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Local Officials Still Seeking Answers on Migrant Flights to Westchester Airport

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Two Westchester town supervisors are still demanding answers why flights carrying migrant children from the southern border to Westchester County Airport were allowed without local officials being notified ahead of time.

Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi and Yorktown Supervisor Matt Slater questioned the practice last week after former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, and a Republican candidate for governor next year, publicized the flights on a New York City radio station on Aug. 13 and held a press conference at the airport three days later.

Westchester County Airport
Westchester County Airport has received flights of migrant children, irking some local officials and former county executive Rob Astorino who want to know why no one was informed of the arrivals beforehand. (Photo credit: Martin Wilbur)

The flights had been taking place since April, Astorino later posted on his Facebook page.

Fulgenzi said as a community that neighbors the airport residents in his town deserve answers as to why the children were being flown to Westchester, where they have been going, their health and legal status and how many have been brought to the county to date. He said if the goal was to help children, it shouldn’t have been done in secret.

“To me, if this is a humanitarian aid situation why are you bringing them in at four o’clock in the morning?” he asked. “If this is such a good thing, why are you not advertising it? Why are you doing this in the dark of night?”

Congressman Mondaire Jones’ office stated that the flights were for the purpose of unifying children of migrants at the southern border who had been separated from their parents. Jones spokesman George Flynn said members of New York State’s congressional delegation reached out to the Biden administration but there was no response to questions either from the administration or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“(It’s) children who were separated from their families at the border and either being reconnected with parents or connected with sponsors or other family members,” Flynn said.  

The decision to fly them to Westchester rather than Kennedy or LaGuardia airports occurred because the flights were chartered, which the New York City airports were unable to accommodate. They are not necessarily staying in Westchester but are on to their next destination either in the metropolitan area or elsewhere in the country, he said.

Slater also demanded that HHS release information about the status of the migrants’ health, criminal history, educational needs and projected length of stay at receiving facilities. He said it is HHS’ responsibility to inform local and county officials of the situation.

“There are many questions and concerns about this relocation program and the lack of information shared with county and municipal officials,” Slater said. “With local COVID-19 cases again surging, HHS officials must tell local officials about the details of their program, the participants and their vaccination status.”

County Executive George Latimer said the federal government does not need permission or even to inform the county of what it’s doing with one of its operations. However, his office has heard from HHS that the arrivals are not being housed in Westchester.

The highly charged issue has strong political overtones, and Latimer pointed out the loudest voices come from Republican officeholders and office-seekers in Westchester, none of whom objected to having migrants pass through the county in 2019 when Donald Trump was president.

“The one thing that’s clear is that Westchester was given no advance notice and they’re trying to tie us to something is just wrong and politically expedient,” Latimer said.

However, Fulgenzi said it’s crucial for the federal government to provide local and county officials with accurate information to combat the rumor mill on social media. Last week, there was erroneous details of migrants arriving at various sites in Westchester, including one site in Mount Pleasant, which was false.

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