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NYPD tells asylum seekers camped out in Midtown to leave as lawmakers head to Brooklyn to tour new shelter

NYPD clears asylum seeker encampment outside Manhattan hotel
NYPD clears asylum seeker encampment outside Manhattan hotel 02:45

NEW YORK -- The NYPD removed asylum seekers from outside the Watson Hotel in Midtown on Wednesday night as controversy continues to brew over the city's decision to move them to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

NYPD officers descended upon the asylum seekers' encampment, ordering them to pack up their things from the sidewalk and leave.

In Spanish, Carlos Espinosa told CBS2's Ali Bauman the police presence scares him and he has not decided where he'll go now.

Espinosa was among the dozens of asylum seekers sleeping outside the hotel since Sunday, refusing to move to the city's congregate shelter in Brooklyn.

"They've been given two options. Two buses are going to Red Hook, Brooklyn. One bus is going to 30th Street men's shelter," said Luna Gray, with Mutual Aid.

Most outside the Watson decided to board the bus to the Brooklyn shelter, but we've learned six chose to meet friends or family in other cities. The rest are now on their own.  

A spokesman for the mayor released the following statement Wednesday night:

"We are grateful that almost all single men who were staying at the Watson Hotel have chosen to heed our calls and come inside from the frigid temperatures tonight. The single men who were staying at the Watson have now all either chosen to transfer to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal — a humanitarian relief center that multiple elected officials today called a 'warm' location — or decided to leave our care by connecting with friends, family, or other networks. Tonight, a joint effort by multiple city agencies began to clean up the block and encourage the few dozen asylum seekers to come inside as temperatures continued to drop. Immediately, most of the asylum seekers decided to board our busses and go to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, while six asylum seekers chose to be reticketed to meet friends or family in other cities and the remaining asylum seekers chose to go their own ways as agitators outside the Watson continued to encourage them to endanger their lives in these freezing temperatures and not accept shelter. To be clear, no arrests were made tonight, and the only items discarded were those on the street. Any items asylum seekers had in their rooms are still in our care and will remain available for pick up. Additionally, those who chose to leave on their own tonight will still have the ability to enter the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal if they come to us tomorrow or in the future."

Hours earlier, City Council members visited the new facility in Brooklyn.

The lawmakers joined in on the chorus of calls, criticizing the living conditions inside the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal -- the new home to 1,000 asylum seekers.

"The city of New York is trying to discourage people from staying in their care and that's why they have set up this kind of congregate facility in the way that they have," Councilman Lincoln Restler said.

"I am primarily concerned about the lack of privacy, and I know that our city can do better to ensure that these folks are housed here with dignity," City Councilman Shahana Hanif said.

READ MOREAsylum seekers camped outside Watson Hotel say they want to hear from Mayor Eric Adams directly

For days, the city has struggled to convince those staying at the hotel in Midtown to move to Red Hook so that hotel rooms can be given to families.

Many have refused, choosing to camp out in the cold in front of the Watson while arguing the new shelter is isolated, lacking in transportation, with cots stacked head to toe.

But what do the men who have moved there think?

Asylum seekers CBS2 spoke to in Brooklyn on Wednesday said they adjusted just fine.

"A single man can go anywhere, sleep anywhere, eat whatever, but with a kids, it's a different matter," Oscar Marin, of Colombia, said in Spanish.

Watch Christina Fan's report

Asylum seekers staying at Brooklyn facility weigh in on controversy 02:11

Alejandro Landaeta has been staying in the Brooklyn shelter for days and said the conditions are good.

When asked what he thinks of those who were refusing to join, he said in Spanish, "They are being lazy. We came here to work, not to be maintained by anyone."

The city has been fighting the negative reaction by posting videos and pictures of the facility, reiterating there's nearly 100 toilets, controlled temperature, hot showers and three meals per day.

Mayor Eric Adams is accusing some bad actors of spreading misinformation.

"The overwhelming number of them move. From my analysis about 30 are still there, and I'm not even sure they are migrants. There are some agitators that just really ... I think is doing a disservice to the migrants," Adams said.

READ MOREMayor Adams' plan to use Brooklyn Cruise Terminal as emergency shelter for asylum seekers faces backlash

But advocates say it's no surprise why people would be upset.

"Nobody wants to be sleeping with 999 people in the same room. I think it's a very difficult position to be put into, especially for clients who have undergone a lot of trauma," said Kathryn Kliff, attorney at the Legal Aid Society.

Activists and council members say there's no reason the city can't open up more hotels for the asylum seekers, adding the move to Brooklyn is adding to their trauma.

RELATED STORY: Gov. Kathy Hochul addresses funding for asylum seekers, MTA's fiscal problems in state budget

Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul earmarked $1 billion in her budget proposal for shelter and services for asylum seekers. She also said both New York City and the federal government should match the state's investment.

"We were with the president yesterday, and he did say there would be money coming from the federal government to help the city. He did not give a number, but we believe that they should be picking up a significant share," Hochul said.

In a statement, the mayor responded in part, "A national crisis requires a national response. We will continue to need our federal and state partners to do their part."

With asylum seekers now cleared of the Watson Hotel and away from the block entirely, sources tell us the city is now preparing to move asylum-seeking families and children into the hotel rooms.

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