‘A new Ellis Island’: NYC migrants sleep in cars outside overwhelmed Roosevelt Hotel

As winter batters an already battle-weary Big Apple, illegal migrants have taken to sleeping in cars parked outside the once-sparkling Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, now the overflowing site of the city’s main intake center.

The Roosevelt, according to one city official, is “a new Ellis Island.”

While the city claims the hotel is an “asylum seeker resource center,” according to Gothamist, 23-year-old Venezuelan migrant Yovani Nieves, who was trying to escape the brutal chill of Canada’s winter, said the Roosevelt staff blew him off because he wasn’t part of a family.

That’s when he decided to sleep in his broken-down car. The Mitsubishi Lancer made it to the Roosevelt from Vancouver and promptly died from the effort.

“They’re just helping the people who have families, little kids,” Nieves told Gothamist when the outlet visited the hotel on Christmas Day. The Venezuelan had spent the past two nights in his car — something that shouldn’t have happened according to New York City’s “right-to-shelter” mandate. The measure guarantees everyone who needs a roof over their head and a bed to sleep in will be provided with both.

But on Tuesday, the first group of migrant families who had been living in shelters for the allotted 60 days were evicted and told to reapply.

Single adult migrants have just 30 days before they must leave their shelter and reapply.

“They have nowhere to move on to,” South Bronx Mutual Aid organizer Desiree Joy Frias told Gothamist. “[Mayor Eric] Adams wants them to leave the state. It’s winter.”

The outlet dropped in at the Roosevelt on Christmas and again on January 4.

“On both days, a reporter saw men sleeping in four cars with out-of-state plates on Vanderbilt Avenue, near the hotel,” the outlet reported. “Food scraps, like discarded pizza boxes and take-out containers, were littered around the vehicles with fogged-up windows.”

“There’s no space in the hotel,” Venezuelan migrant Hugo Rafael Ramirez said. “It’s full.”

Migrants began sleeping in their cars last month, according to Angel Narvaez, a security guard at the nearby, multi-million-dollar JP Morgan Chase building.

“All of a sudden, little by little, cars with migrants with out-of-state plates have been coming in,” Narvaez said, adding that they shuffle their street parking spaces to avoid tickets. It is, the guard said, “a very big toxic nuisance.”

“The vehicles had license plates from Alabama, Washington, Georgia and Texas,” according to Gothamist. “Some of the plates were temporary. All of them had at least one recent violation for standing in a commercial meter zone, according to a database of New York City parking violations.”

On Monday, Mayor Adams promised migrants the shelter reapplication process would go smoothly.

“This is not going to be a city where we’re going to place children and families on the street and have them sleep on the street,” he said. “That is not going to happen.”

Many of those illegal migrants who have managed to buy cars are illegally using them not just for shelter but as a way to earn money as drivers.

“There are migrants that work their way up from bicycle to scooter to vehicle through Uber Eats,” Frias explained. “There’s channels on WhatsApp and Telegram where you can buy an Uber Eats and a DoorDash account without having to meet the ID requirements.”

The vehicles have appeared across the city.

The National Park Service towed five cars and a truck — all used by migrants, and many of them without license plates — from a parking lot at the Floyd Bennett Field shelter, according to Brooklyn Assemblymember Jaime Williams.

“It was really bizarre to me to see that,” she said. “I don’t understand where they could have gotten these vehicles from…because I don’t think they’re processed to even obtain a license from DMV.”

Meanwhile, police outside the Roosevelt have stopped giving Nieves tickets.

“I tell them I’m stuck here, my car is broken and I don’t have money to fix it,” he said. “They just told me to move the car.”

Melissa Fine


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