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Diehl takes a shot at Baker, Healey over immigration crisis

Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Markey urges state to coordinate with local officials

Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl.Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe/Associated Press

Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl took shots at the Baker administration and his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Maura Healey, a day after the Globe reported that more than 100 migrants and homeless people had been relocated to the Plymouth area in recent days.

“There is no plan to care for these people, meaning it’s up to local officials to process these individuals and provide them with food, shelter, education, and medical care,” Diehl said in a statement. He criticized the Baker administration’s handling of the migrants, blamed President Joe Biden’s “open border policies,” and laid some of the responsibility at the feet of local politicians, including Healey, for supporting “sanctuary policies.”

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In the closing days of a campaign that pollsters show Diehl is losing, a spokesperson for the Healey campaign called the response “desperate.”

“This is another...false attack from an opponent who wants to bring Trumpism to Massachusetts,” the spokesperson said. The evolving immigration and shelter situation, she added, “underscores the need for the federal government to finally act to reform our broken immigration system.”

The people relocated to hotels in Kingston and Plymouth in the past week are mostly migrants from Haiti who crossed into the US at the southern border before making their way to Massachusetts where they are attempting to settle. But they have found that local support systems – nonprofits and state agencies that help newly arrived migrants – are already strained to the breaking point.

Shelter beds are in especially short supply, which is why the Baker administration has, as a “last resort,” placed some migrants and homeless Massachusetts residents in hotels and motels, a Baker administration spokesperson said on Wednesday.

The relocation frustrated local officials in Kingston and Plymouth, who said they were not involved in the planning process. The Town Administrator of Kingston, Keith Hickey, said he first learned the migrants had arrived when he got a voicemail from a state official around 5 pm last Friday.

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Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy said in a statement Thursday: “DHCD tries to give local officials as much notice as possible when people are being placed in their communities, but since these are emergency situations, these placements happen quickly. The alternative is making families sleep outdoors while we wait for a more permanent housing placement, which is unacceptable.”

A spokesperson for Sen. Ed Markey said that the senator urges the Baker administration to provide state resources and ample notice to cities that are receiving migrants and others who need shelter.

“The Commonwealth is at its best when we welcome immigrants with open arms, but in order to do that, localities need state and federal support to provide adequate care and resources,” said Rosemary Boeglin, a Markey spokesperson.

Earlier in the week, Markey and other legislators sent a letter to the Biden administration urging the Department of Homeland Security to extend immigration protections for migrants from Haiti, which is suffering from simultaneous crises: economic collapse, political instability, and rampant violence.

Markey and the letter’s co-signers called on the administration to extended Haitians’ Temporary Protected Status, which makes it easier for them to stay in the United States legally on a temporary basis. The program is set to expire in February.

“Denying access to TPS to recent arrivals will neither serve as an effective deterrent to future border crossings, given Haitians’ desperation to flee dire conditions, nor cause them to leave the United States voluntarily,” Markey said in a statement on Wednesday. “It will simply ensure that Haitians will live in poverty and at risk of removal in the United States.”

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Mike Damiano can be reached at mike.damiano@globe.com.