When former governor Deval Patrick emphatically said yes to a request by President Barack Obama to temporarily house unaccompanied minors who had crossed the Southern border in the summer of 2014, many staunchly opposed Patrick’s compassionate stance.
“My faith teaches that if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him but rather love him as yourself,” Patrick, visibly fighting tears, said at the time.
But the multiple strong reactions to the plan didn’t all fall along political lines. A Democratic state senator from Chicopee said he opposed the idea because “immigration is a federal issue and must be resolved at that level” and because “this proposal would come at a cost to Chicopee residents and taxpayers.” A member of the Board of Selectmen in Bourne said: “We don’t even know if some of these children have diseases. We don’t know if they are gang members.” Meanwhile, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson said immigrants are “just going to keep on coming” as long as “there are signals being sent out that people can come here illegally and we’re just going to take care of them.”
Eight years later, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas is also testing cities’ resolve to be regarded as welcoming to immigrants with one of his latest political stunts. Since April, Abbott has bused nearly 9,000 migrants to the nation’s capital and to New York City, where the reaction to the new arrivals has been mixed. Abbott’s chartered buses have been part of a wider strategy on the Republican governor’s part to criticize President Biden’s approach to the border.
The parallel between Abbott’s buses and the 2014 crisis of migrant children isn’t perfect, of course. Patrick wasn’t responding to a political stunt — the request to shelter the unaccompanied minors came from the federal government. And back then the question was narrower: Should Massachusetts temporarily house minors? Now, Abbott is sending buses full of migrant families, including children, and adults traveling by themselves who are seeking asylum protections.
Abbott’s grandstanding campaign aside, it’s fair to ask: What would Boston do if buses full of migrants started arriving at South Station? Would Boston pass the test as a sanctuary for immigrants?
In New York, a liberal bastion that prides itself on having one of the nation’s largest populations of foreign-born residents, there have been mixed feelings about the arrivals. Manuel Castro, the city’s commissioner of immigrant affairs, recently welcomed some immigrants and asylum seekers arriving at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
But the majority of the immigrants don’t have a home or a place to stay, which renders them homeless as soon as they set foot in New York. Some of them didn’t know where they were going. Authorities have said that roughly 4,000 asylum seekers have arrived so far on buses from Texas but also from Arizona, where Republican Governor Doug Ducey has started copying Abbott’s stunt.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the asylum seekers are overwhelming the city’s network of homeless shelters and has been blaming Abbott for it. But advocates for the homeless dispute Adams’s characterization and say he’s deflecting and ignoring a simmering homeless crisis due to other factors.
Immigrant advocates have mobilized in the Big Apple and launched the Welcoming New York Campaign to call for asylum seekers to be folded into the refugee support system and that local and state governments coordinate arrivals with the federal government. They are also calling on the New York governor and Legislature to provide additional funding for emergency legal support for the new arrivals. Their demands are sensible and doable.
Meanwhile, in Boston, “[w]e are watching the situation at the southern border very closely and already preparing for new asylum seekers to arrive in Boston,” said a spokesperson from the press office of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu via email. “We are in conversation with the state, regional cities, nonprofits, and hospitals.”
That’s a relief. To be clear, the migrants bused by the governors of Arizona and Texas are lawfully in the country — they are asylum seekers waiting for their cases to be adjudicated. Still, Abbott’s busing plan is not an effective policy move — even conservatives think so. At least one Republican member of Congress has called it a gimmick.
And yet it would be a test for Boston and the state. It’s been many years since Patrick’s plan to offer shelter for children generated backlash. What would busloads of migrants arriving at South Station reveal about us in 2022? Would Boston embrace the new arrivals and work to integrate them into the social and economic life of the city so they can work and pay taxes? Or would Boston see them as a strain on social safety net systems? I hope it’s the former.
Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.