Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Stop calling it a migrant crisis

Years of mismanagement and inaction are to blame for the current situation
Shilpa Sweth

On Aug. 8, 2023, Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency in Massachusetts due to an increasing amount of migrant families arriving in the commonwealth. In the declaration, the Healey administration made it clear that the state is reaching a breaking point, writing “… the state’s shelter system is rapidly expanding capacity in an unsustainable manner, and that further assistance is urgently needed.”

State officials have estimated that 1,000 migrant families are arriving in Massachusetts every month. Shelters are overflowing and state leaders are calling upon the federal government to fix the problem. This is not an issue unique to Massachusetts; states and cities nationwide are facing an influx of migrant arrivals. While on a call with the White House, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson demanded the federal government take action amid the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants in Chicago. New York City Mayor Eric Adams was in Latin America last week attempting to convince migrants to not come to New York City. At the same time, New York City has moved to suspend its “right-to-shelter” law, which guarantees shelter for all, in response to the roughly 120,000 migrants who have arrived in the city since January.

Still, the media and political leaders are failing to identify and fix the root causes of this influx of migration. The rhetoric being used has turned the issue into an individual problem. Fox News and CNN each describe the situation either as a “spiraling migrant crisis” or a “migrant crisis.” Eric Adams sent a warning to people in Mexico planning to migrate, saying “there is no more room in New York.”

The problem is not the migrants. The problem is the failure of governance and the dangerous inaction of Congress. State leaders have been calling for a streamlining of the work authorization process for months. Hundreds of thousands are eligible for the work authorizations that empower migrants to work and leave state shelter systems, yet reporting by The Guardian found that the Biden Administration only began streamlining this process in the summer, thereby compounding the issue.

As asylum seekers and other migrants seek work authorizations, they also seek legal status in the country. But the immigration courts have a 1.3 million case backlog, leaving people to wait for years before their case is even heard before a judge. Congress lacks the ability to assist the crisis of governance and has only become an obstacle. The last meaningful immigration reform was passed almost 40 years ago in 1986.

At the state level, local mayors in Massachusetts have begun to call for the repeal of the state’s unique “right-to-shelter” law. Local leaders say they lack the housing, shelter space and service capacity to serve the incoming families.

What we are seeing now is a consequence of these failures. Massachusetts is a state that has been dealing with a severe cost-of-living and housing crisis and state leaders say we cannot house migrants anymore. But the lack of housing supply was identified as a crisis in 2001, yet local authorities have effectively banned development of multi-family or high-density housing. The state offers assistance for families looking for emergency shelter, yet reporting by ProPublica found that almost 2,000 units subsidized by the state sit vacant.

This is a consequence of inaction and lack of funding for the immigration system by Congress. As mentioned before, there is a years-long waiting list for asylum and other immigration cases. Congress has refused to take on any responsibility for this crisis as millions anxiously wait for their cases to be resolved.

This is also a consequence of disastrous American foreign policy. I am a direct consequence of the years of American ineptitude. In 1964, with support from the Johnson Administration, including President Johnson himself, the left-wing government of Joao Goulart was overthrown and a brutally repressive right-wing dictatorship took power for twenty years. The dictatorship ruined the Brazilian economy and loaded the government with foreign debt. By 1993, inflation reached 2,000 percent. It was in this period of economic instability in which my parents made the difficult decision to leave their homes and emigrate to the land of opportunity.

My story is not the only one of migrants moving to America because of American foreign policy. Countless other people from different nations have migrated to America because of the same instability.

The next time you watch the nightly news and see reports of a crisis at the border, remember how we got here. The failure of our local, state and federal government to address the causes have only compounded the situation we see now. If things continue how they are, there will be more unnecessary suffering for migrant families who are seeking out their American dream. So, call it what it is: a crisis of governance, not a migrant crisis.

Sam Cavalheiro can be reached at [email protected] or on X @samcavalheiro1.

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