Updated at 2:35 p.m. Jan. 20
The city of Boston is ramping up efforts to address the growing number of migrants seeking help and humanitarian aid following the Biden administration's announcment that it will accept 30,000 migrants each month through a new, stringent parole process.
“It seems like every single day, every single night, families are arriving and they are coming to our area hospitals seeking services, shelter,” said Housing Chief Sheila Dillon in a media roundtable Thursday. “They are going they're coming into Logan Airport. They are arriving at police stations and health centers — and they’ve been through so much to arrive here.”
She said over the past year, there have been 1,000 families arriving at Boston-area hospitals, and more are expected, straining the area shelter system. In the past four months, over 1,000 migrant children have been enrolled into the Boston Public School system.
Immigrants have already been migrating north from Haiti, South and Central America in growing numbers over the past year as a result of deteriorating economic, political and humanitarian conditions. Those who escape deportation under the Trump-era Title 42 policy, which allows Border Patrol to expel most immigrants quickly, have tried claiming asylum at the U.S.–Mexico border. Some have been bused north to New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago by Republican governors in border states and then traveled further north, while other migrants have flown or taken buses to Boston of their own volition seeking help. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also flew two planes of immigrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard in September.
Over 520 of the new Boston Public School students are from the Dominican Republic and Colombia. The rest come from a dozen other countries, including Vietnam, El Salvador, Cape Verde and Haiti.
The state has been using the emergency sheltering system for migrant families, but Dillon says a lot of the families don’t have proper documentation, making it harder to process them and creating a backlog. To address that, Dillon said the city is trying to help by setting up an interim system to talk to families, and temporarily sheltering them until the processing happens into the emergency shelter system.
The city is working with nonprofit Family Aid and Neighborhood of Affordable Housing to secure hotel rooms and temporary apartment space to get families away from emergency rooms as they wait for processing into the state’s emergency shelter system.
“We try to make sure that families, especially if they have older parents or young children, that they're not sleeping in waiting rooms,” Dillon said. “Sometimes families are for very short periods of time.”
She said her office communicates with the state twice daily, sharing a list of what families they help put up, where they are and what they need.
“I know 90% families that have that have arrived that are looking to get services or get into the emergency assistance shelter system that the state runs. And then we’re facilitating that,” she said.
Right now, 3,790 families are being helped by the Department of Housing and Community Development's emergency assistance program, which covers both new migrant arrivals and long-term Massachusetts residents, per the department. Families under that status are placed in any available units.
Families under that status are placed in any available units provided by the Department of Housing and Community Development, which has a portfolio of 350 motel units and more than 3,400 shelter units across the state. One of those units is at a former Army base in Devens, which currently is housing 21 families.
Before Gov. Charlie Baker left office, his administration filed a supplemental bill in November for funding for the state shelter system, for $130 million, which the Wu administration supported. It is unclear how the Healey administration will continue to carry that out, and if the Legislature will pass it.
While the rollback of Title 42 is still being duked out in court, the Biden administration’s recently announced program for 30,000 migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti each month will allow them to get humanitarian parole — far fewer than the total number of migrants who arrive at the southern border.
In order to qualify, immigrants have to apply from and wait in their home countries, and will need to pass a background check and prove they have a financial supporter or sponsor in the United States. They will be allowed to stay in the United States for two years and work legally. All others will be turned away at the border, despite international asylum law.
“Our office has been getting a lot of inquiries about how this process works,” said Monique Tú Nguyen, executive director of the Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement. She said the office is going to host a webinar on Monday in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole to explain it and how people can protect themselves from scams. The Office of Immigrant Advancement is also exploring how it could use AmeriCorps members to support nonprofits and its office with new migrant arrivals, and “any urgent response on the ground.”
The Immigrant Family Services Institute, a nonprofit in Mattapan, has created a “one-stop center” for new families as they arrive, said executive director Dr. Geralde Gabeau.
“How many new individuals we’ve seen at the office, from September to the end of the year, we’ve seen 1,220, and throughout the whole of 2022, we’ve seen over 8,000 individuals here,” she said. That includes helping people with housing, clothes, food and filling out forms related to immigration, school enrollment and MassHealth.
This story was updated to include data on migrant students.
Correction: Due to an editing error, this story was updated to reflect which agencies participate in the emergency assistance program.