Workers from the Sanitation Department and NYPD officers cleared the sidewalk encampment in front of The Watson Hotel on Wednesday evening, ending days of protest about moving migrants to a new facility in Brooklyn.

The Watson Hotel
The Watson Hotel on W57th Street has been the scene of protests this week. Photo: SBMA

Residents of W57th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue came home last night to find the road blocked at both ends and hundreds of police, including members of the NYPD Special Response Group, surrounding the hotel. By 10pm, the encampment had been cleared and all single male migrants who had been accommodated at The Watson over recent months had moved on. The tents and belongings left behind were loaded onto DSNY trucks, along with bikes that were cut from scaffolding and racks around the hotel.

South Bronx Mutual Aid Fund — an organization that has been advocating for the men at The Watson — told NY1 that city workers had encouraged migrants to leave the area with a message played over speakers in Spanish, saying: “This is the Department of Sanitation. You must leave the area and take your belongings.” NYPD confirmed that there were no arrests made during the sweep.

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The protests began at the weekend when asylum seekers who had been moved from The Watson complained about conditions at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, where the city had set up a 1,000-bed shelter. Mayor Eric Adams has said throughout the protest that the issue at The Watson has been caused by “agitators” — and that it was “not a standoff” with the migrants.

For many migrants at The Watson, their journey through New York’s system started at the Randall’s Island shelter, which the Adams administration shut down in November amid controversy when migrants failed to show up to the site. Many of the migrants were then welcomed to the W57th Street hotel. During the pandemic, The Watson was one of the 170 hotels that the city brought into service to get homeless men out of congregate housing.

Photojournalist Stephanie Keith shared on Instagram her conversations with some of the migrants camped at The Watson this week. “These men are a group of eight friends who walked all the way from Venezuela. They told me about their journey and how they lost most of their belongings and documents in the Darien Gap in Panama. Also how the simple meal of rotisserie chicken they were eating, how they could never ever afford to eat chicken in Venezuela. How they came to New York because they say it’s the best city in the world and they want to get work permits to start work,” she said.

NYC Department of Immigrant Affairs said on Twitter that “the vast majority of migrants (600+) had already moved to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.” Council Member Gale Brewer (whose district includes parts of W57th Street up to 10th Avenue) said on Twitter that she had toured the facilities in Brooklyn to check out the conditions. “It is close quarters in the sleeping area but warm, clean and safe with many services. There are charging stations for e-bikes, secure storage and medical care. The location is not ideal… The terminal is far from the subway or a commercial strip. Credit to the City for providing a shuttle to Barclays but more can be done to orient people to the area. They also need MetroCards which are not provided. Still, it is an impressive facility, all things considered,” she said.

A spokesman for the mayor said most of the migrants had chosen to go to Brooklyn, while six asylum seekers left to meet friends and family in other cities and an unidentified number “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.”

“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,” mayoral spokesman Fabien Levy told Gothamist. “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.” The Watson Hotel will now pivot to serving asylum-seeking families with children.

The status of The Watson and care for the people in it was discussed at Community Board 4’s meeting on Thursday night, with one member telling the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs’ representative Robin Forst that the crisis which had unfolded was “a self-inflicted wound.” Joe Restuccia said: “Having been to The Watson, seeing how well it’s run, the idea that the individuals would be transferred – this is so predictable that this was going to happen.

“The idea that to leave this facility, to go to a big, old, ship terminal, it makes no sense. It could have been avoided,” he said. “When we go forward with things like this, please think about what’s going to happen.” He also asked for help with more space for families in The Watson, saying it lacks space for family programs for children, with its only large communal space a former ballroom. When winter ends, he said, there will be hundreds of children with nowhere to go except the sidewalks.

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  1. Glad these pot smoking, wheelie popping, drunk migrant men are gone from my neighborhood. They were given too much & got spoiled.

    Now I hope the families that move in don’t beg for money on the streets and don’t have teenage punks that harass people!

    Time for NYC & NYS to get out of the sanctuary business.

    1. Quick Note Update: I totally agree with these comments and am appalled at these men.
      This happened because the republican government of Texas bussed this problem to us. Republicans NEVER have solutions; they push problems to democrats.

      Perhaps these men should be put in trailer home communities as soon as they cross the border and given paid jobs working on our farms. They could save money over 5 years to then participate in our society. This would provide the opportunity for us to separate out the psychos and also be a deterrent in the future to others if they know that coming here will require a 4-or 5-year commitment to work.

      If they want to become Americans and want to be here, they will have to earn it. Thats what many others have done.

      The suit wearing, Jive talking turkey mayor is petitioning to get the federal government to pay us for this, and most of the money will be paid back to the businesses who provided housing, food, clothing and many other services to these illegal migrants.

      NYC Sanctuary City!

  2. What happens now? Do we support these people till they are working? NYC residents are seeing a decline in services and rising costs. How do we pay for this? There are legal ways to enter the country. Why isn’t there more control? I’ve been told some are turning down jobs because they are not on par with professions they had in their country. I was also told the city is paying employers half the wages to employ the migrants. Politicians have to consider sensible solutions and the impact on residents of NYC and other cities, An immigrant student made a sensible suggestion. The government should set up embassies in poorer countries that would screen asylum seekers in their native countries. Also, why not tie foreign aid to proof the recipient countries establish jobs and benefits for their workers? Better conditions at home would obviate the need to migrate.

    1. These men are asylum seekers, which is in fact a legal way to enter the country. You are right that if they had better conditions at home, they would stay. But they are mostly fleeing oppressive regimes that the US put in place, so we are not going to do anything to help there.

      1. They were cat calling me and most women felt unsafe. I also saw many smoking weed. I am sorry but how are we vetting? I am sure some need help but some may be entitled as you saw or criminals… also what about other migrants? What about South Sudan? This is too much

      2. Thank you for a sane comment, John. The racism and entitlement of some of these comments is blowing my mind.

  3. I raised my son 2 blocks away. There are loads of places for children! Central Park just steps away. A pocket park at 57th and Ninth. Several churches and museums. YMCA on 63rd.

  4. I totally agree with these comments and am appalled at these men.
    This is because the republican government of Texas bussed this problem to us.

    Republicans never have solutions; they push problems to democrats.

    Perhaps these men should have been put in trailer homes and given paid jobs on farms for enough years until they save money to participate in our society.

    The suit wearing, Jive talking turkey mayor is petitioning to get the federal government to pay us for this and most will be paid to the people who bill their expenses for housing, feeding and clothing these illegal migrants.

    NYC Sanctuary City!

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