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Here’s what’s in the Senate border deal for Mass.

For Massachusetts, where migrants have overwhelmed the state’s shelter system, the bipartisan border deal would offer more federal reimbursement funding. The state has been spending $45 million a month on services to migrants, such as housing, feeding, and providing necessary medical aid.Steven Senne/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Buried in the weeds of the headline-making Senate border deal are policies with significant implications for Massachusetts as it struggles with a surge of migrants.

In broad strokes, the bipartisan compromise, which faces an uncertain outcome in Congress, would enact several conservative measures at the border as part of a bigger package to send tens of billions of dollars to US allies Ukraine and Israel. Attracting the most attention are provisions that would effectively shut down the border if crossings reach a certain magnitude and that would raise the standard for migrants seeking asylum.

Several progressives and pro-immigration groups are blasting the deal’s changes as too draconian, while conservatives argue it’s too lenient, leaving the bill’s future in the Senate in doubt. House leadership, meanwhile, has declared it dead on arrival.


Here’s what’s on the line for Massachusetts, where migrants have overwhelmed the state’s shelter system and local politicians have begged for more federal assistance.

More money for sheltering

The most straightforward piece of the bill that affects Massachusetts is more funding for a federal program that reimburses states and cities that are sheltering migrants as they pursue stable lives in the country.

The bill would add $1.4 billion for the Shelter and Services Program, nearly $1 billion of which would be available immediately. The remainder of the money would become available in tranches if the federal Department of Homeland Security meets certain benchmarks, such as increasing detention and processing capabilities at the border and conducting a certain number of deportations.

But the money may only go so far, as multiple states and cities compete for the funds. The bill explicitly indicates that the money is not limited to entities that have previously received funds from the program. Massachusetts’ lawmakers have previously expressed concern that the $1.4 billion was not enough to cover the need nationally. They’ve argued the state has been spending $45 million a month on such services and has only received roughly $2 million for the city of Boston from the roughly $1 billion doled out by the federal program so far.


Faster work authorizations and asylum processing

Local officials have strongly advocated for faster distribution of work permits to migrants, saying it would be a win-win for employers who need workers and migrants looking to support themselves. The permits also would ease reliance on state services sheltering people while they wait for authorization to work in the country.

The bill would seek to expedite one key slowdown on work authorization — the asylum process. In addition to raising the bar to qualify at the border to come into the US and pursue an asylum claim, which, if successful, grants citizenship, the bill seeks to streamline the process to function more quickly, though potentially reducing the number of individuals who qualify. In one key change, migrants would be given authorization to work as soon as they’re found eligible to seek asylum, instead of having to wait for six months. The bill also would attempt to reduce the time it takes to get a final decision on an asylum claim to only six months, down from five to seven years currently.

While not all of the migrants in Massachusetts are asylum-seekers, many are, so the provision could significantly reduce the load on the state’s shelters and legal services.


More visas and pathways to citizenship

The bill would create a path to permanent residency status for Afghans who came to the country in the aftermath of the chaotic pullout of US forces from the country in 2021, many of whom helped the United States in its 20-year war there. Jeff Thielman, CEO of the International Institute of New England, said there are roughly 2,000 Afghans in the region under immigration parole, and permanent status would benefit them.

“Sooner or later, the Congress is going to have to adopt something that won’t make everybody happy, including folks like me, and we’re going to have to accept it in order to get a better-run immigration system,” Thielman said. “There are some things in here that those of us in the advocacy community have pushed for for a long time, so I think, personally, based on what I’m seeing, I would urge all sides to vote for it and move on.”

The bill also would increase the number of available visas for families and work categories, allowing more legal immigrants to seek permanent status. In addition, it would give work authorization to family members who come with them, and fix a problem caused by the visa backlog that had led some children of legal immigrants who grew up in the US to age out of legal status under their parents’ visas, putting them at risk of deportation from the only country they know.

Other changes

There are other smaller provisions that could impact the state. The bill would, for the first time, require the government to pay for lawyers to represent children under 14 years old who came to the US alone and are facing immigration court proceedings, as well as for legal services for individuals found incompetent to represent themselves. That’s welcomed by local advocacy and immigration legal groups, although they have pushed for representation for older children as well.


In addition, the border shutdown measures and greater standards for asylum claims could reduce the overall number of immigrants coming to Massachusetts.

What’s not in it

In one move heralded by the local advocacy community, the bill does not curtail the administration’s programs to admit migrants who apply while still in certain countries, including Haiti and Venezuela. Those policies have reduced US border crossings by people from those countries.

The bill also does not include pathways to citizenships for undocumented immigrants already in the US as traditionally sought by the left, including a broader group of so-called dreamers who are part of the DACA program and migrants from disaster- or war-stricken countries covered by Temporary Protected Status.

Tal Kopan can be reached at tal.kopan@globe.com. Follow her @talkopan.