'Inexcusable': Why so many Mass. officials are pressing Biden on immigrant work permit waits

Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency last week, citing the influx of migrants to the state in need of shelter. Healey said there are nearly 5,600 families — or more than 20,000 individuals — currently living in state shelters across Massachusetts. That's up from around 3,100 families a year ago, about an 80% increase. (Steve LeBlanc/AP)
Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency this month, citing the influx of migrants to the state in need of shelter. Healey said there are nearly 5,600 families — or more than 20,000 individuals — currently living in state shelters across Massachusetts. That's up from around 3,100 families a year ago, about an 80% increase. (Steve LeBlanc/AP)

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The city’s oldest annual Italian festival, the Fisherman’s Feast, kicks off tonight in the North End and — fingers crossed — we should have consistent blue skies by the weekend to enjoy it. (Just maybe don’t take outdoor dining tips from New York City Mayor Eric Adams.)

Let’s get to the news:

We’re waiting: Last week, after declaring the local influx of unhoused migrants a state of emergency, Gov. Maura Healey called on local residents for help — through donations and by opening their homes to homeless families. But an increasingly loud chorus of top Massachusetts officials are also pleading for help from the top. Healey, the state’s congressional delegation and Attorney General Andrea Campbell are all pushing President Joe Biden’s administration to speed up federal work permits for new immigrants and refugees so families can support themselves here. In a letter Wednesday with 18 other state attorneys general, Campbell wrote the permits have been “needlessly delayed” for thousands of legal migrants due to wait times of “10 months or more,” among other hangups with the federal approval process. “This is inexcusable,” they wrote.

  • Inside the “invisible crisis”: The wait times are especially taxing for Massachusetts, the only state in the country that guarantees temporary housing for families with children. Combined with the state’s lack of affordable housing, the recent influx of migrants — many fleeing violence and unrest in countries like Haiti and Venezuela — has put an unprecedented strain on the state’s safety net. Healey’s office said last week that 5,550 families — or over 20,000 people — are in the state-run family shelter system. Healey called the situation “unsustainable.”
  • Mounting pressure: Campbell is hardly the first to press the Biden administration on the issue. Healey sent a letter last week urging for executive action to expedite the work permit process. She told Radio Boston earlier this month that she’s had local businesses “begging” to hire migrants at the state’s intake center and shelter on Cape Cod. “They want to work and we’ve got a lot of employers here who want to put them to work,” Healey said.
  • How exactly could the feds help? The state’s all-Democrat delegation has praised Biden for ending Title 42 and opening new doors for vulnerable migrants to come to the U.S. But in a July 31 letter, the 11-member group said the feds could help more by automatically granting provisional work approvals to certain legal migrants and making permit renewals less onerous. (Campbell’s letter echoed several of the same requested policy changes.)
  • Listen: WBUR’s Gabrielle Emmanuel, who has been reporting closely on the crisis, is on today’s episode of The Common to explain Healey’s emergency declaration and what comes next.

MBTA stations on the Red Line may soon be stocked with naloxone, better known as Narcan, the nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose. WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reports the new state budget includes nearly $100,000 for the initiative. The plan calls for three publicly-accessible naloxone boxes at each Red Line station.

  • The back story: Jay Garg, a Harvard student involved in the college’s overdose prevention group, began lobbying for the project with a few fellow students after seeing that about 10% of overdoses in Cambridge happen at MBTA stops. The idea was then picked up by a Quincy state senator.
  • What’s next: MBTA officials say they’ll develop a plan to roll out the initiative in the coming months. In the meantime, a T spokesman noted transit police already carry Narcan.

Cape concerns: Some business leaders on Cape Cod are having sleepless nights over Healey’s new plan for rebuilding the Sagamore and Bourne bridges. Under the new phased strategy, the state is prioritizing funding for the Sagamore’s replacement, while laying the groundwork to replace the Bourne shortly thereafter.

  • What’s the worry? Paul Niedzwiecki, the CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, is uneasy that funding uncertainties could result in the “structurally deficient” Bourne Bridge getting rehabilitated, rather than replaced. If that were to happen, there would be highly disruptive closures compared to building new bridges next to the current ones. “We’re talking about potentially a full closure of that bridge for anywhere from six to 12 months, and that would cause an economic dislocation on the Cape that we may not recover from,” Niedzwiecki told WBUR’s Andrea Perdomo-Hernandez.
  • To be clear: Healey’s administration says they’re still committed to fully rebuilding the Bourne Bridge, just not in the first phase.

P.S.— Calling all transit wonks: Mayor Michelle Wu wants your opinions — or maybe just you — on Boston’s new MBTA board seat. Wu, who gets to appoint the new board member, tweeted Wednesday that she’s seeking opinions and applications for the seat. You just have to be a Boston resident, dedicated MBTA rider and prepared to give yourself some extra time while taking the T to your morning meetings.


Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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