Nearly 10 million Ukrainians crossed the Polish-Ukranian border after Russia launched an unprovoked attack against their homeland in February 2022.
They were met with information booths, volunteer translators and free coffee.
About 1.5 million of the refugees decided to stay in Poland where they were housed wherever there was space including people’s homes.
In Warsaw, the nation’s capital, the city’s population of 1.8 million – a little more than Nassau County – grew by 15%, or about 270,000 people. Kraków’s population rose by 23%, Gdańsk’s by 34%
Compare this with the fierce opposition to some of the asylum seekers being bused to nearby suburban counties by New York City, which is straining under an influx of about 50,000 migrants in the past year.
While Poles invited Ukranians into their own homes, some New Yorkers don’t want asylum-seekers fleeing human rights abuses who have legally entered the country housed in gymnasiums or motels.
Some leaders and residents in Rockland and Orange counties vowed to do everything they could to prevent New York City Mayor Eric Adams from sending the migrants north even with the city footing the bill for housing in hotels for four months.
Both counties and Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency before two busloads of migrants arrived in Newburgh in Orange County.
Riverhead Town in Suffolk County last week became the latest GOP-led municipality to issue an executive order preventing New York City from sending asylum-seekers to them. The city sought to rent two motels and a public shelter.
State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) last week expressed concerns after Hochul announced she is considering using state properties, including state University of New York and City University of New York campuses, to temporarily house asylum-seekers over this summer. This included SUNY Old Westbury, which Martins said was not under consideration.
”Now communities like ours, like here in Nassau County and elsewhere in New York State, have to deal with the realities of migrants being shipped into our communities without the resources we need to deal with them, without knowing who they are and quite frankly, potentially putting us all at risk,” Martins told News 12.
This is hardly consistent with Emma Lazarus’ words on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Or President Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City upon a Hill” welcoming those from around the world.
But Martins’ concern about public safety was not new to him and other asylum opponents.
As far back as 2015, Martins opposed allowing Syrian refugees fleeing from a civil war that claimed the lives of more than 350,000 people to come to the United States based on safety concerns.
“My friends, when the political posturing ends, the simple question remains: Could the influx of Syrian refugees pose a terrorist threat to our nation? The honest answer is yes.” he said.
More than 6.7 million Syrians would ultimately be taken in by other nations in Europe and the Middle East.
Martins later ended a failed bid for Nassau County executive against Laura Curran in 2017 with a mailer sent on his behalf with a photo showing three shirtless Latino men covered in tattoos, which turned out to have been taken in Latin America. The headline said “Meet Your New Neighbors.”
The text beneath the headline said Laura Curran “will roll out the welcome mat for violent gangs like MS-13,” adding that “Laura Curran: She’s MS-13s choice for County Executive.”
This was consistent with President Trump, whose 2016 campaign for president began with an attack on Mexicans coming here illegally, and continued during his presidency in overtly racist ways.
In a discussion about protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, he said “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Trump then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries such as Norway.
But the safety concerns have never materialized.
During Curran’s one term, Nassau County was not taken over by Central American gangs and the leadership of MS-13 was arrested, found guilty of crimes and sent to jail. In fact, Nassau was twice voted the safest county in the United States by U.S. News and World Report.
There are differences between the Ukranians refugees and the asylum-seekers.
There is no doubt that the Ukrainians faced immediate danger from the Russian military raining down rockets and other instruments of war on both the Ukrainian army and residents.
The asylum-seekers – including women and children – are traveling up to 2,500 miles, many on foot, to claim they are subject to robbery, beatings, rape and death from drug dealers, gangs and other very bad actors in their failed Latin American states.
Unlike many other migrants, the asylum-seekers have the legal right to enter the United States under U.S. and international law. Their reasons for entering the country are then investigated and evaluated.
Asylum-seekers are given a court date and social services mostly through charities, but so far are prohibited by federal law from seeking employment until their status is determined.
Could some asylum-seekers simply be trying to enter the United States for financial reasons? Yes. And if found that they do not qualify, they will be sent back to their countries.
Unfortunately, this is part of a failed immigration system in which the review process now takes four years.
In recent months, tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in New York City, many on bus trips arranged by the governors of border states such as Texas.
President Biden introduced legislation that would overhaul the immigration system, increasing border security and providing citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants.
But Republicans have uniformly opposed the proposals and are even less likely to support the legislation at a time when they are seeking large cuts to government programs.
The Biden administration is also working to allow migrants to file asylum claims in Latin America rather than entering the United States. It has made $350 million in federal grants available to local governments dealing with the arrival of migrants. New York received $30 million.
But that is a small fraction of the $2 billion Adams estimates the surge in migrants is costing New York City.
Adams, who has gained notoriety for harshly and publicly criticizing the Biden administration for not doing enough, said New York and other cities should receive more money and the migrants should be granted exemptions to allow them to work. He is right.
He is also right when he says that incoming migrants should be spread around the country.
“We got 108,000 cities and towns and villages,” Adams said. “Why aren’t we spreading this out throughout the entire country?”
Adams is right about this as well, but Hochul also has a major responsibility. Many places in upstate New York have suffered large population declines and with some financial assistance could more easily house the migrants.
Hochul, Adams and the state Legislature could also help by doing more to address New York’s housing shortage, which is exacerbating the migrant crisis as well as driving people out of the state.
The response by suburban counties around New York to Adams’ own version of dispersing the migrant population shows why this won’t be easy.
State Assemblymember Charles Lavine (D-Westbury) offered a sensible response to Hochul’s consideration of SUNY and CUNY campuses.
He said he understood SUNY Old Westbury was not being considered as an option but if that were to change, he would be open-minded to any reasonable suggestion to address an influx of migrants seeking asylum.
Lavine said he estimates New York has received well over 50,000 asylum seekers and “more will be coming.” Because of this, he said something must be done to address the impact on local communities.
Many in the United States have prided themselves on our country welcoming immigrants to our shores, fueling our economic growth and serving as an example to the world of our goodness and generosity.
But that feeling has not always been shared by everyone. There have notable exceptions such as the country’s failure to allow Jews fleeing Hitler into the United States. The motto was “America First.” And millions perished.
The asylum-seekers, like our immigration policy overall, are now a test of our ability to solve problems. And a statement of who we are.