The Latest Migrant Battleground: NYC Soccer Fields

For months, as New York City has struggled to find shelter for more than 50,000 migrants, Mayor Eric Adams has sought to rally residents to push Washington for more help.

“I need you to raise your voice on the federal level,” Mr. Adams said at a town hall-style event in Manhattan Thursday night. “I need you to say, as New Yorkers, ‘We deserve to be treated better.’”

New Yorkers have been raising their voices.

At him.

It seems as if every place city officials choose to house migrants draws a new backlash.

One of the latest skirmishes is being fought on Randall’s Island, off the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where a tent complex big enough to sleep 2,000 men is being built atop four soccer fields, just as the fall season prepares to begin.

The fields are heavily used by teams from public high schools and private leagues across the city. More than 3,000 people have signed petitions urging Mr. Adams to halt the plan.

In an uncomfortable twist for Mr. Adams, one of the petitions has been promoted by his consumer protection commissioner, Vilda Vera Mayuga, who is also the commissioner of Manhattan’s West Side Soccer League.

Ms. Mayuga urged league parents to sign the petition in an email on Sunday. She said that the league understood the city’s need to accommodate the migrants but that “it simply cannot be at the expense of our youth and the NYC government must make responsible decisions.”

After Ms. Mayuga’s dual role was revealed on Thursday by the news site The City, she said in a statement that she had not signed the petition herself.

“Anyone who knows me or my work knows the passion I bring to supporting and advocating for immigrants and it breaks my heart that, with an email, I sent a very different message,” she said.

That same day, the agency Ms. Mayuga leads, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, was one of at least 16 to retweet a video Mr. Adams posted this week on X, formerly known as Twitter, in which he hailed New York as “a city of empathy” that would lead the nation in its efforts to accommodate those seeking asylum.

Similarly unwarm welcomes have greeted several other migrant centers the city is building or has recently opened, including one in a recreation center at Sunset Park in Brooklyn and another in the parking lot of the Creedmoor state psychiatric hospital in Queens.

Resistance to the Randall’s Island tents has come from many corners.

Martin Jacobson, a New York soccer coaching legend at Martin Luther King Jr. High School whose teams have won 20 city championships, said the Public School Athletic League had 60 games scheduled this fall on fields that were now beneath the half-constructed tent complex. All are being moved, in some cases to lower-quality fields, he said.

“Believe me, I work with immigrant kids — my kids are first-generation Americans,” Mr. Jacobson said. “I’m not against immigrants, I’m against City Hall.” He suggested that if the city wanted to put migrants on Randall’s Island, it could resurrect the tent city it had placed elsewhere on the island last fall and closed after several weeks.

Robin Reiter, the chief executive of a physical therapy practice whose son plays football in a travel league that charges up to $1,250 per season, said that “as a taxpayer in New York and a parent of a child who uses these fields and whose friends use these fields, it’s really disruptive.”

“Randall’s Island keeps kids off the street,” she said. “If you start expanding these cities and taking over more fields and lose their area to play, they’re going to go back to the street and that’s heartbreaking.”

Opposition to the tents is not unanimous. On Friday, as dozens of workers hauled in building materials and the complex took shape, Luis Mendoza, a 16-year-old from the Bronx, was practicing soccer on a nearby field.

“My parents migrated from Ecuador,” he said, “so when I hear there are refugees coming, I’m not against it, because if people were against my mom coming over when I was younger, I’d want her to have space as well.”

One parent from the West Side Soccer League, which charges a relatively low $175 per season for a spot, was so upset by the petition that he wrote on X that he was pulling his children out.

“When my kids are in the park playing the beautiful game with the children whose parents risked everything to escape untold horrors to come here,” wrote the man, Lucian Reynolds, a city housing official, “I’ll want to look them in the eye without shame.”

Josie Glickman, 16, whose Hunter College High School soccer team sometimes uses the fields, said she felt that New Yorkers should be able to make sacrifices.

“If that means that some people miss a few practices for some period of time,” she said, “I think that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to give, if it means that a lot of people have somewhere to sleep.”

Wesley Parnell and Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.


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