to properly take care of the city’s migrant population. If the right to shelter is suspended, it is unclear whether other sanctuary cities within the state will be asked to provide this support instead, or if they even have the resources to do so.