By Zachary Stieber
The governor of Massachusetts has activated the National Guard to help handle a flood of immigrants, at least some of whom are illegally in the country, that have arrived in the state in recent months.
“Massachusetts is in a state of emergency, and we need all hands-on deck to meet this moment and ensure families have access to safe shelter and basic services,” Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Ms. Healey’s order activates up to 250 Guard personnel to help pass out food and carry out other basic services at hotels that have been turned into emergency shelters as Massachusetts struggles to deal with the flood of illegal immigrants.
More than 6,000 immigrants, including children and pregnant women, are being housed in the shelters, which are located across the state but not in some of the most affluent communities.
As Massachusetts has added additional shelters, companies that provide services such as food have been “stretched thin,” according to Massachusetts officials.
“While we work to implement a more permanent staffing solution, the National Guard will provide an efficient and effective means of delivering these services and keeping everybody safe,” Ms. Healey said.
Guard members will help make sure the immigrants have food, shelter, and medical care, coordinating with vendors, community groups, and government officials.
They will also check on enrolling immigrant children in local schools and stay in contact with newly created teams that will oversee sites across the state.
“We are committed to being always ready and always there for the residents of Massachusetts,” Maj. Gen. Gary Keefe, the adjutant general for the Massachusetts National Guard, said in a statement. “Our role in the response to the ongoing housing crisis will expand to leverage our multitude of robust and adaptable capabilities in emergency and domestic operations to help those in need.”
The order follows a meeting between Ms. Healey, staff members, and federal officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. They went over how to help Massachusetts handle the immigration flood, with one focus being authorizing the recent arrivals to work.
President Joe Biden’s administration also recently granted Massachusetts $1.9 million to expand the shelter system in Boston, the state’s largest city, and facilitate transportation for the immigrants.
Ms. Healey earlier in August declared an emergency over the immigration crisis.
Many of the immigrants are remaining in shelters even as more and more arrive, state officials said.
The declaration was said to help add to the shelter system and free officials to make other moves to alleviate the crush.
The number of people in all state shelters has since climbed to above 20,000, with a majority being immigrants.
Immigrants are traveling to Massachusetts in different ways, including by plane.
Massachusetts law requires state officials to provide shelter to homeless people. Some state lawmakers have called on Ms. Healey to repeal the law.
Ms. Healey also asked Mr. Mayorkas to use executive power to enable the immigrants to work in the country as well as give money to Massachusetts.
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson noted the grant for Boston services and said the agency would keep collaborating with city and state officials and call on Congress to approve reforms to the immigration system.
White House officials were not asked about Massachusetts during a briefing on Thursday. The briefing primarily touched on the aftermath of wildfires in Hawaii.
Illegal Immigration Surge
Illegal immigration has surged under President Biden, hitting record highs.
In fiscal year 2022 alone, border agents recorded 2.3 million arrests at the U.S.–Mexico border.
In the most recent month for which data are available, July, 183,503 arrests were recorded.
President Biden’s administration has weakened border policies while making it easier for immigrants to enter the country legally. One program lets nationals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela into the country and grants them work permits.
Most immigrants cross into California, Arizona, and Texas, but regularly travel or are transported to states far into the interior after entering the country. Texas has sent busses full of immigrants to cities in blue states, such as Los Angeles and Chicago.
New York City and other jurisdictions have also declared states of emergency over the flood of immigrants and have urged the federal government to step up to assist.
“This crisis originated with the federal government, and it must be resolved through the federal government,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said recently. “The borders and decisions about who can work are solely determined by the federal government.”
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, another Democrat, on Thursday said the Biden administration needs to grant work permits for the illegal immigrants because they want to work.