Amid growing concerns about the influx of immigrants released from federal custody at the U.S.-Mexico border, the “sanctuary” state of Massachusetts has declared a state of emergency. Governor Maura Healey, a Democrat, emphasized the need for a national response, lamenting the strain on the state’s resources and logistics due to the approximately 20,000 people residing in state-funded shelters, hotels, and other facilities—an 80% increase from the previous year. Massachusetts operates under a 1983 “right to shelter” law, which guarantees immediate state-provided housing to families, regardless of their immigration status.
Governor Healey highlighted the state’s inability to transition people from temporary shelters to permanent housing, attributing this challenge to the current situation. Despite their attempts to seek federal assistance and address the issue at the national level, both Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll underscored the urgency of the situation, calling on residents to consider hosting immigrant families in their homes.
Acknowledging the immigrants’ desire to enter the workforce promptly, Healey and Driscoll expressed their visit to a temporary housing site at Salem State College, where they encountered resilient and industrious newcomers eager to contribute to society. However, the state government bemoaned the federal process for obtaining work documents, claiming it was lengthy and left immigrants unemployed.
Massachusetts’s sanctuary status aligns with other locales such as New York City, Chicago, and Washington, which have faced similar challenges related to the release of immigrants from the border. These areas, designated as sanctuary zones, have resisted cooperating with federal immigration policies. Massachusetts’s sanctuary status was reinforced in 2017 by a top court ruling that prevented state court officers from arresting or detaining illegal immigrants solely based on a federal immigration request.
Over the years, Massachusetts has introduced initiatives to aid immigrants awaiting asylum and deportation proceedings in leading normal lives. Recently, the state began offering noncommercial driver’s licenses to noncitizen residents, and illegal immigrants are eligible for state assistance programs encompassing food costs and select healthcare coverage.
In the midst of these developments, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate for 2024, highlighted the irony of Massachusetts’s sanctuary status by flying a group of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard. DeSantis questioned the state’s willingness to aid immigrants who entered the country unlawfully while claiming sanctuary status. As the Biden administration’s policies have led to the release of over 2 million people who crossed the southern border, the challenge of accommodating these individuals is resonating across the nation.