The Biden administration is slashing through environmental protection rules and worries about policing and the health of illegal immigrants themselves as it rushes to erect a migrant camp on a national park site in New York City, local lawmakers told Congress on Wednesday.
The National Park Service signed an agreement to lease Floyd Bennett Field, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in Brooklyn, to hold a tent city housing up to 7,500 adult men, giving New York a place to stash at least some of the cataclysmic flow of migrants cresting over the city.
But the feds have indicated they will not go through the environmental process required by the National Environmental Policy Act, nor have they figured out how to boost policing for the area, which is currently home to ball fields, hay rides and a kids’ petting zoo.
The site also lacks the infrastructure to supply the camp with basic needs like water, and the location, which juts into Jamaica Bay, is a flood plain that was inundated with water just last weekend, a state assemblywoman told the House Natural Resources Committee.
“There’s no jobs there. There is no food there. There is nothing there,” said Assemblywoman Jamie R. Williams, a Democrat who represents the area and said she and her constituents were left out of all the conversations. “These decisions cannot be made at such a level where the local electeds read about it, hear about it, on the news.”
Republicans on the committee said they were shocked that the Biden administration, which usually professes deep fealty to NEPA when it comes to stymying new energy projects, in this case is ignoring the bedrock environmental law to speed the migrant camp.
One local politician said when they asked the park service recently about adding athletic fields to another New York site the service refused, saying it was inconsistent with the goals of the site.
Indeed, the administration also cited environmental concerns in its decision to halt construction on former President Donald Trump’s border wall, saying he failed to consult local communities and waived too many environmental laws to build the barrier.
“Yet now that the president is facing public backlash from a border crisis unlike any this nation has ever seen, the administration is suddenly reversing course, ignoring every environmental protection in the book,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman, chairman of the committee, who visited the site last weekend.
The airfield was first used for commercial traffic and then as a naval air station, and now is part of the park site, serving as a treasured green space and athletic complex for Brooklyn.
The park service signed a lease two weeks ago granting the city one year’s use, with the option for a second year. The lease envisions somewhere between 2,000 and 7,500 adult male migrants living in the tent city.
City officials say New York has become home to some 120,000 migrants who gravitated there because of the city’s promises of housing, food and medical care — promises the city says it can no longer deliver.
Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, earlier this month said the migrant surge will “destroy” the city.
He has said using the field is a poor substitute for President Biden delivering more fundamental solutions, including financial assistance to local communities working to welcome the migrants, and changes to derail the flow at the border.
Local politicians have sued to stop the lease.
“I think that the lease never should have been signed, never should have been offered, never should have been asked for. It is a national federal park,” Councilwoman Joann Ariola, a Republican, said at Wednesday’s hearing.
Officials from the National Park Service were invited to testify but did not show.
The park service, in response to an inquiry from The Washington Times, pointed to the Interior Department, which issued a statement saying it does try to provide witnesses when requested but said the committee didn’t give it enough time.
The department said it has also publicized “significant amounts of information about the topic of today’s hearing.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican, said when Congress created Gateway National Recreation Area, it described the goal as bringing a national park experience to the New York metropolitan area.
The Biden plan, he said, reverses that and is “bringing a New York metropolitan experience to the national parks.”
He worried that the New York experience would also become a model for the use of parklands in other states.
“My concern is that New York City, a wealthy part of our country, if it’s having trouble with this housing crisis, what about all the other communities around the country, border states and other states, how are they going to be able to cope?” Mr. Lamborn said.
Democrats on the panel did little to defend the Biden administration’s decision-making, instead arguing that hypocrisy on the issue went both ways.
“Why do we have Republicans who have spent the last nine months and in some cases their entire careers slashing the budgets of the national park system and the Interior Department, suddenly today gravely concerned about the integrity of our national park system?” said Rep. Jared Huffman, California Democrat.
He said: “I don’t really think of most of my Republican colleagues as caring about New York City most of the time.”
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, blamed Republicans for creating the migrant crisis in the first place. In particular, she targeted Florida and Texas, states she said “fueled this emergency.”
But Ms. Williams, the Democratic state assembly member, blasted the suggestion that opponents were playing political games or attacking immigrants.
“I too am an immigrant, I must state this here,” she said. “I certainly would not put any family in an area this isolated, no transit whatsoever and have them in a flood zone.”