In New York State Supreme Court in Erie County Friday, counsel for the town of Cheektowaga argued three hotels are operating illegally as shelters and must be ordered by the court to submit site plans and special use permits in order to continue housing asylum seekers.
Judge Emilio Colaiacovo said the migrant influx is a regrettable situation fueled by politics that has turned innocent people into victims and pawns.
"Nevertheless, the limited role of the court is not to disparage the current immigration system or question why the asylum seekers are here, but to simply determine whether the town code applies and if the condition as they exist at these hotels as defined by the law violate the code," he said.
Attorneys for the town said while migrants first came to Cheektowaga from New York City in early June, the situation has become unmanageable as evidenced in the last week at flooding at one of the hotels, fire code violations and property damage at the others. Attorney Robert Zitt said he can't speak to whether the town would approve applications should Colaiacovo grant injunctive relief.
"Nothing has been submitted for the town to even be able to render a position on the matter, and I know no answer is going to be satisfactory but it's really just a hypothetical until one of these are put in," Zitt said.
Scrutiny on the migrant population there has intensified following two separate alleged incidents of sexual assault in August. Attorney Todd Soloway, who represents the hotels, said the changing political climate spurred Cheektowaga's action, which he argues unconstitutionally targets a specific group of people.
"It has to do with more than just zoning, but the application and potentially manipulation of local laws to achieve unconstitutional goals," he said.
Colaiacovo said he believes the plaintiffs are practically seeking the eviction of hundreds of people. As a result, he ordered the New York City contractor responsible for relocating asylum seekers to the town and coordinating their services be part of the proceedings.
"The court also finds that DocGo is an indispensable party to this proceeding if for no other reason than that they are ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of those they have contractually agreed to place in hotels in Erie County," he said.
The judge said DocGo must be served by Monday and scheduled an evidentiary hearing that will include the company for Wednesday and Thursday next week. A temporary restraining order barring any additional migrants from being placed at the hotels remains in place until the hearing.
Attorneys for the hotels said there is state law that supersedes Cheektowaga town code, allowing for hotels to temporarily house migrants. Attorneys for Cheektowaga said the hotels have addressed a number if not all of the safety concerns on the properties, but only after the town brought them to their attention.