North Star Reporter: Town asks state for help assisting migrant families
By Adam Bass, Reporter at North Star Reporter
Officials are asking for the state’s help in assisting 20 migrant families who were relocated to North Attleborough.
On Sept. 18, Town Manager Michael Borg and several department heads held a meeting with state Rep. Adam Scanlon (D-North Attleborough), state Sen. Paul Feeney (D-Foxboro), state Rep. Marcus Vaughn (R-Plainville) and Chairman of the Joint Committee on Emergency Preparedness and Management, state Rep. Bill Driscoll Jr. (D-Milton) to discuss the necessary steps to help the migrants have a stable and productive life in town.
According to Borg, 60 migrants, a majority coming from Haiti, were relocated to the Best Western hotel on S. Washington Street on Sep. 14.
The arrival of the families to North Attleborough comes after Gov. Maura Healey announced a state of emergency on Aug. 8 due to a lack of shelters to house an influx of migrants coming to Massachusetts. The state has a Right to Shelter law, meaning any resident must have access to shelter regardless of status.
Because of the rise in migrants coming to Massachusetts, the state’s shelter system has become overwhelmed with occupants, leaving several towns and cities having to shelter migrants in hotels. In response, Healey activated 250 members of the National Guard to help assist migrants coming into the state and residing in shelters.
Borg said the administration lacked detailed information about the migrants, and that the lack of communication made it difficult to assess the needs of each family.
“We want to have stable and productive members of the community,” Borg said. “We want to support them, but what do they need? How much do they need?”
Integrating into North Attleborough
Due to the lack of information, town officials scrambled to provide for the migrant families. Members of Borg’s team took multiple trips to Wal-Mart on Route 1 to buy sneakers, shirts, food, pants, toys and other necessities for the families.
Borg said some residents in North Attleborough had been donating their old clothes, but funding from the state would still be necessary.
“We have a great volunteer spirit here,” Borg said. “But this is a crisis that needs a regional response.”
Anne Marie Fleming, the town’s health director, said she had to pick up a prescription for one individual for a previously unknown medical condition.
Superintendent Dr. John Antonucci said he did not receive information about how many migrants qualified for enrollment at North Attleborough Public Schools and visited the hotel to find the exact number of eligible children.
According to Antonuccci, 10 children will be enrolled in NAPS this coming year. He said prior information from the administration would have helped give his team more time and organization.
“These are human beings,” Antonucci said. “People fail to realize that these are human beings who are hungry, desperate, sick, desperate and scared. Four days after they arrived here, the state has not even told us their names.”
According to the Healey administration, schools are receiving emergency aid for enrollment and other extra costs.
A regional response
Borg said the town is taking a four-step approach to help the migrant families become a part of the community. He said this objective could only be done by providing data about the families, securing funding from the state, providing an orientation about North Attleborough, and ultimately integrating them into the town.
“We have a great town here,” Borg said. “We are going to welcome them with open arms and so will our town.”
Borg said expediting the application process for work permits would help with the integration. He added that keeping the migrant families in hotel rooms is counterproductive and would help them start working in North Attleborough.
“It would suck to live in a hotel room for nine months,” Borg said. “You get problems when people don’t have a focus and a reason.”
A staff member of Congressman Jake Auchincloss, who represents North Attleborough in the 4th Congressional District, said he has been reaching out to the Biden administration and House Minority Whip Kathleen Clark (MA-05) to find a way to speed up the application process for work permits. Healey has also made similar calls to the Biden administration.
Borg also called on the elected officials at the Sept. 18 meeting to provide resources at the state level.
“I can’t imagine what the state is going through,” Borg said. “But these are people we have to service from minute one.”
Scanlon and Feeney told Borg that they have talked to the House and Senate leadership about providing relief and would continue to press the Healey administration for better communication with town officials.
“The communication levels from the governor’s office have been unacceptable in the migrant crisis,” Scanlon said. “It’s also very frustrating that we still have many folks dealing with the challenges of the flooding, and the town is being pulled in all different directions with this crisis now.”
Last week, Healey filed a supplemental budget bill for Fiscal Year 2023, including $250 million in one-time resources from the Transitional Escrow Fund to help the state’s shelter system. Driscoll Jr. said the House Ways and Means Committee is currently reviewing the bill and would consider amending it to provide more funding for towns and cities hosting migrants.
“The legislature is a deliberative body,” Driscoll said. “We are an information gatherer and we are pushing the administration as they are seeking additional funds.”