NEW ENGLAND AILA MEMBERS JOINED COMMUNITY AND GOVERNMENT IN HELPING NEWCOMERS
Each interior community experiencing the impact of both regional migration shifts and state bussing initiatives has responded differently. In Massachusetts, which has a right to shelter law, Governor Maura Healey declared a state of emergency as the Commonwealth’s shelter system was nearing capacity. However, rather than turn these people away, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts pivoted to implement work permit clinics to speed up access to work authorization – and in turn ensure these migrants are quickly integrated into our community.
From November 13, 2023 to December 1, 2023, the AILA New England chapter partnered with the Mabel Center for Immigrant Justice, the Governor’s Office for Refugees & Immigrants, the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the Boston Bar Association, and other government agencies to run a nine-day long clinic to help these newly arriving migrants residing in shelters apply for work authorization. With United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) on site to offer biometrics, receipt notices, and a simplified fee waiver process, the immigrants who passed through this clinic are expected to receive work authorization just weeks after applying, not months.
These clinics serve as a reminder of the welcoming spirit of New England, but also the United States. Over the course of the clinic, approximately 1,200 work permit applications were filed with biometrics completed on-site, and roughly an additional 800 biometrics were completed for those who had previously applied, but not yet completed the biometrics stage. This means roughly 2,000 immigrants residing in shelters will soon have employment authorization. While recognizing the long and arduous road ahead for these immigrants, the speedy issuance of these work authorizations is a critical step along the way.
My key takeaway as an attorney serving the EAD clinic was the realization that these families with young children had trekked through perilous conditions with no real knowledge or guarantee of what awaited them at the end of their journey. I am also heartened by the equally obvious (but easy to forget) fact that USCIS employees saw our common humanity in those moments as well. We all entered these fields because we were interested in helping people who did not have the blind fortune to be born in the U.S.
The success of these clinics would not have been possible without the close collaboration between federal and state offices. It is easy to lament the problems of the current immigration system. However, witnessing this new collaboration shows the potential of our immigration system when federal agencies, state offices, and local partners collaborate and communicate effectively. In my five days at the clinic, I witnessed these USCIS officers work 12- hour shifts alongside the rest of the hundreds of volunteers, and go above and beyond in the name of efficiently processing these applications, demonstrating commitment to the agency’s mission to “uphold America’s promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.”
This clinic embodied Governor Healy’s statement that the migrants are “here because Massachusetts has and will always be a beacon of hope, compassion, humanity and opportunity.” The clinic in Massachusetts was only the second such clinic with USCIS on site, and this model continues to spread across the country. AILA New England is grateful to the AILA New York Chapter for sharing their operating procedures and lessons learned from their fall clinic. These clinics are an unprecedented effort by USCIS and highlight what can happen when state and federal agencies work together to address immigration issues in a cooperative, common sense, humane manner. We welcome further collaborations with USCIS to address challenges in our immigration system.