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Immigration advocates press Boston City Council for more resources

City Councilor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune lead a hearing in City Hall to discuss the current migrant crisis in Boston.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

More than a dozen immigration advocates and community leaders pressed the Boston City Council on Monday for more resources and a stronger commitment to address a recent surge of migrants into the area.

“We can’t dial the clock back,” said Clare Louise Okalany, chief executive of African Community Economic Development of New England, during a council hearing. “It’s a new day for our families, Boston, and everyone who came here seeking peace, refuge, and sustainability.”

At-large Councilor Ruthzee Louijeune, who called for Monday’s hearing to inquire into how the city is handling the surge, said the arrival of migrants to Boston isn’t new, and the city could be better equipped to address the inflow of newcomers here.

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“We have the capacity to make meaningful resources available,” she said. “We just have to find the willingness to do so.”

Monday’s hearing was held as immigration advocates have complained that a surge of thousands of migrants who have reached the Boston area in recent months have strained the area’s social services infrastructure.

Monique Tú Nguyen, executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, said the scale of the impact in Boston is still difficult to measure: Migrants are arriving to Boston in smaller groups, and in different ways.

Unlike other major cities, “we’re not seeing [new arrivals] in buses and planes,” Nguyen said. “We’re seeing them in medical centers, transit stations, and nonprofit organizations.”

Like countless migrants before them, many of those arriving in Massachusetts now are fleeing economic fallout and political turmoil, and they come from nations like Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Brazil.

In July, the council earmarked $1.1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding under the American Rescue Plan Act to provide temporary housing for new arrivals.

With shelters at full capacity, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration has placed recent arrivals in hotels to meet the right-to-shelter law, which requires the state to provide housing to unhoused families. A statewide housing shortage has put further strain on assisting agencies.

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In November, Baker requested an additional $139 million in funding from the Legislature to address the influx of migrant families. It’s not clear, though, whether lawmakers will act on the request before he leaves office next year.

Meanwhile, as illustrated in testimonies provided at Monday’s hearing, the latest surge in migrants will further strain the limited staffing, money, and shelter local nonprofit agencies have available.

Bishop Nicolas Homicil, of Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle Church in Mattapan, said he’s purchased about 40 beds to accommodate new migrants. And volunteers who raise a hand to handle the influx “don’t last long because they need income” to support themselves.

“The new immigrant [situation] is really a tragedy,” he said.

Advocates at Monday’s hearing pressed the council for more resources including mental health services to help migrants process their traumatic journeys; wraparound services for migrant youth who missed out on education during the migration; legal services to expedite the immigration process for arrivals seeking asylum; and economic empowerment programs to help arrivals enter the workforce.

At-large Councilor Julia Mejia, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic herself, said taking an inventory of vacant units available for shelter and creating day-care service slots for migrant children are just a few of the steps the city can take in addressing the nuanced challenges the community faces.

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“I don’t think we should be waiting on the next budget cycle for these things,” Mejia said.


Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.