Undocumented street homeless rises after Trump’s deportation order

Shelter fears: City workers are having a hard time getting undocumented homeless to enter the shelter system because they’re afraid of being deported.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Undocumented homeless are refusing to enter the city’s shelter system because they’re worried President Trump will deport them, according to non-citizens living on the street in Sunset Park.

“I don’t want to go to a shelter — it’s not safe and I’m not here legally,” said Hector — an undocumented homeless man who is originally from Mexico and would not give his last name because of his immigration status — speaking through a translator. “If I go they’ll probably deport me. I’d rather live on the streets than be deported.”

Hector is part of a booming population of undocumented men living by the train tracks on 62nd Street and 10th Avenue — where at least six of the two-dozen members are refusing to go into shelters for fear they’ll end up on a bus back to Mexico.

Hector, who collects and recycles bottles to cash in on their deposits, says he has not committed any crimes.

There have long been homeless in the area, but their numbers have ballooned since Trump signed an executive order in late January instructing agencies to remove aliens who have committed a crime, are wanted for a crime, or who have committed acts for which they could be charged, as well as non-legal residents who have misrepresented themselves to a government agency, abused public-benefit programs, or who immigration officials deem “a risk to public safety or national security.”

New York’s status as a so-called “sanctuary city” means officials will not blow the whistle on non-violent undocumented immigrants who enter the shelter system, according to a rep with the Department of Homeless Services.

But the president’s order is nonetheless sowing fear, an advocate said.

I think what’s most likely going on is people are extremely nervous in the current climate of calling attention to themselves,” said Josh Goldfein, who also works with advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless. “And this creates problems in terms of public health and safety. No one would should feel hesitant to come forward for services. They won’t be deported. No one should be out on the streets — it’s not safe.”

Trump’s order does, however, promise to punish sanctuary cities by withholding federal funding — a move that could cost New York City as much as $7 billion, according to a recent report from Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.

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