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Albany city, county officials discuss challenges of migrant assimilation

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan spoke prior to an Ellis Island Initiative strategy session to explore the best ways to welcome migrants and find them jobs.
Dave Lucas
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan spoke prior to an Ellis Island Initiative strategy session to explore the best ways to welcome migrants and find them jobs.

As New York state continues to deal with an influx of tens of thousands of migrants, Albany city and county officials gathered Wednesday to discuss strategies for integrating asylum seekers.

Local elected officials came together with business groups, labor unions, non-profits, and faith organizations at the Blake Annex in downtown Albany, to develop a "common-sense" approach for better welcoming newly arrived families to the Capital Region.

Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan kicked off the session. “These are human beings, many of them families, some people traveling with small children, babies, who are fleeing conditions that are really unimaginable to us. They are often taken advantage of, they are often not sure when they get to a place whether there really is going to be someone there for them. And they don't speak the language. And so as we think about what that experience would be like, and try to walk for even one minute in those shoes, I think all of us recognize when we can drown out the rhetoric, that these are people, that if they are in our community, if we can help them become grounded, if we can help them on that journey, all of us are better off," said Sheehan. 

Albany, like the rest of New York, is facing an aging workforce and outmigration crisis that have led to a decline in the city’s workforce participation. Sheehan says the Capital Region needs to be a welcoming place that helps newcomers become acclimated, get jobs and become taxpayers as quickly as possible.

Deputy Albany County Executive Mike McLaughlin says there are close to 700 migrants, a diverse group of people from around the globe, here now and in need of help, along with local businesses facing serious labor shortages.

“We want asylum seekers to be able to find gainful employment, find a home, build a life, and success successfully assimilate into our community. That means connecting them with job training, education, support services, and more,” McLaughlin said. 

Heather Mulligan, president and CEO of the Business Council of New York State, says a million people who left the state's workforce during the pandemic never returned, leaving positions unfilled to this day.

“Unfortunately, there's a sort of boondoggle at the national level, an inability to problem solve. And the work authorization in particular is a big problem because people come looking for work but then don't have the ability to work legally. And employers can't legally hire them for an extended period of time. We need to fix this. There's a lot that goes into having a robust economy but if you don't have the workforce, you don't have anything,” said Mulligan. 

Sheehan adds there is a need to secure the southern border. "I don't want people coming into this community who are drug traffickers, or who are committing crimes, or who should not be here, because of things that they did ,criminal activity that they may have engaged in, prior to coming to our community. And that means that we need to secure our borders, we need common sense immigration reform," Sheehan said. 

The Democrat vowed to do "everything in her power" to help migrants already in the city, noting that immigrants are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. Sheehan, McLaughlin and Mulligan then joined an Ellis Island Initiative strategy session to explore the best ways to welcome newcomers and find them jobs.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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