This article was updated after Mayor Eric Adams announced late Monday he was dropping plans to open an emergency relief center for asylum seekers at Orchard Beach in the Bronx.
Bronx residents from across the political divide spoke out early Monday against the so-called “tent city” going up in a parking lot at Orchard Beach, joining a chorus of opposition against Mayor Eric Adams' administration plans for temporarily housing up to 1,000 asylum seekers.
Hours later, it must have seemed like their pleas were heard as Adams announced the city was making an abrupt course correction: Orchard Beach, inundated by weekend rain, was out as the site of the city's first emergency relief center for asylum seekers, and Randall's Island was in.
"The new location is less prone to flooding, is closer to public transportation, and will provide temporary respite to 500 asylum seekers," Adams said in a statement.
The justifications belatedly cited by the mayor mirrored those cited by critics for days, including those who addressed reporters during a protest at Orchard Beach earlier in the day: the threat of flooding and poor access to public transportation.
“How dare they put immigrants in a flood zone during winter?” Al Quattlebaum, a Democrat, pastor and professional chef from Co-op City, who is running for the state Assembly in the 82nd District, asked of the protest crowd. “We're in the middle of October and it's cold already. How do you think they're gonna feel in November?”
He complained, as have others, that “tent city,” as it has been dubbed, was being built without any input from the community or concern for the migrants.
It isn't entirely clear whose input guided the decision to base the relief center in a windswept parking lot at Orchard Beach in the first place.
In the statement Monday night, Adams said "City Emergency Management" determined that relocating the relief center was the "most efficient and effective path forward." But the threat from flooding was well known.
The Orchard Beach construction area is located in a FEMA-designated “special flood hazard area,” and it flooded with several inches of water during the weekend storm. Ahead of hurricanes, asylum seekers would be evacuated along with the 500,000 other city residents in “Zone 1” coastal areas, the city said earlier.
To prevent tidal flooding from the beach, the city had planned to set up “tiger dams,” flexible tube barriers.
Democrats and Republicans alike have balked at Adams' plans. Their objections have not always aligned.
Some suggested at the morning protest that no location, in the entirety of the U.S., would be suitable for the new arrivals. Others suggested the migrants deserved better than temporary digs.
Between 20 and 30 demonstrators gathered near where the emergency relief center was being erected. It was to serve as a waystation for new arrivals, where they could access sundry services, including help securing longer-term housing, or even help arranging travel to other cities. About a fifth of the asylum seekers who have arrived in New York in recent months have opted to leave, according to the city.
“This does not belong here!” shouted Tina Forte, a Republican candidate for Congress, as Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” blared from a speaker behind her, during the morning protest.
She added: “We the people should be first. First, always. America first, not America last.”
Cries of “Send them back to where they came from!” periodically came from the crowd, where demonstrators waved Trump 2024 flags.
The relief centers, of which the Orchard Beach facility was to be the first of at least two, were proposed by the Adams administration in response to the more than 15,000 asylum seekers who have arrived from Texas and other border states.
These include migrants who came on buses dispatched by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The Republican, who is running for re-election, has used the strategy to target President Joe Biden as being weak on border security.
Meanwhile, city shelters have struggled to accommodate the new arrivals, while contending with episodes in which asylum seekers were assaulted or denied shelter.
'Crisis' in the city
Adams has defended the construction of relief centers, arguing that the city has been overwhelmed by the number of asylum seekers and needed to come up with new solutions.
“It is our belief that we need to treat this like the crisis that it is,” Adams said.
Over the weekend, his spokesperson Kate Smart told Gothamist the city was “working diligently to ensure inclement weather doesn’t affect the living quarters for asylum seekers” and that the facilities are “hardened to retain heat and cooling.”
However, the site in the Bronx had drawn widespread criticism, including from elected officials who have been working with the Adams administration.
The beach is secluded, located at least an hour by bus from the closest grocery store, and will not be suitable for habitation in the rapidly approaching winter months.
“The beach is secluded, located at least an hour by bus from the closest grocery store, and will not be suitable for habitation in the rapidly approaching winter months,” said Bronx Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez, whose district includes Allerton, Pelham Gardens and Morris Park. “Immigrants shouldn’t be treated like this anywhere, especially in a city built by immigrants.”
Reporter Arya Sundaram contributed to this article.