“Sanctuary” state Massachusetts is the latest to declare a state of emergency over its inability to handle thousands of immigrants who have arrived after being released from federal custody at the United States-Mexico border.
“This is a national issue that demands a national response,” Gov. Maura Healey (D-MA) said during a press conference on Tuesday morning. “Today, I am declaring a state of emergency in Massachusetts.”
Healey called on Washington to help Massachusetts because the state could not financially or logistically respond to the 20,000 people living in state-funded shelters, hotels, dormitories, and other emergency facilities statewide — an 80% increase from a year ago. The state’s 1983 “right to shelter” law maintains that any family, regardless of immigration status, is guaranteed immediate state-provided housing.
“It’s more families than our state has ever served, exponentially more than our state has ever served in our emergency assistance program,” Healey said at the event 2,000 miles away from the southern tip of Texas and the border crisis epicenter.
“We’re unable to move people from housing and shelter into permanent housing because of this, so instead, we’ve been expanding and continuing to look for housing and shelter opportunities, expanding shelter at a rapid pace, and it’s unsustainable.”
Healey said the state had tried to address this worsening issue at the federal level and pushed the Biden administration for assistance to no avail. She also complained that the federal process to obtain work documents took too long and left immigrants unemployable.
Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll spoke and pleaded with the public to take in immigrant families.
“If you have an extra room or suite in your home, please consider hosting a family,” Driscoll said.
Healey and Driscoll said they were struck by immigrants’ desire to join the workforce as soon as possible. Both said they visited a temporary housing site at Salem State College last week where Healey said they were met by “kind, hardworking, resilient, resourceful, and enterprising newcomers” who were “eager to work.”
Massachusetts’s 7 million residents join other localities, including New York City, Chicago, and Washington, that have grappled to respond to the number of immigrants released into their communities from the border under President Joe Biden. All are sanctuary zones that have refused to cooperate with U.S. government immigration policies.
In 2017, the state’s top court ruled that state court officers do not have the authority to arrest or hold an illegal immigrant solely because he or she was named in a federal immigration request, effectively making the state a “sanctuary” zone.
Since then, Massachusetts has rolled out initiatives to help immigrants who are awaiting asylum and deportation proceedings years down the road live normal lives while in the country. Just last month, the state began allowing any noncitizen residing in the state to obtain a noncommercial driver’s license.
Illegal immigrants are also eligible for state assistance programs that cover the cost of food, as well as receive select healthcare coverage through the state’s MassHealth Limited plan and financial assistance to pay rent through the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition, Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance Program, and Emergency Rental Assistance Program, according to the state’s website.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), a 2024 GOP presidential candidate, touted the state’s sanctuary status when he flew a group of immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. Residents on the island erupted at the move, which DeSantis argued was hypocritical given the state’s willingness to help immigrants despite their having entered the country unlawfully.
Since Biden took office, more than 2 million people who illegally came across the southern border have been released into the United States. The large majority travel to places across the country.