BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency Tuesday, citing an influx of migrants seeking shelter at a time when the cost of housing — already scarce — continues to rise.
There are nearly 5,600 families or more than 20,000 individuals – many of whom are migrants – currently living in state shelters, including babies, young children and pregnant women. That’s more than about 3,100 families a year ago, about 80% more, Healey said.
Many of the migrants arrive by plane from other states. In the past 48 hours alone, she said, 50 migrant families have landed in the state in need of shelter.
“It’s exponentially more than our state has ever served in our emergency relief program,” she said. “These numbers are driven by a surge of newcomers to our country who have taken some of the most difficult journeys imaginable.”
The migrants arriving in Massachusetts are the face of the international migrant crisis and come at a time when the state is already experiencing a housing crisis, Healey said.
In a letter to US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, she called on the federal government for financial assistance and, more urgently, for expedited work permits so the newcomers can find jobs faster and earn a living.
In the letter, Healey pointed to work permits as a primary cause of the crisis. Currently, she said, it could take weeks, months or more than a year to receive the authorizations.
“Our new arrivals are eager to work. The last thing they want is to be dependent,” she said.
As part of the emergency declaration, Healey said she is issuing a renewed appeal to local organizations that can help people seeking shelter, as well as individuals interested in sponsoring a family in their home.
The state has also launched a new migrant relief fund to raise money to help migrants.
The contributions will be used to help pay for a range of goods and services for migrants, including food, clothing, diapers and transportation, as well as health screenings, translation services, legal assistance and English lessons.
As a right to shelter, Massachusetts is required by law to provide shelter to eligible families through its emergency assistance program.
Geralde Gabeau, executive director of the Immigrant Family Services Institute, has worked with immigrants arriving from Haiti and said they are ready to go to work.
“The new families coming into our communities are wonderful people,” she said. “They are ready to work. They are ready to contribute to our economies.”
Healey and state lawmakers should revoke the state’s right to shelter, said Paul Diego Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative group.
“Maybe it’s time for the governor to take a trip to the southern border to see for himself the open southern border crisis,” he said in a statement.
More than 80 cities and towns across the state have already felt the impact of new migrants and are supporting the emergency declaration, said Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.
“Community leaders want state and federal agencies to step in to provide these families with the services and support they need to be safe and healthy,” he said.
Other states have faced challenges with huge numbers of migrants.
On Monday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a plan to house as many as 2,000 migrants on an island in the East River where a migrant center had been set up last year and torn down weeks later.
Some Republican-led states — including Texas and Florida — have bused or jetted immigrants to states and cities led by Democrats, including California, Massachusetts. New York and Chicago.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew 49 Venezuelan migrants to the posh Massachusetts enclave of Martha’s Vineyard last year.