BOSTON (WHDH) - State officials next month plan to host a clinic to help migrants living in emergency shelters obtain work authorizations, and the White House said the federal-state joint effort is a sign that it is responding to the calls from Bay State Democrats for help from D.C.
In a partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Gov. Maura Healey’s administration plans to host the work authorization clinic for migrants during the week of Nov. 13. Federal officials will be onsite to collect and process work authorization paperwork.
The administration announced Monday morning that the state plans to organize appointments and provide transportation from shelter sites to the clinic, which will take place somewhere in Middlesex County.
“We are glad that the Biden-Harris Administration is hosting this clinic with us, which will help process work authorizations as efficiently as possible. Many shelter residents want to work but face significant barriers to getting their work authorizations,” Gov. Healey said in a statement. “This clinic will be critical for building on the work that our administration has already been leading to connect more migrants with work opportunities, which will help them support their families and move out of emergency shelter into more stable housing options.”
Paul Belham, owner of Bell’s Powder Coating in North Attleborough, recently told North TV that he is trying to hire as many of the migrants living in town as he can because finding labor is incredibly difficult.
“I want to put 10 more on, but we’re waiting for the government to get the working papers. And that is the slowest process I’ve ever seen,” he said earlier in October. “And not only that, with Washington not having a speaker, they can’t vote on a bill to expedite these things. So they’re going to be sitting in hotels forever until Congress or whatever you want to call it in D.C. gets off their ass and fixes it, you know? I can’t blame the state because the state really has nothing to do with it.”
The work authorization clinic is part of a multi-pronged initiative to move more families out of state shelters as the emergency assistance system nears the 7,500-family limit that Healey has set. After that point, which the governor said she expects to come around Nov. 1, unhoused families may not be guaranteed shelter in Massachusetts.
On Friday, Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of three families the organization said are “on the brink of homelessness.” The suit seeks an emergency court hearing and a temporary restraining order to stop the state from “undermining” its right-to-shelter law, the group said.
Healey declared a state of emergency around the emergency assistance shelter system situation in August and announced Oct. 16 that the state’s system was reaching capacity. Since August, the governor has been calling on the Biden administration to expedite the work authorization process for new arrivals to the country and to help states like Massachusetts pay for the additional costs of sheltering the influx of people fleeing other countries.
The Department of Homeland Security sent a team of experts to Massachusetts earlier in October to assess the migrant situation, but state officials including Healey have said they don’t expect the federal government will actually come to the rescue of Massachusetts.
“I know the cavalry isn’t on the other side of the hill,” House Speaker Ron Mariano said this month.
In a statement Monday morning, a White House official said the work authorization clinic in Massachusetts is a mark of “continued support” of Massachusetts.
“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting local jurisdictions hosting recently arrived migrants and we will continue working with our partners in Massachusetts in the coming weeks and months,” Biden spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said. “Just this month, President Biden submitted supplemental funding requests to Congress which address a series of national priorities, including grant funding for jurisdictions hosting migrants and funding for accelerating the processing of work permits for eligible migrants.”
The White House said that United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will put additional personnel to work and make process improvements as part of an effort to decrease the median processing time for work authorization paperwork from 90 days to 30 days for applicants who made an appointment on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection mobile app and are, unlike asylum seekers, eligible for to work immediately.
The feds said they will also strive to cut processing times for applications associated with Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan applicants to 30 days.
The White House added that it will stay in close contact with Healey, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and their teams to coordinate on best practices and potentially more federal support in the coming weeks and months.
(Copyright (c) 2023 State House News Service.