As the state contends with a growing wave of migration and resorts to housing hundreds of migrant families in hotels, Governor Charlie Baker is requesting $130 million of additional funding for emergency shelter, but it wasn’t clear Monday if lawmakers would act on it before Baker leaves office in January.
Baker made his request to the Legislature on Friday in the form of a proposed bill that would fund the construction of new shelters, underwrite the growing costs of the state’s existing emergency shelter system, and create a state-run center to help newly arrived migrants find housing and access state and federal benefits.
In a letter accompanying the proposed bill, Baker wrote that the shelter system for families “is already effectively at 100 percent capacity [and the] caseload is expected to continue to increase over the coming months.”
Most of the migrants reaching Massachusetts — no fewer than 11,000 this year, according to a Boston Globe review earlier this month — entered the country without authorization at the US-Mexico border. They represent just a small fraction of the more than 2 million known US border crossings in the past year, as migrants flee economic collapse and political strife in Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and other countries.
The massive quantity of migrants crossing the southern border — “the numbers are just nuts,” Baker said in a recent interview — has overwhelmed the federal immigration bureaucracy and strained state and local resources to the breaking point across the country.
In Massachusetts, nonprofits say they can’t keep up with the inflow of new migrants, the state has resorted to placing families in hotels as shelters overflow, and local officials bristle as large numbers of migrants unexpectedly show up and draw on public resources, such as schools.
Last month, Baker asked the Biden administration for “urgent assistance” with the state’s immigration problem but as of Monday he still had received no response, a spokesperson said.
Baker’s approach to immigration differs starkly from that of some other Republican governors. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew around 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in September in a political stunt meant to draw attention to what he described as the Biden’s administration’s failed immigration policies, and possibly to bolster an expected 2024 presidential run.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has bused thousands of migrants to northern cities, often without notifying local officials that the buses were coming. (New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency last month as the city’s shelters overflowed, partially due to Abbott’s efforts.)
Baker’s responses have been more pragmatic and his criticism of the federal government tends to be subtler and more solution-oriented — not aimed, perhaps, at a Fox News audience.
The recent surge of migrants coming to Massachusetts, he wrote in Friday’s letter, is “a result of federal immigration policies.” But “a shortage of affordable housing in the Commonwealth,” he wrote, is also to blame for the current emergency shelter crunch.
Friday’s $130 million request follows $20 million of funding for migrant assistance that he signed into law in August, as part of an economic development bill. That money goes toward emergency housing and case management for new arrivals, which includes helping migrants access federal benefits.
Jeffrey Thielman, who runs the International Institute of New England, a migrant and refugee resettlement agency, said Monday that he supports the governor’s proposal and urged “the Legislature to adopt it as soon as possible.”
But it was unclear if Baker’s bill could survive with just over six weeks left in the legislative session.
An official in the Senate’s budget committee said Monday it was still reviewing the bill, and no decisions had been made on its fate.
House Speaker Ronald Mariano did not commit to moving a spending bill to the floor before early January, when a new Legislature and Governor-elect Maura Healey will be sworn in.
“As with any budget proposal, the administration’s supplemental budget bill is under review by the House Committee on Ways and Means, and will go through the legislative process,” Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, said in a statement.
Mike Damiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Matt Stout can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.