In the last couple of months, a number of migrant families, most of them entering the country from the US-Mexico border, have arrived seeking shelter and assistance in our towns and cities. LexRAP has been trying to help.
As of this writing, 80 families with children were sheltering in Woburn, 22 (and rising) in Lexington, and people in families (adults and kids) in Bedford numbered over 300. The Massachusetts Right to Shelter Law, which guarantees families with children a roof over their heads, allowed desperate southern border officials to send families to over 80 communities in Massachusetts, along with a number of other cities across the country. Placing people in hotels and impromptu shelters, state and local officials and volunteers are struggling to meet the needs for food, health care, financial assistance, education, clothing, diapers, jobs, transportation, enrollment in services, more permanent housing, safety, and local welcome and human friendship.
In the US, we have had a longstanding legal refugee/immigration process, working by application and vetting, with varying quotas over the years. Since 1990, we have had a law allowing Humanitarian Parole, for persons in nations torn by war, or persons who individually will be persecuted for beliefs or lifestyle, or who aided the US or its military, and now face discrimination or death in their originating country. Obtaining HP favors those with money and requires a passport and a US sponsor who will support them. Finally, we have (legal)Temporary Protected Status, for those who are already here from designated nations (13 currently) with ongoing unsafe conditions due to war or government failure. Both of the last two have limited life-spans, though people can re-apply.
Non-legal immigration, mostly through our southern border, has been a rising problem. Economic conditions in Latin America in the past few decades have caused a rise in numbers of illegal immigrants. More recently, worldwide instability and governmental chaos have caused these ranks to swell tremendously. Some apply for asylum while still in Mexico, through an app created last year. However, this app functions erratically, and has frustrated many.
The majority enter illegally, many after enduring life-threatening conditions in the Darien Gap, in the Panamanian rain forest. They then endure long treks through Central America and Mexico, the loss of life savings to a vast smuggling business, the fording of the Rio Grande (another source of death,) razor wire, and violence on both the Mexican and American sides of the border.
Over the last year, the southern border has seen 2,000,000 people entering illegally, of which about half have been deported to home countries fairly quickly. Of those who remain, about half now are not from Mexico or northern Central America, originating instead from around the world, places where governments have crumbled, war is raging, political persecution or gang warfare have made death a daily threat. In September alone, about 200,000 people were apprehended at the Southern border.
Families with children and unaccompanied minors are more likely to be allowed to stay. Some are given Temporary Protected status. Many will apply for asylum, and some will exist here in a limbo state. When allowed to stay, families are often sent to communities around the country. Border towns have been more than overwhelmed for years with the needs of the new arrivals.
Now, in 2023, cities around the country report being inundated, trying to care for those who are sent to them. Recent Biden administration rules, partnering with Mexico and Venezuela, aim to slow the flow. How those rules will work is yet to be seen. New York City has had over 100,000 arrivals in the last year; about half of whom are now out of the shelter system, many from Afghanistan, Africa, and Venezuela.
It appears many families joining our towns and cities are from Haiti, which has at present no functioning government, instead “ruled” by armed gangs, with great loss of innocent life. More arrive daily, often on a few days’ notice. School aged children are being registered for school; pregnant women are beginning to get care. Families arrive with few items of clothing, babies without diapers. Arrangements are being made in Bedford for English language learning and school tutoring for all ages. LexRAP volunteers have been assisting with this effort.
State agencies are primarily trying to coordinate mandated aid. Volunteers are being coordinated by local officials, and are providing rides, ESL, some meals, and friendly faces. Despite the efforts of many, coordination is inconsistent. The governor, Maura Healey, declared a state of emergency on August 8, in an effort to bring in Federal aid. 2000 National Guard have been posted in various sites around the state. For instance, two are on duty in the Lexington site for 6 hours every day, to provide humanitarian assistance and interact with those arriving to help.
LexRAP has just begun to work with the Lexington hotels housing families, supplying an urgent need for formula and diapers, and interacting with state officials to see how do more. As of this writing, seven new families joined us last night.
The need is great and the situation is complex. Stay tuned for how you might help. No one governmental or NGO can provide the welcome, services, and solace that our new neighbors need. We will send out news of how you might be of use in the coming days and weeks.
– Pat Moyer