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Mass. Governor Slams White House for ‘Federal Crisis of Inaction’ on Migrants

BOSTON — Maura Healey of Massachusetts is the latest Democratic governor to declare an emergency over the migrant surge as blue-state leaders ramp up pressure on the Biden administration to expedite work permits for asylum-seekers and support their overwhelmed shelter systems.

On Tuesday, Healey declared a state of emergency that essentially puts the National Guard on speed dial and expedites the processes for creating or renting more migrant housing.

The emergency declaration will allow the state to “utilize and operationalize all means necessary” to secure more accommodations and assist the more than 5,000 families currently in the state’s crowded shelters, Healey said during a press conference at the State House.

It also provides an avenue for the governor to more directly pressure the Biden administration for additional assistance. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Tuesday, Healey called on the White House to expedite work permits for asylum-seekers, slamming the administration for what she described as “a federal crisis of inaction that is many years in the making.”

A Biden administration spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the state is suffering workforce shortages, waiting times for work authorizations are stretching “from several months, to several years, to longer,” Healey said.

The emergency declaration notably does not try to suspend or alter the state’s 1983 “right-to-shelter” law that requires Massachusetts to provide immediate housing to qualified families. Any attempts to alter the statute would likely have faced legal challenges, as New York City Mayor Eric Adams found when he tried to weaken a similar law in his city.

Healey’s emergency declaration comes as Democratic leaders from Massachusetts and New York have been increasingly calling on the Biden administration fast-track work permits to asylum-seekers.

When asked about Healey’s announcement Tuesday, Adams was happy to have another partner pressing the White House for intervention.

“Democratic governors and mayors, mayors in Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, here in New York, El Paso, Brownsville, all of the mayors have been saying that this is a national problem and we need national leadership,” he said at an unrelated press conference in Manhattan.

“We all should be talking about this in a very real way. And there was a moment that I felt, as though, was I the only one that was seeing this? … I was asking myself, are we the only ones that are seeing what’s happening to human beings?”

Healey and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul have made private entreaties and public pleas to Biden administration officials for faster work authorization. Massachusetts’ all-Democratic federal delegation sent a letter to top Biden immigration officials last week urging them to expedite processing employment authorization documents for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

In New York City, where asylum-seekers are sleeping on sidewalks outside a makeshift intake center, Adams is again blaming the White House for not sending enough federal aid to the city that’s seen more than 93,000 newcomers since last spring.

So far, the Biden administration has barely budged on the politically thorny issue, saying the national immigration problem requires a congressional solution.

Blue-state leaders including Healey, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson have been careful not to call out President Joe Biden by name even as they have acknowledged the migrant surge requires more federal attention.

Newsom and Pritzker have instead trained their ire on the Republican governors who’ve flown and bused thousands of asylum-seekers to their states over the past year to protest the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent nearly 250 migrants to the Los Angeles region over the past two months, according to the Los Angeles Times.

And a steady stream of migrants continues to arrive in Chicago from Texas. More than 12,000 migrants have come to the city since last August, with a busload of 40 to 50 migrants arriving every day in July, according to the city.

In Massachusetts, Healey’s emergency declaration is the latest in a series of increasingly dire actions the governor has taken to deal with the influx of migrants that has grown exponentially in the past year and stretched state services to a breaking point.

When Healey took office in January, there were less than 3,700 homeless families in the state’s emergency shelter system. As of Monday, there were more than 5,500, her administration said. (Massachusetts does not differentiate between migrants and others seeking shelter.) Shelters have hit capacity, and homeless families are flooding hospital emergency departments for refuge.

The state has resorted to placing migrants and homeless families in motels and empty college dormitories, opened two “welcome centers” and stood up a temporary shelter at Joint Base Cape Cod, where the 49 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration last September were also taken to receive emergency services. Healey has activated 44 Massachusetts National Guard members to support efforts at the military base.

On Tuesday, Healey also announced the launch of the Massachusetts Migrant Families Relief Fund, a joint effort from United Way of Massachusetts Bay and The Boston Foundation to provide financial and community assistance to newcomers.

Many of the migrants arriving in Massachusetts are from Haiti — the Boston metropolitan area is home to the third-largest Haitian population in this country. Others, like many of the migrants sent by DeSantis, are from Venezuela.

But outside of the Martha’s Vineyard flights, Massachusetts has rarely been the direct recipient of the migrant transports DeSantis and Abbot have been organizing for over a year now.

New York leaders also say the state’s at a breaking point. Hochul declared a state of emergency in May and sent hundreds of New York’s national guard members to the city to help handle the influx of newcomers.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and other members of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation met with DHS’s Mayorkas in Washington last week. Mayorkas committed to appointing a federal liaison to help New York triage the migrant crisis, but New York Democrats have said the White House must do more to help.

“All we need is for the White House to give us that TPS status to allow the men and women to work,” Adams said on ABC’s Nightline on Tuesday. He was referring to Temporary Protected Status, a federal designation that allows migrants from certain countries to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.

“The congressional delegation is calling for it, local leaders are calling for it, everyone is calling for it. It is something within our powers and there’s no reason we’re not doing it,” Adams said.

The escalation from Democratic governors demanding their party leader in the White House act on asylum-seekers is particularly bad timing for Biden, who’s sure to face an onslaught of attacks from Republicans on the issue during his reelection campaign.