Aug 8, 2023 - Politics

Massachusetts declares a state of emergency as migrants flood shelters

Gov. Maura Healey announced the emergency declaration at the State House. Photo: Steph Solis/Axios

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey has declared a state of emergency to address the surge of migrants seeking shelter and awaiting work permits.

Why it matters: The state's family shelter system is bursting at the seams, and newly arrived people are waiting months — in some cases, years — for permission to work legally, immigrant advocates say.

Driving the news: At a Tuesday press conference, Healey urged the federal government to expedite work authorizations for thousands of migrants and asked for funding help with the crisis.

  • Massachusetts is spending $45 million a month on expanded shelter services and can't keep pace, Healey wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
  • State officials also asked businesses, nonprofits and the public to donate money, open up their homes and find other ways to help.

State of play: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has seen months-long delays to approve and renew work permits.

  • The agency has blamed the pandemic for processing delays, but Gladys Vega, executive director of Chelsea nonprofit La Colaborativa, tells Axios one of her clients has been waiting five years for a work permit.

By the numbers: Massachusetts has some 5,600 families in state shelters, up from roughly 3,100 last year, Healey said.

  • About half are migrants fleeing political unrest and violence while the rest are residents experiencing homelessness.
  • More than 80 cities and towns across Massachusetts are already hosting families experiencing homelessness, with 1,800 families in hotels and motels.

Zoom out: Massachusetts is one of several states grappling with an influx of migrants, but it's the only state with a right-to-shelter law.

What they're saying: "This situation is too big for any one person, or one agency or one system or one municipality to tackle by ourselves," said the Rev. Katie Cole, interim pastor at the Hartford Street Presbyterian Church in Natick.

  • Cole's congregation hosted 11 families this summer.

Details: A new migrant relief fund has received a $100,000 donation from Eastern Bank and $50,000 from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said. But, she added, it needs more.

  • The funding will go toward anything from diapers and meals to transportation, job training and applications for work authorization.
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