Speaker blasts Adams admin’s late night sweep of migrants outside Watson Hotel

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.
Photo courtesy of Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams on Thursday rebuked Mayor Eric Adams’ decision to clear out several dozen migrants who were camped outside Midtown Manhattan’s Watson Hotel, protesting the city’s push to relocate them from the hotel to a mega-shelter in Brooklyn since Sunday.

The sweep, conducted by the NYPD and city Department of Sanitation staffers, took place just before 8 p.m. Wednesday night. The group of migrants were reportedly given two options for where to relocate: either a new 1,000-bed shelter housed in Red Hook’s Brooklyn Cruise Terminal or one of the city’s men’s shelters.

The speaker, during an unrelated news conference Thursday afternoon, called the sweep “disappointing,” especially considering it happened on the same day that Governor Kathy Hochul allocated $1 billion for the city to handle the crisis in her executive budget for the coming fiscal year.

“It’s disappointing that the administration chose to handle the situation outside of the Watson Hotel in the manner it did, especially on a day when the governor proposed resources to support our city in helping asylum seekers and the neighborhood’s welcoming them,” the speaker said.

Additionally, Speaker Adams said, there appears to be “inefficient communication and transparency” from the Adams administration with how it’s handled transferring migrants from the Watson to the cruise terminal.

“From the beginning of the effort to move individuals into the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, there appears to be inefficient communication and transparency,” the speaker said. “I believe that some of this could have been averted. With more openness about the cruise terminal, earlier engagement, access and clear communication regarding the challenge the city was facing that precipitated the need to move people to accommodate families. That didn’t happen and unfortunately, we ended up in a standoff with a lack of trust on all sides.”

Mayor Eric Adams gives a speech at the State of the City Address.Photo by Dean Moses

But the mayor’s office sees the situation quite differently. 

Fabien Levy, in a statement to amNewYork Metro, said there was “no standoff.” Instead, he said, the majority of the asylum seekers camped outside the hotel went on buses provided by the city to the Brooklyn shelter, none were arrested and only the items they had with them on the street were tossed out by sanitation workers — not the items that were in their hotel rooms.

“To be clear, no arrests were made last night, and the only items discarded were those on the street,” Levy said. “Any items asylum seekers had in their rooms are still in our care and will remain available for pick up.”

Another six went to stay with friends and family and the remaining migrants chose to “go their own ways,” Levy said. It was necessary to get those migrants into indoor shelters ahead of expected freezing temperatures this weekend, he added.

“We are grateful that almost all single men who were staying at the Watson Hotel chose to heed our calls and come inside from the frigid temperatures last night,” Levy said. “The men who were staying at the Watson all either chose to transfer to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal — a humanitarian relief center that multiple elected officials yesterday called a ‘warm’ location — or decided to leave our care by connecting with friends, family, or other networks.”

The mayor and his office have maintained that there were only about 30 people still in the encampment when the sweep took place Wednesday night; and that several of them weren’t asylum seekers, but rather activists he characterized as “agitators” they believed to be stoking fear with migrants about the Brooklyn shelter’s conditions. Hizzoner even took things a step further Wednesday, suggesting that none of the protesters in the encampment were migrants.

Many migrants were loaded into school buses.Photo by Dean Moses

The speaker seemed to give credence to the mayor’s claim that some outside actors were responsible for sowing discord among the asylum seekers.

“There were also indications that some individuals outside of the hotel, who are not migrants, did not help the overall situation, but may have actually played a role in undermining trust,” she said.

Since it was first announced last month, advocates have cited issues with the new shelter, such as it being located in a flood zone and not being close to public transportation. The mayor’s administration has said the new shelter was necessary as the city has been inundated with over 42,000 migrants since last spring.

Corinne Low, executive director of the advocacy group Open Hearts Initiative, took aim at the mayor blaming “agitators” in a Wednesday night statement.

“No one deserves to be ‘swept’ away, and the image of dozens of NYC cops confronting asylum seekers who have traveled thousands of miles in perilous conditions to have a chance of a better life is deeply disturbing,” Low said. “I hope the mayor finds his heart and finds a better way to negotiate challenges than blaming ‘outside agitators’ and showing disproportionate force whenever he doesn’t get his way. This sweep was a shameful act of cowardice.”