By Alberto Gilman
In his final days in office, Assemblyman Colin Schmitt doubled down on his opposition to any migrant settlements in the area. It had been a major platform of his unsuccessful congressional campaign last year. Now he focused on a proposed settlement in his backyard.
In early October, it was reported that several federally-chartered flights had landed at Orange County Airport in Montgomery with migrant passengers on board, some of whom were reported as unaccompanied minors. These passengers were reported to have been taken to Kingston, Poughkeepsie and New York City following their arrival in Orange County. Schmitt, critical of the flights, had vowed to put an end to them if elected.
On December 30, while he was on National Guard duty in Buffalo, Schmitt’s office released a letter to the New Windsor Town Board raising concerns about St. Christopher’s School, located along Blooming Grove Turnpike, to operate as an education and service facility for migrant children from the United States Mexican border. The letter was also posted on the former assemblyman’s official Facebook page.
The letter, also shared with the Mid-Hudson Times read as follows:
“Dear Members of the New Windsor Town Board: Several of our shared constituents in the Town of New Windsor have contacted my office with concerns regarding St. Christopher’s New Windsor Campus. In particular, these concerns come from the significant renovations occurring at the property. My office has done outreach and confirmed from St. Christopher’s officials that “St. Christopher’s has been designated by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) as a care provider of services and shelter,” and that “Town of New Windsor officials are aware.” It is expected that upwards of 36 migrants who have entered the country illegally, classified as unaccompanied minors, will be housed at the New Windsor campus at any given time. Our communities have had significant concern over the secret migrant flights flown into Orange County Airport this fall. Now, a migrant camp is being set up in New Windsor with town officials allegedly being notified and no public notification or opposition put forward. These flights will now be able to resume with the goal of maximizing counts at the St. Christopher’s campus,” said Schmitt in the letter. “I write on behalf of our shared New Windsor constituents and my entire Assembly District to strongly object to the housing of migrants flown in from the Southern Border in New Windsor, particularly this plan to house up to 36 at a time at St. Christopher’s New Windsor. I urge the Town Board to exercise its home rule authority to prevent the housing of migrants within town borders and, specifically, at this location. This plan is unacceptable and must be stopped. St. Christopher’s in written communication states they “will keep in close contact with Town of New Windsor officials regarding timing” of this migrant relocation occurring. Given the purported level of communication between the town and St. Christopher’s, efforts should be made to immediately end this plan.”
St. Christophers, located at 623 Blooming Grove Turnpike, formerly known as McQuade Children’s Services back in 2009, currently serves as an academic institution and residential facility for troubled youth and students with disabilities.
“St. Christopher’s has been designated by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) as a care provider of services and shelter to unaccompanied children,” said Dennis da Costa, Director of Institutional Advancement & Communications for St. Christopher’s Inc. “We anticipate that within the first half of 2023, our New Windsor Campus will serve as a residential shelter for 36 unaccompanied children, ages 12-17. We will provide them with such services as classroom education, healthcare, socialization/recreation, vocational training, mental health services, and case management—while external, partner agencies will coordinate placement of these youth with vetted sponsors.”
Da Costa said the number 36 signifies an approved capacity but that does not mean there will be 36 children at one particular time. Numbers of children and varying time spent at the facility will alternate depending on the various needs and services required for the children.
Town Supervisor George Meyers confirmed that he has seen the letter, along with members of the Town but have not been notified or made aware of any current developments for the school.
“We spoke to the administration of this St. Christophers school. They called my office and the police chief’s office and we’re looking for a letter of support for a school that they were going to run,” said Meyers. “I think they were talking about 13 to 15 or 18 year olds, who would come there for three months, they would have some trainings and have some Spanish teachers, English teachers telling me what a great thing it was.”
Meyers recalled that the school was anticipated to open in the fall but no movement was made and following the conversations with limited information in September, Meyers clarified that the town and the board did not provide a letter of support for the school and that no communication has occurred between his office and the federal government on this particular project as it is under a designated federal office. According to Meyers, as an approved school site, it does not have to seek town approvals at this time. The school however would need to appear before the New Windsor Planning Board to seek approvals in order to construct and develop any additional structures.
Other council members concurred that no formal action has been taken by the town board.
“We did not agree to provide a letter of support,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Santiago. “Nothing’s happened as far as I know.”
Councilman Steve Moreau responded via text that Meyers along with Town Attorney David Zagon are working on a statement to be presented by the town board at a later date.
An Orange County spokesperson released the following statement via email addressing inquiries made to the county about the letter and migrant arrivals: “The Federal Government does not share information with the County about their migrant related plans and have refused to coordinate migration policy with local governments. Zoning and site plan approvals are town matters for which the County has no veto power under State law.”
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office was contacted to inquire about the migrant children and additional information about the designation of the school site. No response was received as of Tuesday, January 3.