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City of Immigrants

They Came to NYC Looking for a Better Life. NYC Is Sending Them Packing

Shuffled from shelter to shelter, some migrants are beginning to accept the City's offer of a one-way ticket out of town.

Migrants walk into the ticketing center in the East Village. (Hell Gate)

Over the summer, the former site of St. Brigid School in the East Village hosted a migrant shelter, where hundreds of people stayed while searching for stability and work in New York City. 

The shelter was later closed down because of issues with the building, but St. Brigid, which has been vacant since its closure in 2019,​​ is now playing a new role for asylum seekers: last stop.

Migrants looking for a free ticket to a domestic destination of their choice—or a one-way ticket back home—can get one at St. Brigid.

On the chilly first day of November, a string of people approached the building's green doors on East Seventh Street near Avenue B. Many looked down at their phones to confirm they were at the right address, because there were no signs or staff to alert migrants that they were at a City-sponsored location.

St. Brigid is central to the Adams administration's newest approach to the arrival of migrants in New York City: making things more difficult for people seeking a new life here so that they leave, and deterring people from coming here in the first place. While City Hall is currently battling to weaken the City's longstanding right-to-shelter policy in court, it has also taken steps to make the experience of staying in the ad hoc migrant shelter system more difficult. This has included time limits on how long migrants can stay in shelters before having to reapply for shelter, and sending migrants around the City on circuitous and often confusing routes to try to find new shelter placements. 

Luis Miguel, 21, who asked that his last name be withheld, had no idea that he'd been sent to St. Brigid to be given an offer of tickets elsewhere. He thought he was there to find a new shelter placement.

"I'm here because I got my 30-day notice," Luis Miguel told Hell Gate in Spanish. The Colombian had been in the City's shelter system for the past 10 months, and had been moved by the City to different shelters several times—either by hitting the newly instituted time limits, or because the shelter he was staying in had been shut down. Most recently, he said he was staying at a shelter near Central Park. 

"I would love to work, I want to stay here, and I have no plans to leave," he said, when informed about the offer of plane or bus tickets. He said he hadn't applied for asylum yet because he didn't know how, and hadn't found the time to learn more about it. 

In the courtyard behind St. Brigid, several migrants sat in a sunny spot, waiting on either being redirected to another shelter or tickets to another destination. One contractor working for the City at the site reported many migrants were taking the City up on its offer to go elsewhere. 

City Hall did not respond to a request for comment about how many migrants have accepted tickets.

Asked at this week's off-topic press conference if the Adams administration was throwing up bureaucratic roadblocks to actively deter asylum-seekers, Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom did not correct the assertion.

"You use the word 'deterrence' but I think I do want people to know what's happening in New York City," Williams-Isom said. "And that we're out of space and that it is not an unlimited amount of time that you can come here."

Mabel and her husband (who both declined to give their last names) had come to ask for plane tickets from the City—back to their native Ecuador. 

Standing outside of St. Brigid with their bags packed, Mabel emotionally recounted how they came to their decision, after five months in the City's shelters. 

"New York is just totally saturated with migrants right now," Mabel told Hell Gate in Spanish. "It's such a beautiful city and we're so thankful for everything it gave to us. But now we've been told the truth that there's no more room. I'm filled with such sadness right now." 

Mabel said she was determined to return to the city, when conditions for migrants improve. 

Javier, from Venezuela, was walking along the south side of Tompkins Square Park, looking up at addresses as he searched for St. Brigid, having been sent here by his 30-day notice. He also was unaware that he wouldn't find a new shelter at the site, just a ticket to leave New York.

"I don't know anyone else in the country, I just need somewhere to sleep for a while," he said. He'd been in the country for a month, and had received his 30-day notice at a shelter in Hillside, Queens. 

Javier walked past the unmarked doors, and then, looking at a map on his phone, doubled back into the school. Across the street, at the local assemblymember's office, a sign in the window read "Immigrants and Refugees Are Welcome Here."

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