Massachusetts, Facing Crippling Migrant Crisis, Reaches Its Breaking Point

The state will begin issuing eviction notices in early July, telling some migrant families ‘they are required to leave shelter within 90 days.’

AP/Steven Senne, file
Governor Healey on January 5, 2023, at Boston. AP/Steven Senne, file

Massachusetts will soon start sending out eviction notices to migrant families staying in the state’s emergency shelters, making it the latest in a wave of Democrat-controlled states and cities that had previously declared themselves “sanctuaries” for migrants to change their tune amid a ballooning crisis.

The governor, Maura Healey, said the state will begin by sending notices to 150 families in July letting them know that “their shelter benefit is expiring, and they are required to leave shelter within 90 days.” The emergency shelters last year reached capacity at 7,500 families, half of which were new migrant arrivals.

“This policy is a responsible measure to address the capacity and fiscal constraints of our state’s emergency assistance system,” Ms. Healey said

It follows similar moves from other Democratic leaders, including New York City’s recent policy imposing a 60-day limit for shelter stays for families and Chicago’s mayor enforcing a 60-day limit at shelters as well. Those policies came as both cities faced severe budget strains due to migrants.

New York City, which has declared itself “past the breaking point,” spent more than $1 billion on food, shelter, and migrant services in fiscal year 2023 and is expecting to spend as much as $12 billion on migrants in the next three years alone. Chicago has spent more than $400 million on the migrant surge since the fall of 2022.

Both New York and Chicago had previously declared themselves “sanctuary cities,” and had policies in place to protect and support migrants who are in the country illegally, before Republican southern governors started busing and flying thousands of migrants north.

Massachusetts’ shelter limits come as Ms. Healey’s 54 percent approval rating, while still relatively high, appears to be suffering in the midst of the migrant crisis. 

“Respondents judge Healey’s handling of the migrant crisis harshly, with close to half of all residents believing that Healey has handled the crisis ‘not too well’ (17 percent) or ‘not well at all’ (31 percent),” a director of a recent UMass Amherst poll on the governor, Tatishe Nteta, said. “As the state is poised to spend close to $1 billion in support of the ‘right to shelter’ law and a low likelihood that Congress will address immigration reform in 2024, Healey and the Mass State Legislature may need to propose bold solutions to the problem or face the wrath of voters at the ballot box in 2024 and beyond.”

The poll’s co-director, Raymond La Raja, said the migrant influx has “agitated even voters in Massachusetts, which typically does not face the same situation as U.S. border states like Texas and California.”

Other recent polling confirms that Massachusetts’ public is growing increasingly fed up with the migrant crisis. 

While the economy, inflation, and housing had long topped resident concerns, immigration has now moved into the “top spot,” recent CommonWealth Beacon/GBH News surveys found, as 21 percent of 1,002 Massachusetts residents who were polled say it’s the “most pressing issue facing state government” — ranking it as more important than the cost of living, government spending, and housing. 

Two-thirds of residents said it had become either a crisis or a major problem. “While previous polls indicated the migrant situation in Massachusetts was a concern primarily for Republicans, the latest poll indicates Democrats are now concerned as well, with 21 percent of those surveyed calling it a crisis and 40 percent a major problem,” the poll noted. 

The migrant crisis has been spiraling out of control for several years in the state. In August, Ms. Healey declared a state of emergency, as shelter resources couldn’t keep up with thousands of migrants flocking to Massachusetts. More recently, at the end of April, Ms. Healey announced that the state would have to spend nearly half a billion dollars on migrant services in the next year. 

The Bay State, as the Federation for American Immigration Reform notes, was “effectively made” a sanctuary state after a 2017 Massachusetts supreme judicial court ruling that held that state law “provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody.” 

Ms. Healey, then the attorney general, praised the decision as a “rejection of anti-immigrant policies that have stoked fear in communities across the country” and said Massachusetts “protects our residents from illegal detention and prevents the federal government from forcing local law enforcement to make decisions contrary to the public safety interests of their communities.” 

Several towns and cities in Massachusetts have declared themselves sanctuary, and Cambridge, home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, even passed a law directing police not to arrest migrants driving without licenses. One city councilor said the law would help keep illegal immigrants “out of the clutches of the Trump administration.”


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