'A pivot is necessary and overdue': Mass. state rep wants new approach to immigrant arrivals
Saying the state has "reached a point where a pivot is necessary and overdue," a top Massachusetts House Democrat is calling on Gov. Maura Healey's administration to overhaul its "chaotic" response to the ongoing arrival of migrant families, and establish a unified command structure.
"The current Humanitarian Arrivals crisis is not a challenge that can be reasonably absorbed or addressed by the routine day-to-day operations of state or local government agencies," state Rep. William Driscoll Jr., House chair of the Joint Committee on Emergency Preparedness and Management, wrote in a letter Monday. "The sheer volume and the needs of the arriving immigrants are complex and the official effort is barely keeping pace with the families arriving daily seeking shelter and other social services."
According to Driscoll, who worked in disaster response before joining the House, a unified incident command structure would enhance the state's ability to scale the response up or down "with the future twists and turns" of immigrants arriving in Massachusetts from other countries. He said that about 800 families have entered the emergency assistance system in the last month and new highs for entries are "being set week after week."
Healey has already declared a state of emergency around the migrant arrivals and authorized 250 National Guard members to be called up to assist. State officials in recent weeks have also been calling on the federal government for help.
"The Administration is underutilizing existing structures and frameworks that are in place to support communication and coordination in times of emergency," Driscoll wrote. "Those structures and frameworks should be turned on and utilized rather than the current state of play which appears to be hastily adapting the day-to-day operations of multiple agencies across multiple secretariats to attempt a version of crisis response. A state of emergency has been declared yet the structure and cadence of the response underway is not recognizable to many with a lifetime of emergency management experience and expertise."
In his letter, Driscoll, a Milton Democrat, also asks the administration if relevant local officials will be "regularly engaged with and involved in the planning and activities regarding the state of emergency."
Last week, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh and Housing and Livable Communities Secretary Ed Augustus met privately with state representatives to update them about the state's emergency shelter system and the activation of up to 250 Guard members to help at shelter hotels. Representatives vented their frustrations with the administration's communication around the migrant crisis at that meeting, echoing concerns that have been growing at the local level.
Healey spokesperson Karissa Hand said the administration would review Driscoll's letter.
"We ... welcome the partnership of our colleagues in government," she said. "Our Administration implemented an Incident Command Structure in May to manage this rapidly evolving and unprecedented emergency. Thanks to Incident Command's coordination between Housing and Livable Communities, Health and Human Services, MEMA and the National Guard, we have successfully expanded critical service capacity and provided safe and secure shelter to thousands of children and families in need."
Driscoll said a unified incident command structure is an "evolved version" of incident command structure, and alleges that the administration is "underutilizing existing structures and frameworks that are in place to support communication and
coordination in times of emergency."