Only a couple of Latin American migrants had been admitted to the Adams administration’s new migrant tent camp on Randalls Island as of late Wednesday afternoon, making for a slow first day of operations at the controversial facility.
Around 10:30 a.m., a shuttle bus was seen dropping off two male migrants at the sprawling facility in the Icahn Stadium parking lot, making them the first to arrive.
Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol, whose agency is spearheading the tent project, could be seen shaking hands with the two men before they went through the intake process, which includes being tested for COVID-19.
As of 3:45 p.m., the Daily News had seen no other migrants arriving at the site, which has capacity for 500 people. A spokeswoman for Mayor Adams declined to divulge a headcount, saying the administration doesn’t “share specific site numbers.”
The opening of the tent facility comes as data shows more than 20,500 Central and South American migrants have arrived in the city since this spring. Many of them are fleeing violence and economic collapse in their home countries in hopes of gaining asylum in the U.S., and some were sent on buses to New York by Republican officials in southern border states as part of a political stunt.
The Randalls site is supposed to alleviate pressure on the city homeless shelter system — which saw its population hit an all-time high this month amid the migrant influx.
But some advocates have slammed Adams for sticking with the Randalls plan, arguing that sheltering asylum seekers in tents is inhumane and also raising concern about the viability of the site, which is flood-prone.
“The decision to open the Randall’s Island tent camp today is a stain on our city’s rich history of welcoming immigrants and morally reprehensible,” said Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
“By confining new asylum seekers to isolated tents, vulnerable to inclement weather and removed from critical social services, the Adams administration has failed in its duties to protect and integrate the newest arrivals to our city…Mayor Adams has compromised New York City’s status as a beacon of hope.”
Administration officials brought reporters on a tour of the facility Tuesday, showcasing a dormitory, an infirmary, laundry rooms, a dining hall where three meals a day will be served and a recreation room replete with flat-screen TVs, WiFi, board games, foosball and ping-pong tables as well as landline phones that can make international calls.
“We want to make sure that we’re able to meet all their immediate needs, which, as you saw, include medical attention, include an area to rest, to take a shower, and most importantly, a way to connect with their loved ones and friends to be able to get to their final destinations,” Manuel Castro, Adams’ immigrant affairs commissioner, told reporters after the tour.
The tent camp was initially supposed to only serve as a temporary facility, where migrants would spend a maximum of 96 hours before being placed in other forms of housing or helped with getting to other locations in the U.S.
But Dr. Ted Long, a top official in the city Health Department, said during Tuesday’s tour that the administration has had a change of heart and that there will be “no limit” on how long migrants can stay at the Randalls facility.
Adams, who did not join the tour and did not host any media availabilities Wednesday, either, has said his administration will likely open more tent facilities in coming weeks unless the flow of migrants slows.
Awawdeh pleaded with Adams to change course and instead seek to house migrants in vacant hotels or other underutilized buildings.
“Adams must immediately halt any future plans to use or expand tents around our city,” he said.