Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency Tuesday, citing an influx of migrants seeking shelter at a time when the cost of housing — already in short supply — continues to rise.
There are nearly 5,600 families or more than 20,000 people — many of whom are migrants — currently living in state shelters, including infants, young children and pregnant women. That is up from around 3,100 families a year ago, about an 80% increase, Healey said.
Many of the migrants are arriving 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 assistance program," she said. "These numbers are being driven by a surge in new arrivals in our country who have been through some of the hardest journeys imaginable."
The migrants arriving in Massachusetts are the face of the international migrant crisis and are coming at a time when the state is already experiencing a housing crunch, Healey said.
She called on the federal government for financial help, and more urgently, expedited work authorizations to allow the new arrivals to more quickly find jobs and start earning a living, she wrote in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
In the letter, Healey pointed to work authorizations as a primary driver of the crisis. Currently, she said, it can take weeks, months or more than a year to receive the authorizations.
"Our new arrivals are most eager to work. The last thing they want is to be dependent," she said.
As part of the emergency declaration, Healey said she is renewing a call to local organizations that can assist those seeking shelter as well as to people interested in sponsoring a family in their home.
The state has also launched a new migrant relief fund to help raise money to aid 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 classes.
As a right-to-shelter state, Massachusetts is legally required to provide eligible families shelter 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 get to work.
"The new families coming to our communities are wonderful human beings," she said. "They are ready to work. They are ready to contribute to our economies."
Healey and state lawmakers should rescind the state's right-to-shelter policy, said Paul Diego Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative group.
"Perhaps it is time for the governor to take a trip to the southern border to see firsthand 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 support the emergency declatarion, 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 soaring numbers of migrants.
On Monday, New York 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 was set up last year and then taken down weeks later.
Some states led by Republicans — including Texas and Florida — have bused or flown immigrants to states and cities led by Democrats, including California, Massachusetts. New York and Chicago.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last year flew 49 Venezuelan migrants to the upscale Massachusetts enclave of Martha's Vineyard.
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