A day after the federal government moved to make nearly half a million Venezuelan nationals temporarily eligible to reside and work in the United States, the Healey administration said “more needs to be done” to ease pressure on the Massachusetts emergency shelter system.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that it will extend and redesignate Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for many Venezuelan migrants because of unsafe conditions in the South American nation.
About 472,000 Venezuelan nationals will newly become eligible for TPS, the department estimated, which will temporarily protect them from removal and provide them with employment authorization. Only Venezuelans who arrived in the United States by July 31 will qualify.
Healey administration officials gave the development a mixed reaction, saying that although they are happy to see action that will help families, it will have a limited impact in Massachusetts because very few of the families in the state’s emergency shelters came from Venezuela.
A much larger share of people in Massachusetts shelters arrived from Haiti, and Gov. Maura Healey called for a similar TPS extension for those families.
“We are grateful to Secretary Mayorkas and his team at the Department of Homeland Security for these new commitments, but more needs to be done,” Healey spokesperson Karissa Hand said in a statement. “We continue to advocate for additional federal funding, expedited work permits, and extended Temporary Protected Status for Haitian families.”
About 242,000 people from Venezuela who are in the United States are already covered by TPS, the Biden administration estimated Wednesday.
The protections are warranted because of “Venezuela’s increased instability and lack of safety due to the enduring humanitarian, security, political, and environmental conditions,” DHS said.
“Temporary protected status provides individuals already present in the United States with protection from removal when the conditions in their home country prevent their safe return,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. “That is the situation that Venezuelans who arrived here on or before July 31 of this year find themselves in. We are accordingly granting them the protection that the law provides. However, it is critical that Venezuelans understand that those who have arrived here after July 31, 2023 are not eligible for such protection, and instead will be removed when they are found to not have a legal basis to stay.”
New York’s Congressional delegation said last week that it wanted DHS to extend TPS for Venezuelans, which represent the largest group of new arrivals in their state, according to The New York Times.
Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition, praised the TPS extension as coming “at a critical time” but also said the federal government needs to take additional steps to help the Bay State.
“Finding paths to pair new arrivals with unfilled jobs is also the best and quickest way to address this crisis and boost our economy. While this is good news and we applaud the Healey-Driscoll administration for their advocacy and support for new arrivals, we must do more to ensure that the thousands of recent arrivals to Massachusetts fleeing political and economic crises have the chance to sustainably provide for their families,” Sweet said. “The federal government must similarly expand temporary protected status designations for other countries including Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — countries from which many arrivals are coming to Massachusetts.”
Healey for weeks has been pleading with the Biden administration for significant action to accelerated processing of work permits, which she says will allow new arrivals to secure the employment they need to leave the shelter system, and funding to offset the massive costs states are facing.
More than 6,500 families are in the state’s emergency shelter system amid an unprecedented increase in demand. That’s about twice as many as in August 2022, and roughly 1,000 more than just one month ago.
Between one-third and half of those people are new arrivals from other countries. To qualify for Massachusetts emergency assistance shelter services, an immigrant must make themselves known to the federal government and acquire consent to stay, such as by officially seeking asylum, according to a Healey administration official. Anyone who arrives through an unauthorized point of entry and does not disclose their presence to federal authorities is ineligible for shelter services.
Workers at the state’s family welcome centers always check an immigrant’s status and verify eligibility before connecting them to shelter services, the official said.
As lawmakers weigh another big request from Healey for shelter funding, Healey said Tuesday that the pressure on the shelter system is “not sustainable.”
“Right now, this is a situation that was created over time by the federal government — Congress’s failure to act on much needed immigration reform and a federal administration that has been unable to provide us with the funding to support what really is a federal problem,” she said. “So we, as a state, are now forced to bear the burden and the responsibility of this.”
The state Office for Refugees and Immigrants also announced Thursday that it will expand legal aid options available for new arrivals in the state’s shelter system, an effort to help more people apply for and acquire the work authorizations that Healey has deemed as crucial.
Refugee resettlement agencies will administer the assistance, starting with the Refugee Immigrant Assistance Center, Jewish Family Services of Metrowest and the Organization for Immigrant and Refugee Success.
By mid-October, eight resettlement agencies will provide legal aid for work authorization, pro se asylum applications, and more across more than 40 temporary emergency shelters. Officials estimated that will cover more than 70 percent of shelters that do not have service providers.
“While we continue to advocate for the federal government to make desperately needed changes to the work authorization program, this program is an important step for us to provide legal assistance that can speed up this process and help put people on the path to get work, support their families and address our workforce needs,” Healey said in a statement.
(Copyright (c) 2024 State House News Service.