MALONE – Franklin County on Tuesday joined a number of border counties in New York state in declaring a state of emergency related to the expiration of Title 42, an order that expired on May 11 prohibiting the migration into the United States by “covered non-citizens” traveling from Canada or Mexico.
The state of emergency began at 3 p.m. Tuesday, county officials announced in a press release, and will remain in effect for 30 days, or until 11:59 p.m. on June 21. The declaration will be reviewed prior to its expiration to determine if an extension should be considered, the release stated.
County officials said in the release that a potential influx of migrants could stretch county resources, as Franklin County is listed as one of the 10 poorest counties in the state. Franklin County shares three border crossings with Canada in Trout River, Chateaugay, and Fort Covington.
According to media reports, Franklin County joins St. Lawrence and nearly 30 other counties across the state in making the declaration. According to 7 News in Watertown, Jefferson County has stopped short of taking the step, as officials there say they do not see evidence of an incoming influx of migrants.
Michael E. Zurlo, Clinton County’s administrator, said Clinton County has not issued a state of emergency related to the expiration of Title 42 on May 11.
“The chairman (Mark R. Henry, R-Chazy) continues to have discussions with his board but at this point they have not decided to do a state of emergency,” Zurlo said, “It’s not like they are not continuing to monitor the situation.”
Zurlo said he believes legislators in Clinton County will continue to keep tabs on the issue moving forward.
“We are just monitoring and I can’t speak for the board but I can tell you that at this point, their review of the facts has indicated it’s not something they need to do at this time,” Zurlo said.
Donna Kissane is the Franklin County manager, and therefore chief executive, and she and county chair Edward Lockwood were responsible for making the declaration. She said that lessons learned during the uncertain times at the start of the COVID pandemic, in part, inspired a more proactive approach to the potential for an emergency situation.
“We’re not in any way saying we wouldn’t have discussions about welcoming some of the migrants in that are seeking asylum,” Kissane said. “However, we also acknowledge that this needs to be organized, planned, and we need to do it in a responsible way. We don’t want to displace our residents that are already in shelters.
“We understand the crisis that’s happening right now, but we also don’t want to create a bigger crisis by not being able to manage this. We thought we better declare the state of emergency so that we really put notice out there that we’re not prepared. We don’t have the infrastructure. We have a serious housing shortage. We have high poverty already in our area. Our food banks are struggling. How far can you tax the resources? You have to look at the bigger picture.”
Lockwood said Wednesday that the declaration was a way of “putting the state on notice” that the county lacks the housing and resources to deal with a potential influx. He said that while there has not yet been any indication that such an influx is coming, county officials wanted to be proactive and prepared.
“We don’t have enough housing in Franklin County right now for our own people,” Lockwood told the Telegram Wednesday. “It’s going to create a hardship for us to take immigrants and house them here.
“We have to be proactive, because if they do start to come, we’re kind of behind the eight-ball. That’s why we decided to do it now.”
Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, said while he was not part of the decision and sees no evidence of an influx of migrants himself, he can see the reasoning behind the step.
“I would think they’re doing it in case something does happen,” Jones told the Telegram. “There’s no indication that any migrant housing or such is in Franklin County that I’m getting from anyone. But I think their reasoning behind it would be to make sure that they can go through appropriate agencies to get funding as soon as possible.”
He said an emergency declaration can expedite the funding process should the county find itself in a place where they would need to find solutions for unhoused migrants.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Schuyler Falls, who represents Franklin County and New York’s 21st district in Washington D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.
A complex issue
Dr. Joseph A. Henderson is an associate professor of social sciences at Paul Smith’s College in the Environment and Society Department, and among the classes he teaches are social issues and cultural anthropology. He told the Telegram that he has been following the immigration issue and acknowledged the negative connotations that have been attached to the waves of people entering the United States along its borders, both northern and southern.
Dr. Henderson discussed four basic points regarding the immigration issue, and he referred to those coming across the border seeking asylum as undocumented, not illegal.
“There’s a bunch of research in social science that shows that immigrants are great for the economy, they’re good workers, they’re good consumers, they’re good taxpayers, they’re good entrepreneurs, they start small businesses. It’s a total lie that they steal jobs. Most of the evidence suggests that they actually help the economy,” he said. “The United States is a nation of immigrants.
“I personally think that we should be celebrating immigrants, especially towns in the North Country that are watching their populations decline. School districts are collapsing,” Dr. Henderson added. “There are some examples in the social science research regarding rural revitalization due to immigration. I would say we should find a way to be as welcoming as possible.”
He also pointed out the cultural value of immigrants.
“Immigrants enrich culture and the overall quality of life. There’s more restaurants, additional markets they create and makes educational and learning opportunities better because you have a more diverse group of human beings,” he said as point number two, and leading to his third point. “I find the push back against immigrants to be pathetic, and I mean that in the sense that it is an indictment on our current political climate where some people, and I’m not saying these people are doing this who are signing these orders (states of emergency).
“Immigrants have been through things that we can’t even imagine. You think about leaving your home due to violence or climate instability,” he said. “When I talk to my immigrant students here, their families have gone through hell. I just think whether we are good Samaritans or not. I’ve been taught through my parents that we’re supposed to help people who are having a tough time, and so in this case we’re talking about people who have had a really tough time, and the question is whether we’re going to help them or not. It sounds to me that there’s a conversation between state and county politicians over if and whether and what that help is going to look like.”
“And my final point is that many of these people are fleeing militarized or economic war zones that the U.S. government, and corporations of this country have played a major role in destabilizing,” Dr. Henderson said. “It might be good to ask the structural question: Why are these people fleeing in the first place?”
Dr. Henderson said what would be more telling is if Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul provided counties with more resources, would they then accept the migrants coming into the state.
“If (counties) are still pushing back, then I would say it’s political and they are just unwilling to accept immigrants,” he added. “From a social science perspective, we really do need these people because we’re looking at a rural community decline. Do you really want your communities to grow or not is a really serious question.”
Dr. Henderson was asked, How do we reconcile the saying on the Statue of Liberty that states: “Give us your tired, give us your poor,” with the xenophobia seen today?
“I think when you look back at the history of this country, questions of immigration have always been filtered through the lens of race. If you know your history, there was a time when Italians and Irish were not considered white enough to be immigrants. One of the questions I would ask: Who is allowed to count as an American? Who is allowed to be an American? Are we willing to expand the answer to that to include people who are trying to escape really horrific conditions around the world? And are we only going to allow that for some people or is this going to be a nation of immigrants?” Dr. Henderson asked.
“My indigenous friends always remind me that unless you’re native, everyone here is an immigrant, so what are we talking about?”
Alexander Violo and Richard Rosentreter contributed to this report.