Groups, individuals lend time and skills
Parishioners at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Garrison and the Highlands Chapel in Cold Spring have for years supported the Rural & Migrant Ministry, which assists farmworkers and recent immigrants.
So, when the ministry on June 17 organized an event to support asylum seekers lodged at hotels in the Town of Newburgh and Poughkeepsie, congregants donated enough food to make 150 meals, said Jim Bopp, a Garrison resident who attends St. Philip’s and serves on the board of Rural & Migrant Ministry, which is based in Cornwall.
Bopp said that he and the Rev. Amanda Eiman, the rector at St. Philip’s, were among six people from the congregation who drove to Cornwall to volunteer and meet with dozens of migrants. A pastry chef from Mauritania and a truck driver from Mali were among the people he met, said Bopp.
“I’m a Christian,” he said. “It’s clear that we’re to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Bopp and Rural & Migrant Ministry were clearly not factored in by Dutchess and other counties that have filed lawsuits to stop New York City from sending, to hotels within their boundaries, some of the more than 80,000 migrants seeking asylum who have overwhelmed New York City’s shelter system. Unlike county executives, a number of religious and activist groups have asked: “What can we do to help?”
The lawsuits filed by the counties have repeated a theme — that the additional people will overwhelm existing resources. But the 86 asylum seekers transported to the Red Roof Inn on Route 9 in the Town of Poughkeepsie and the 186 people bused to the Crossroads Hotel and Ramada by Wyndham in the Town of Newburgh have found the opposite.
In addition to Rural & Migrant Ministry, elected officials such as Yvette Valdés Smith, a Dutchess County legislator whose district includes part of Beacon, joined other supporters who greeted migrants as they stepped off buses at the hotels. And, grassroots groups like Beacon Climate Action Now and Reunite Migrant Families have held donation drives and recruited translators and people to fill other volunteer roles.
Much of the coordination takes place through a WhatsApp group called Dutchess Welcoming, said Valdés Smith, a Democrat who was elected in 2021. “These organizations have blown my mind,” she said. “I’m inspired by their action and their humanity.”
Resources to Assist Migrants
Beacon Climate Action Now
Catholic Chairites USA
Greater Newburgh Interfaith Council
Hearts & Homes for Refugees
Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
New York Civil Liberties Union
New York Immigrant Coalition
Rural & Migrant Ministry
Ulster Immigrant Defense Network
New York City sent 110 asylum seekers to the Crossroads Hotel in Newburgh on May 11 and then another 76 to the Ramada in Newburgh. On May 21, two buses dropped off migrants at the Red Roof Inn in Poughkeepsie.
The Red Roof contracted with New York City to provide rooms despite an executive order issued two days earlier by Dutchess Executive William F.X. O’Neil that prohibited hotels from accepting asylum seekers.
“I was surprised by that — which I thought was a devastating blow and an un-humanitarian approach to what was happening,” said Valdés Smith.
Valdés Smith said she contacted Beacon Climate Action Now, which was assisting migrants at the Newburgh hotels, about collaborating to help the people staying at the Red Roof Inn.
Visiting the hotel that first week, she said they met men who spoke Spanish, Valdés’ first language, but also Arabic, French and Portuguese. Some of the men, she said, were relying on Google Translate to communicate.
“One of the first court dates they had was June 5, and they had never spoken to any sort of lawyer,” she said.
Translators were recruited by Deb Davidovits, a Fishkill resident who responded to Beacon Climate Action Now’s call for volunteers. She and another volunteer arrange to have translators available when needed.
“Unless we’re Native Americans, we all came here from someplace else, and to help somebody in need just feels like a fundamentally important act,” Davidovits said.
Members of Reunite Migrant Families, the Hudson Valley chapter of the national group Grannies Respond, traveled to Orange County to greet asylum seekers transported to the Newburgh hotels.
Because they received an early notice about the arrival, the group had already collected carloads of donations, said Muriel Horowitz, a member of Reunite Migrant Families’ steering committee.
Volunteers collected work boots, pants, shorts and over-the-counter medications. They also used cash donations to buy additional items, handed out fliers about workshops organized by migrant-serving organizations such as Neighbors Link and Catholic Charities, and drove migrants to English classes at a church in Poughkeepsie.
Ahead of the celebration on Thursday (June 29) of Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s major holidays, a local mosque invited some of the Arabic-speaking migrants at the Red Roof Inn to attend its services, said Horowitz.
“People from our group, somebody’s there [at the Red Roof] most days for something,” said Horowitz.
The event organized by Rural & Migrant Ministry took place at the organization’s headquarters in Cornwall. Welcoming the asylum seekers addressed two concerns, said the Rev. Richard Witt, who has been executive director of the charity since 1991: “speaking a different voice than the negative vitriol” heard from people opposed to their presence, and to help them settle into the area.
“Our concern right now is they’re going to be here ongoing,” said Witt. “How do we make this work?”
Using a grant from the Episcopal Diocese of New York, Rural & Migrant Ministry rented two buses to bring about 60 migrants from Newburgh and Poughkeepsie to its campus. In addition to food, there were translators and information booths from organizations that provide legal, health and other services, as well as workshops on the asylum process and how to avoid being exploited by employers.
“Imagine if you or I ended up in some foreign country and we didn’t speak the language and we’re trying to start anew,” said Witt. “We would be so dependent on somebody helping us.”