Mass. moved quickly to help migrants shipped to Martha’s Vineyard; Advocates wonder why we don’t do it for others

MassLive | By Chris | Published: Oct. 06, 2022, 5:30 a.m.

A man, who is part of a group of immigrants that had just arrived, flashes a thumbs-up Wednesday Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Massachusetts, on Martha’s Vineyard. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday flew two planes of immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, escalating a tactic by Republican governors to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration’s failed border policies. (Ray Ewing/Vineyard Gazette via AP)AP

Immigration advocates hope the response shown by state officials toward a group of migrants who landed on Martha’s Vineyard last month will prompt further action for the thousands of other immigrants who come to Massachusetts.

At a briefing hosted by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition Wednesday afternoon, speakers reflected on state and local officials’ reaction to the group of mostly Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the state by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and how the spotlight on the situation could provoke a broader response for other refugees and asylum seekers.

“We saw how effectively the Baker administration mobilized to secure emergency shelter and state services for the Venezuelan migrants, as well as the critical role that was played by legal service providers and community organizations on the ground,” MIRA Legislative Affairs Director Amy Grunder said. “But the needs of other migrants deserve the same response, as do the community organizations that are really heroically struggling to provide for them with private funds.”

The migrants who landed on Martha’s Vineyard are a small part of a “much larger story” happening in Massachusetts, MIRA Executive Director Elizabeth Sweet said, as refugees regularly come to the state from Haiti, Brazil, Central America, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.

Massachusetts is home to the third largest Haitian community in the United States — many left the country after a devastating earthquake in 2010 and the assassination of the Haitian president last year. The Immigrant Families Services Insitute is working with 4,500 Haitians who have arrived in the state over the last six months, Sweet said.

The state is also the second most frequent destination for Brazilian arrivals, second only to Florida, Sweet said, adding that many people are leaving the country because of a “persistent economic crisis there.” The Brazilian Worker Center has provided services to 3,400 arrivals to Massachusetts since 2021.

MIRA Political Director Sarang Sekhavat said hundreds of families “are in dire need for support,” not just the migrants who landed on Martha’s Vineyard. The most immediate issue for new arrivals is housing, Sekhavat

“The system really isn’t quite up to the task of really being able to process everyone and match everyone with available housing as quickly as they need it,” Sekhavat said. “We’re seeing issues with [Department of Housing and Community Development] about trying to find people emergency housing, and that’s been a fairly big issue.”

Migrants who arrived on Martha’s Vineyard were quickly provided temporary shelter at a church on the island before state officials transitioned them to Joint Base Cape Cod. The Baker administration announced Tuesday that short-term housing at the base for the migrants is expected to conclude later this week.

Thiry-five migrants were still housed at the base in Buzzards Bay as of Tuesday, where case managers were working to find long-term solutions. Another 14 individuals had already left for “opportunities in and outside Massachusetts,” a statement from the Baker administration said.

Sekhavat said hundreds of families are coming into the state every month who do not have the same opportunity as those who were transported to Massachusetts by DeSantis — a move being challenged in federal court.

The marshaling of community, state, and other government resources was great, Sekhavat said, but “they’re really leaving out a huge chunk of people who also need help.” Other refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in Massachusetts need help with housing, medical services, education for children, and legal assistance, Sekhavat said.

“The fact that we were able to mobilize for these [migrants] at Martha’s Vineyard shows us, it’s really not that hard,” Sekhavat said. “We should be able to do this.”

State leaders in Massachusetts should request funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to create shelters equipped with services for new arrivals, similar to the setup officials created at Joint Base Cape Cod last month, Grunder said.

Next steps, Grunder said, could also include bolstering emergency shelter capacity and medium-term housing.

“But the most important feature of any system really will be the coordination at the top and the engagement of providers and community organizations on the ground,” Grunder said. “We saw some of this during the pandemic, for example, here in Massachusetts.”

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